I know the Virginia elections are a done deal, but I had to write about this and I only heard about it after the election, courtesy of a Chicago Tribune article. On November 8, Kathleen Parker wrote about Senator George Allen's attempt to smear his opponent on the basis of the novels he wrote about the Vietnam War. Apparently what you say in your novels can be used against you. Ms. Parker, like myself, feels that taking the contents of a novel out-of-context to smear an author is taking literalness too far.
Before writing this I went back to the internet and found the following press release from the Allen campaign: "Webb’s novels disturbingly and consistently – indeed, almost uniformly – portray women as servile, subordinate, inept, incompetent, promiscuous, perverted, or some combination of these," the Allen press release reads. "In novel after novel, Webb assigns his female characters base, negative characteristics. In thousands of pages of fiction penned by Webb, there are few if any strong, admirable women or positive female role models." (http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2006/10/a_novel_attack.html). Part of me wants to say, "So racist comments are ok, but portraying war-time abuse of women and boys is not?"
More surfing, courtesy of Jake Tapper's blog for ABC, revealed that some of what Webb has written is indeed disturbing, notably a scene involving pedophilia. But Lolita is disturbing too and it is considered a classic novel by many. Bad things happen in real life and some of them are portrayed in novels. If I write a novel about a rape, it does not mean I approve of it. This may be true even if I write a novel from the rapist's perspective.
Kathleen Parker makes this point as well: "far more perverse than a staged sex act in a wartime novel is our incremental trending toward literalness at a time when literal-mindedness is the blunt instrument of those trying to drag Western civilization into a new dark age." In an age when Muslims riot over cartoon content and Salman Rushdie has to go into hiding, we should adamantly refuse to make our authors have to apologize for their fictional imaginings.
However, in order to have a more honest opinion regarding this debate, I have ordered one of Webb's books on Amazon. I'll let you know if I like it.
In the meantime, any politician who has the discipline and intelligence to write a publishable novel, has my respect until further notice. Imagine a novel by George W. Bush. Scary.