Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Egos and the Moral Superiority of the Downtrodden

Some years ago, a pal of mine spent part of a day with a certain best-selling author. They were on a panel together signing autographs and talking to various fans and other interested parties about writing. After a while, my friend had to leave, because he couldn’t bear to hear anymore of the rants of this best-selling author. And what was it that she was ranting about?

Stephen King.

She was frustrated to the point of mania that Stephen King’s books outsold hers by a very wide and healthy margin. No matter the fact that the two authors generally don’t write in the same styles or even within similar genres. It was merely the fact that he left her, economically speaking, eating his dust that drove her completely bats.

Which got me to dwelling, again, on the egos of writers. Despite what any writer tells you, almost all of them have pretty hefty egos that are easily bruised. Some of them will talk a good fight and lay claim to a thick skin, but that’s rarely true. Just the fact that a writer thinks his stuff is good enough for everyone to read is evidence enough of a pretty large ego at work. (Mea culpa.)

Some years ago I had a friend who was a writer and sometime editor. He did what he could to sell a story here and there, getting into some really impressive anthologies on occasion. And he was managing to edit on a very small scale, hoping to do more in that line.

Along the way, he decided to write an article about a certain sub-culture with which he had become familiar. So he wrote a piece suggesting to other writers how one might go about creating characters who lived within this certain sub-culture. I read it. It was a pretty good article, and quite innocuous.

However, a couple of other writers read it and they were not pleased. Apparently, they considered themselves a part of this certain sub-culture and felt that the article by my friend was something akin to blasphemy. They put their little heads together and decided to punish my friend for his heresy. They were determined to declare a fatwah upon him and to implement a jihad against his lonely self.

Both of these writers--who I am sure considered themselves a part of some downtrodden minority--had followings of a sort. (Also known as “fans”.) In this particular case, they had fans that number in at least the low thousands. They sent out a few choice emails pointing out my friend’s transgression-of-an-article. The army was quickly mobilized.

Ignorant of either his crime or the conspiracy afoot, my pal went to his email box to download the morning’s messages. Surprise! It was filled beyond capacity with hundreds of emails. But not just any email! It was hate mail! Nasty-grams from near and far, berating him for daring to write such nonsense. Forget the fact that most of the letters were delivered from folk who had never read his article. That didn’t matter. They’d been spurred to action by two of their glorious leaders, and so: attack!

This pair of writers, who I know consider themselves champions of a certain kind of justice, showed themselves to be no better than the nastiest of the nasty. This one event showed me of what stuff they are made. I flush that stuff.

My friend has since vanished from the writing scene. I haven’t heard from him in years. I’ve tried to locate him, but have been unable to find where he’s gone. He’s no longer a part of the writing community, as far as I’ve been able to tell. If it was the aim of the two fan-favorites to drive him out of the little genre ghetto, then they by and large succeeded. While all of that bothers me to no end, I have always felt somewhat advantaged to have witnessed this vicious act, for it allowed me to realize that there generally is no moral superiority among the downtrodden. Quite often, they are as mean and as cruel and as hateful as any from whom they claim persecution.


elroy99 said...

In regards to the presumed moral superiority of the downtrodden, it was Nietzsche who said "The slave never fails to learn from the master." He was a crazy-as-hell egomaniacal writer too, but it seems he knew what he was talking about.

On the other hand, writers with followings even in the low thousands can hardly be counted as "downtrodden" in my book. They remind me of people I knew in graduate school who figured they knew everything there was to know about the Working Man because they spent a month or so cropping 'baccer over summer break. (Which, if pressed, turned out to be more like "Working in the air conditioned officer trailer filing papers and answering the phone while others sweated outside cropping 'baccer.") And these people had the temerity to look down on people like me when I spoke up in class because I was working my way through school waiting tables, as opposed to grading papers and teaching 101 classes: “Hey, what the hell does he know? He slings pizza for a living!”

Anyway, I’m sorry to hear about what happened to that guy you spoke of. I hope it wasn't this particular experience with the genre jihadists which broke him, though it sounds as if it might have. For what it's worth Gore Vidal had to write under the pseudonym Edgar Box for years because he'd pissed off some people at the New York *Times.* Which is to say, these things happen, but that doesn't make a goddamn thing right.

HemlockMan said...

Hey. If it's good enough for Vidal, then it's good enough for my old friend. I only hope that he's still writing somewhere.