Fiction and Reality: Coping Mechanism or Not?

CN Warning: Mentions of non-consent as fiction discussed below

Today I had some complicated thoughts regarding fiction and its place in our lives. And how it can affect reality. My specific thoughts were regarding taboo topics like pornography with themes of non-consent and other taboo, illegal or violent themes. Honestly I ought to cut and paste from my FB chats with my boyfriend what exactly I think, but I’ll honestly try to reproduce my thoughts here in this blog post.

I think people broadly fall into two camps whose main axioms run thus: The first group believes that fiction is a safe place for individuals to explore things they would not do in reality. The second group believes that fiction can and often does affect reality and has consequences because of human interpretation and experience. Many arguments are made that because a work is ‘just fiction’ that it ought not to be taken as a guide or even and endorsement of the activities that take place therein. And that’s fair enough. Many who have suffered real life traumas also use fiction as a coping mechanism. For example, a survivor of rape might create a work of non-con erotica in order to re-contextualize and reclaim their experience that they suffered. I believe that this a valid strategy provided that the individual is, to the best of their knowledge, using this as a way to cope without re-traumatizing themselves. However, I also believe that same work could have drastically harmful effects on another survivor who sees their experience of rape being eroticized. Not to mention, people who would like to or are in reality rapists might find such erotic work validating and normalizing. A survivor’s attempt to cope with their experience could very easily damage another survivor and validate a rapist who takes the work of fiction to be an endorsement of their actions.

It’s not like I don’t understand the argument for fiction being an exploratory space. I totally and completely understand that someone might create a raw, violent and intensely emotional piece of fiction in order to cope with past traumatic events. I think having pieces of fiction that allow us to explore and work through traumatic events is incredibly valuable. Furthermore, there’s some evidence to suggest that survivors can ‘re-write’ their traumatic experiences by re-enacting them differently. But other evidence suggests that some people can be re-traumatized by the same material, so the situation remains sticky as ever.

The first solution most people argue to the problem is to tag such works with appropriate things that denote the content. I would agree that tagging things so that survivors who want to engage in catharsis via their preferred method can do so, while allowing those wish not to see it to avoid it by black-listing or otherwise avoiding that tag. However, you have to wonder if by flagging it, you’re also making the material easily searchable for rapists and pedophiles and what have you who find the work encouraging and validating. Now you have an easily searchable database full of your preferred taboo, and no one can criticize you if you claim to be a survivor. It’s so skull-splittingly hard to determine people’s motives and the truth online, and even in real life. Who knows why someone clicked on your non-con pornography? Maybe it was a survivor looking for catharsis? Or perhaps someone looking to indulge a kink they would never consider acting out in real life? Maybe it was a rapist looking for pornography to jack off to. It’s really impossible to know what someone behind the other end of your screen thinks.

One of my thoughts today was if there ought to be a website which is entirely run by survivors who would like to have their work accessible to others. It would need to be very explicitly run by survivors and have some kind of disclaimer on the front page that might read: “By clicking on this, you understand that the work hosted here is made by survivors who wish to create something by which they can reclaim and control their experiences. By consuming this content, you understand that the creator does not endorse the events depicted. Furthermore, by consuming this content, you agree that you will not use this content in such a way as to promote or perpetrate the acts or events that are depicted in these works. To re-post these works outside of this context constitutes a violation and a subsequent banning from this site, as removal of the context will vastly change the meaning of this work and make it a damaging force to survivors who wish not to interact with works of this nature.” I think such a disclaimer would adequately communicate the intent of a website, but as I stated it above, when you create a work and make it available to view, you invite anyone to view it for any reason.

Ultimately, I suppose that I believe people should be able to do as they like with their personal fiction. But I further believe that a lot of the works with the themes mentioned above might not be suitable for a wider viewing audience because of the potential for harm.

What are your thoughts on fiction that portrays violence or taboo themes?

 

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