Sunday, June 24, 2018

To opinionate or not to opinionate?

TPHeinz | CC0 | Pixabay
When I was a kid in the '60s, my parents used to watch the news on Channel 5 out of Chicago, partly because Dad liked their anchor, Floyd Kalber. Then Kalber began delivering commentaries at the end of some of his broadcasts. It turned out he was kind of a liberal, or at least more liberal than my father was. Dad kept watching, but he often complained that he'd liked Floyd Kalber until he started giving his opinion about things.

I'm telling you this to illustrate that the argument over celebrities airing their opinions didn't start with Twitter. It's been going on for decades. Maybe centuries. In fact, it's probably been happening ever since Caveman Og developed the sort of standing in his community that worked best if he maintained his neutrality -- which meant keeping his personal opinions to himself.

The subject pops up in indie author circles every now and then, but it has been an almost constant topic of discussion since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. A lot of authors contend that we, like celebrities and sports figures, shouldn't make political posts on social media, lest we turn our fans against us. And they have a point. I follow a few traditionally-published authors on Facebook and/or Twitter, as well as a few actors; whenever they post political stuff, they get haters and "I really wish you'd stop posting so much about politics" right along with the people who agree with them.

However, despite the complaints, none of the authors and actors I follow have dialed it back.

As for independent authors, many of us have developed work-arounds. Mine, for a long time, was to separate my author persona from my personal stuff -- that is, I would post only writing-related stuff on my Facebook author page and my Twitter account, and keep my personal views confined to my personal timeline on Facebook. That worked pretty well until Facebook started limiting the organic reach of business pages to encourage us to buy ads. At that point, I started setting all, or nearly all, of my timeline posts to public. I've had the occasional troll by doing this, but now that Facebook is getting a handle on its Russian bot problem (ahem...) the trolls have dwindled to very nearly zero. (Of course, now that I've said that, I'll probably get a rash of 'em this week.)

I do think that, like my father and Floyd, some readers are surprised that authors they admire hold the opinions they do. A lot of us are liberals. A lot of us are very liberal.

Here's the thing: Fiction readers -- particularly those who read literary fiction, often develop a finer sense of empathy. And writers are big readers. Plus it takes empathy to get inside the head of a character and write convincingly from that character's point of view. And studies have shown that liberals tend to have higher levels of empathy than conservatives (hence the term "bleeding-heart liberal"). So it really shouldn't be a surprise that authors (and actors, who also have to get inside the heads of the characters they portray) are often liberals politically.

As a journalist, I wasn't comfortable with offering commentaries on the air. I was a reporter, and as a reporter, I believed I needed to view the stories I was covering as objectively as possible. So like Caveman Og, I kept my opinions to myself. Now, though, I'm free of that constraint. And anybody who's read the Pipe Woman Chronicles has a pretty good idea of my political leanings anyhow. So I expect I will continue to offer my opinions on social media -- although I will still keep them off my Facebook author page. And I'm still not going to turn this into a political blog.

I said I was going to do a giveaway for the Transcendence books this month, didn't I? And here it is, the last Sunday of the month, and I'm not ready. Let's do it next week.

These moments of opinionated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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