Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Higher Standard

Today on Do Some Damage, novelist and screenwriter John McFetridge blogs:

In the pilot episode of the TV show I worked on, The Bridge, a lawyer says to a cop, “Shouldn’t the police be held to a higher standard?” And he says, “Not when it’s used to screw with them.”

Now, that episode was filmed before the rest of the writing team was hired, but it was something we discussed quite a bit in the writer’s room. The show is about a cop who becomes head of the police union and works to, as the union slogan says, “Protect Those Who Protect Us.”

I kept insisting that the police aren’t held to a higher standard, they’re held to the police standard. The same way doctors are held to their standard and engineers and lawyers and truck drivers are held to their own standards – every profession has a set of standards and all the members are held to it – or should be.

...I’d like crime fiction to reflect the reality of the world the same way literary fiction does and not be held to a “higher standard” where justice must always be served. Literature – art - isn’t comfort food, it isn’t a security blanket.

Literature – art – has kick-started many a public discussion that has then led to changes, maybe even improvements, in peoples’ lives. Now, I’m not saying all books should do that – or even try to do that.

But if we never try to do that then we’re supporting the status quo. Our books and stories become, “unlikely – and therefore unthreatening.”

Crime fiction can, and should, be many things but it should never be unthreatening. It should challenge and upset and get people arguing.

It shouldn’t be held to a “higher standard.”

I commented:

I agree, John. In fact, I agree with those who say literary fiction is genre fiction: the "literary" genre, with standards of its own.

If literary fiction reflected life so well, there wouldn't be the need for a branch of fiction that reflects the reality of crime. More power to you.

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