Not a very PC statement, is that? PC, as in Politically Correct. Or as some of my friends like to say, others forcing us not to potentially say something that might hurt or offend someone.
What brought on this thought? I’ll tell you. As a Diana Gabaldon fan, I’m totally sucked into the world being created on Facebook now as they film a television series based on Gabaldon’s book Outlander. That’s right. A 16 episode season based on ONE book. SQUEE!!!!! But I digress.
I’ve never been one to get sucked into online discussions. Partially because there are so many comments to keep up with, partially because I don’t really like to dissect my favorite stories. Partly because someone always says something that makes me seethe. Not so much because I disagree with what they have to say, but just the abject negativity and lack of thought in some of the comments.
Where does being PC fit into all this? There has been much discussion over the casting. Outlander was published in 1991, so some readers have been waiting two decades for this story to come to life. When Caitriona Balfe was named as Claire, there was instant relief. Then almost immediately, dissection. She’s too tall, she’s too skinny, that’s not what Claire looks like to me. It got rather annoying. But the worst part was how people are hoping the director and script writers rewrite Gabaldon’s story to fit our current perception of proper.
Here’s the example one person gave. When Claire is at Castle Leoch, she is introduced to Mrs. FitzGibbons. Mrs. Fitz is a rather healthy woman. I guarantee she could probably give me a run for my money in the hip department. Mrs. Fitz is described as having a “meaty arm”, “heaving breasts” when she laughs, being “a huge dame” and “her bulk resting on a sturdy stool” the reader definitely gets the idea that Claire sees Mrs. Fitz as fat. I remember also a mention of the woman moving rather quickly despite her considerate size – or something along those lines.
People on the threads think Claire is being mean, using unnecessarily cruel language to describe the woman. I’m not sure these people understand. When I read them, these brief descriptions, I had an immediate picture in my mind. Secondly, the language is true to the time period. Claire was born in the 1920’s and has just made it through World War II before being hurled back in time to 1743. I’m pretty sure people still used words we now consider cruel in 1945.
My problem lies here: If the script writers were to make this book PC to fit the climate of our times right now, the essence of the original story would be lost. The individuality of the characters, and their flaws, would be whitewashed. How boring would this story be if everyone worried about hurting everyone’s feelings and dance around subjects because they might offend. Nothing would get done, Jamie would have died. Hell, Claire would have been killed in the first chapter!
People say stereotypes and certain words offend and hurt. Words only have the power we give them. If it’s true to your character to describe someone as Claire described Mrs. Fitz, then do so. What’s missing from these discussions is the obvious respect and admiration Claire has for Mrs. Fitz because of her manner and her knowledge and caring. It has nothing to do with her size. Do I like being called large, or bulky, or having hips that shouldn’t be let loose in a china shop? No, but you know what? It’s also the truth. I know this. I also know those words can only hurt or offend if I let them. It also helps me to build character, how I choose to react to those words.
Overall, I think you must stay true to the time where the story is set, no matter how uncomfortable it will make a reader. It’s part of our history, it’s part of our character. For fiction writers, those words and descriptions can help us create our characters and make them more real.
Have a great weekend.
Next week – Blog tour! Reviews for some of the Rosewood Falls stories, so check them out. I’ll post the links each day so you can follow along.