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That last post got me thinking a bit, and some reading I did today kind of brought the point home.

Should a writer be bound by ethical constraints?

The libertarian part of me says no.  I’m decidedly against censorship.

At the same time, I do believe in acting responsibly.  Maybe exerting a bit of self censorship.  But probably not in ways that most people think of when they think of ethical constraints. Writing about sex, violence, etc.?  No problem.  Those things are a part of the world we live in.  Reflecting them in art should be natural.

My problem comes about with authors who distort the truth, to intentionally incur a belief in something they know, or should know, is pure codswallop.

Dan Brown comes to mind.  In his initial interviews surrounding the release of “The DaVinci Code,” he presented as a book based on historical research, and as a strong candidate for an “alternate history.”

My problem with that claim is that Brown based much of his research on Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which was in turn based on a bunch of forged documents created by a group of French con-men led by Pierre Plantard. Holy Blood, Holy Grail came out in 1982, and within months had been debunked by, well, anyone who’d ever picked up a history book and chose to devote some time to pointing out the silly absurdity of it all. Sure, a lot of people still bought into it, but by the time Dan Brown released The DaVinci Code, more than 20 years later, no one who had done any significant amount of research into the topic took the theory seriously.

And I really don’t think Brown did either.  He’s distanced himself from making claims about the “historically accurate, researched” aspect of the Code since then.  He basically uses the “it’s just a novel” line now.  When he bothers to discuss it in public at all, which isn’t often anymore.

What he did, by making claims about the research behind the book in the run up to it hitting the shelves and the immediate publicity afterwards, was marketing genius. And he knew it.  Controversy sells, and picking on the Catholic Church, at that moment in history, was kinda like shooting ducks in a barrel.  The Church had some serious image problems in North America at the time (and still does). I’m no fan of the Catholic Church.  And when it comes to debunking their claptrap, I’m all for it.

But don’t replace their voodoo with voodoo of your own.  And the Code, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Plantard, were all just selling a different brand of snake oil. Out of the three, I have the least animosity for the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.  From what I can tell, they actually believed what they were writing.  That doesn’t make it any more true, or them any less foolish for buying into a weak French con.  It just makes them more honest.

Brown can’t make that claim to honesty.  All indications are that he actually did his research.  And if he did, he would have come across all the info thoroughly debunking the theory he presented.  What he did was present a theory he knew was hokum as the truth.  And he did it to make a buck.  In the process, he convinced a lot of people that the lie was the truth.  The indications are that tens of thousands of people believed him.  For many, it literally “shook their faith.”

Part of the problem was that the group that cried foul the loudest was the Catholic Church, and they have some serious credibility issues of their own.  And that drove even more people to take Brown’s book seriously.

Now if Brown had of been clear from the beginning that his book was fiction, and people had chosen to believe it as truth anyway, that would be a different story.  You can’t cure stupid.

But you shouldn’t encourage it either.

Something to say?


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