Saturday, January 25, 2014

Is it wrong for writers to "profit" from writing about emotionally distressing subjects?

I finished the Fault in Our Stars yesterday and went on Amazon to read some of the 1 star reviews out of curiosity. One comment stood out as interesting to me: an actual stage 4 cancer patient complained about John Green using cancer kids to "make a quick buck" and wondered how much of the profits he was going to use off his book and movie deal to give back to cancer patients. While I do have sympathy with the poster for their situation, I felt like their comment was a bit harsh. Other posters said similar things. One person asked who would be sick enough to write about terminally ill kids falling in love? Again I ask the question...what is wrong with that?

A lot of the people on Amazon complained that reading should be an escape from reality and that writing about topics like cancer and death was "wrong" because it made people feel sad. They felt that stories should not depress the reader with showing them how raw and naked and harsh reality can be. I have a lot of respect for writers who are unafraid to write about sensitive topics. Cancer patients, in particular kids, are still people with thoughts and dreams and desires. They are not just a disease. I thought John Green's book was a fascinating insight into the mind of a person with a terminal illness: How would you cope if you had to breathe with the aide of an oxygen tank day after day? How would you feel about not reaching your 20th birthday? What you want to do with your final days? Would you want to kiss a boy or travel or do something silly and stupid like watch some bad TV? What makes life worth living? How would you accept your fate? Your stars?

John Green's book asks all of these questions and more and would be a great tool to get discussions started in the classroom. Is he "profiting" off cancer patients? Is that wrong? Are there some subjects writers should avoid? No, to all of these questions. He is not profiting off cancer patients, that makes it sounds like he stole something from them, he made this story up from scratch, it is fiction, thus he owns no one any profits. Saying that he should be ashamed for writing about terminally ill kids and that he should give them some money is like saying that every crime writer should give money to a victims of crime organisation. He has done nothing wrong. He used his imagination to write a sad romance story. That's not a crime. Life is full of sad stories. Life is unfair. Not all of us will be blessed to live to a ripe old age. Some of us will die young. And that's okay. That's a good message to give across to readers. Enjoy life. Every moment of it. Do not question the fates. Just accept things. And find love if you can. These are all good things to tell kids.

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