I haven’t read anything that covers this topic, so I’d be interested in being pointed to other articles that discuss it and hearing the thoughts of anyone who cares to comment.
Writers and other creatives (artists, actors, musicians in particular) have historically used their talents to sway opinions on the important issues of their times. This is not something limited to Western culture. In Soviet Russia, for example, science fiction and fantasy writings of the past have concealed lessons about the tyranny of Soviet government. Post-colonial writers from around the world have and continue to contribute to social discourse, raising awareness of imposed cultures and biased histories.Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird brought forward the racial biases of the legal system and the book had a tremendous impact. These are only a couple of examples from a vast number of contributions made by writers throughout history to shaping society and ending injustice.
Non-fiction writers are supplanting the media with blogs and on the spot reportage. The access granted by the interweb allows independent journalists to be more open than those paid by big media companies. So in the new age, what is the fiction writer’s role on the front of social activism? What does the self-published writer owe in this vein? Is social commentary a luxury granted only to those published in the main stream, or to the contrary, do the self-published have more leeway on this issue?
Musicians in the new world are taking an active stance. Amanda Palmer is a good example. Her activism is focused around the oppressive system by which traditional record labels made money off of recording artists disproportionately. The artist saw very little of the monetary rewards from the production of their music and gave up a lot of freedom. She’s making a case for crowd funding of music in order to allow the artist to create and survive/thrive.
Visual artist Molly Crabapple is making a similar case for art. She addresses issues like the difficulty of taking work on spec (meaning, doing work first in hopes that it will raise money or sell) and how this system makes it harder for an artist to earn a living.
These are all issues to do with raising awareness about how hard it is to make a living in the arts, but both Palmer and Crabapple are involved in/support the Occupy Wall Street movement and other progressive issues. They are set apart only by the visibility of their efforts. Many independent musicians and artists do similar work on a smaller, less visible scale.
But what about writers? Where are the independent writers leading the activism charge? Of course, some writers published by the big publishers still shout into the void from time to time. And a whole host of writers who work for small presses are addressing social issues. But how are indie writers doing it? As we seem to be moving more in the direction of self-publishing, is it going to be all about how to hit it big and not at all about what we can do with these voices we’re trying so hard to make heard?
Okay, so everybody’s got to make a living. Do we only get to make a statement after we’re insanely successful? (See this article by Stephen King.) Or in the case of indie writers, never at all because we risk alienating readers? I suppose I shouldn’t refer to myself as an indie writer. I’m still marginally in favor of the traditional system (as broken as it appears to be). But the tide is turning. Eventually there will be a way that good writers can get their work into the public eye without going through traditional channels.
How do we make a difference and still make a living? How do we help shape the New Publishing Paradigm to be less oppressive to writers and at the same time use our writing skills to be the voices of the voiceless? What do we owe the world on this front? Those of who don’t have a lot of money, but whose strong suit is our talent, our knowledge, our creativity, our compassion? How do we make a stand?