The Unforgivable Taboo


In erotic fiction there are several taboos specific to the genre. The commonplace publishing taboos against incest, bestiality, underage sex and necrophilia make sense as valid restrictions. Those acts are either illegal immoral or potentially harmful. They merit their taboo status because to glamorise them through fiction could be seen as advocating such nefarious activities.

But, to my mind, they do not include the worst taboo in the writing world. In my opinion, the worst taboo is when people express uninformed opinions.

I read an article the other day about a book that will soon be released. One of the commentors beneath the article had written: “I haven’t read this book. But I don’t approve of it.

I’m paraphrasing there. But that was basically the gist of the comment. Worse: there were several comments on this same theme. The commentors had read an article condemning the book, and then gone on to agree that the book needed condemning, even though they hadn’t yet read the work.

Now, I’m not saying that we have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t believe in arbitrary condemnation without any supporting evidence. If someone tells me they’re publishing a book that breaks all of the taboos mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, I would be appalled. However, before I went on to condemn or criticise the book, I would have to read a copy so that my opinion was informed.

Do I want to read books about incest? Of course not. But I wouldn’t disapprove of such material for fiction because, without the suggestion of incest there would be no Wuthering Heights.

Do I want to read about underage sex? Definitely not. But the caveat of an informed opinion continues to apply. If all suggestion of underage sex was banned from literature, Romeo and Juliet would never be performed again.

Bestiality and necrophilia are rightly viewed as deplorable acts. And yet intimate relations with vampires and werewolves continue to titillate readers.

It rankles me no end when I hear people dismissing a book, author or genre and then adding that they’ve never read that particular book, author or genre. Usually, trying to sound smug and superior, they’ll explain that they never read the book, author or genre because, “Who would want to read something like that?”

It’s an expression of shallow snobbery that I’ve heard applied to Jeffrey Archer, Dan Brown, Harlequin Mills and Boon, all the Harry Potter titles and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books. Quite why anyone thinks it makes them appear clever to have a scathing opinion of works they’ve never read is beyond my comprehension.
I worked with a poisonous old battleaxe who told me all my books were badly-written pornography. She’d never read one. But she’d heard me mention the title of one book and knew beyond doubt that it was all badly-written filth.

My argument, that it was well-written filth, didn’t assuage her uninformed opinion.

Fortunately, I discovered that her defamatory opinion was not only levelled at me and my meagre abilities. She vowed that she would never entertain any of Stephen King’s output because it was all graphic and ghoulish horror nonsense.

I told her she enjoyed Stephen King’s writing.

She argued that she didn’t.

I reminded her that she had waxed lyrical about the film Shawshank Redemption.

She assured me that Stephen King hadn’t written it. She was also adamant that he had nothing to do with the Green Mile, another of her favourite movies.

And I’ve always seen that woman as proof of how imbecilic a person can look when they adhere to an uninformed opinion, railing against annoying details such as facts and evidence.

There are taboos within erotic fiction that we need to consider when writing. But there are also taboos that need to be considered when we are discussing writing. To my mind, the greatest and most unbreakable taboo of all should be the expressing of an uninformed opinion.

That is truly unforgivable.

Ashley Lister
July 2011

“The Write Stuff” © 2011 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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