Manufactured Outrage

Over the course of many years, I’ve come to realize writers are a rather strange subgroup of the human race. I count myself in that number and readily admit my strangeness … uniqueness, that’s the term I prefer. Actually, I’ve heard it said all creative people are strange, slightly off-center. Maybe so. When I hear of the strange things other writers do, I tend to shake my head and roll my eyes. Then I go on with my life … and my writing.Place, Vanessa

Here’s one example of the strangeness I’ve observed. The Twitter profile (shown above) belongs to a woman named Vanessa Place. (Her name appears just underneath the left-side photo of actress Hattie McDaniel.) From what I’ve read, Place uses this Twitter account for the purpose of tweeting – 140 characters at a time, plus or minus – the entire text of Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone With the Wind. I suppose one might argue this is an artistic expression and benign protest by which she registers her disgust with the racial stereotypes portrayed in the 1936 novel.

Today, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) announced that, due to the controversy surrounding Place’s Twitter feed, she has been removed from AWP’s 2016 Conference Subcommittee. This removal was in response to a petition signed by over 2,000 people.

against-expression-anthology-conceptual-writingThis was my first introduction to Vanessa Place. I had never seen her Twitter feed nor heard about its content. She has gained a level of notoriety to earn a wikipedia entry where Place is said to be “One of the leading figures in the Conceptual Writing movement.” Perhaps my ignorance of her celebrity may be politely excused?

It’s difficult for me to understand what motivates an individual to adopt such a bitter stance toward a book … any book! Personally, I’ve always loved Gone With the Wind, and I look at the book as a product of its time. Why would anyone feel the need to criticize it based on 21st century sensibilities? Further, how does Place’s protest affect change? Mitchell’s book remains in bookstores and libraries – as it should. It is a work of fiction that depicted a specific time in history. Seeking to expunge history because it doesn’t comport with our enlightened views is ignorant! It seems to me she’s manufacturing outrage about something that doesn’t really matter.

But let me hasten to add:  Vanessa Place should be free to express her opinions … on Twitter or wherever else she can manage to assemble an audience. Yes, I think it’s strange to transcribe an entire novel in bite-size tidbits on Twitter, but that’s her choice! The blessed First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees her right of free expression.

Place has taken her antagonism against Mitchell’s novel to unusual (strange?) lengths. In the video below, Place performs “White Out,” an absurd commentary (if you will) that concludes with the final line from the novel Place detests.

Lest I appear too harsh in my evaluation of Vanessa Place’s manufactured outrage, I’ll take a moment to defend her. The 2,000 plus individuals who signed a petition to have her removed from the AWP conference subcommittee are also guilty of manufactured outrage! Having fixed their signatures to a petition, they are okay (apparently) with silencing her point of view.

In its statement today, AWP tries to maintain the middle ground … i.e. Place should be entitled to freedom of expression, but her involvement on the subcommittee might be disruptive. While I’m not an AWP member, I understand their concern that a controversy could overshadow the conference and they don’t want that. But I must say, in removing Place, I think they’ve come down on the side of censorship and thus thrown freedom of expression out the window. Too bad. Free expression continues to die the death of a thousand cuts.

3 thoughts on “Manufactured Outrage

  1. I am so sick of these people who work themselves into paroxysms of rage over books. They remind me of that quote from Kurt Vonnegut where he said, “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” What’s more, these kinds of activists usually defeat their own purpose: they draw attention to a work hoping that people will stop reading it and instead, people become curious and read it anyway!

    1. Hanna, that makes two of us! And Vonnegut’s quote perfectly illustrates the absurdity of it. Thanks for commenting.

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