Monday, August 08, 2011

A Writer's Moral Responsibility

Today on Do Some Damage, Sandra Ruttan discusses a writer's moral responsibility, citing a commentator's opinion that if Amy Winehouse hadn't won a Grammy for her song "Rehab", she might be alive today.

Sandra writes, in part:

As authors, we're entertainers. Some of us may write more obvious entertainment, and some of us may write things we hope inspire people to think about serious matters at times. But in determining the best book of the year, or best song, or album or short story or movie, our primary focus can't be on the message.

It's when we get sidetracked on secondary issues that we lose focus on the real issue; great writing. I don't know that I would have agreed if I'd watched the Grammy Awards the year Winehouse won, but that doesn't matter either. What matters is that the committee should use the criteria for evaluating the music, and determine the best contender in each category. The awards weren't set up with the stated objective of making a moral statement or setting a certain type of example.

I commented:

I disagree (slightly) only because I don't think text can be completely separated from its message. On some level, we evaluate text by how effectively it delivers its message. Isn't concern for message part of what separates great prose/poetry from good? Are we truly more entertained by writing that has no purpose/message/goal but to elicit our gut reactions?

I don't know Winehouse's music, either, and I don't know what criteria they use to judge the Grammys. Music does seem to have more elements than text--melodic composition for one--so it's possible to separate melody and performance from text.

This much said, like you, I don't think it would have changed things had Winehouse not won.

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