Just a bit of fun

Warning: I found this one deeply uncomfortable while I was writing it. Even by my usual standards I think this is a challenging post.

One of the repeated defences of NaNoWriMo after my blog post criticising it, has been that it is just a bit of fun. This came in response to me suggesting it has a problematic impact on the book industry and on perceptions of books, far beyond the minority who participate. In turn, this led me to thinking about the logic of defending something as ‘just a bit of fun.’

Now, in cases where something is attacked purely on the basis of worth – comic books would be a case in point, the ‘fun’ defence seems passably valid to me. Comics are fun, they don’t hurt anyone normally, and they can be a tool for improving literacy, especially in boys who are not attracted to books (and we’ve moved beyond fun now). It is often the case that popular culture is criticised on issues of merit and worth, and defends itself with the ‘fun’ line. The worth attack, fun defence is perfectly reasonable not least because ‘worth’ is so subjective in the first place, and the first line of attack for people who resent ‘fun’.

However, ‘just a bit of fun’ also defends the torture porn movies and sexual pornography as well. It is a line for silencing debate about the social and emotional impact of subjecting ourselves to this kind of content. What if it isn’t just harmless fun? What if it’s addictive? What if it changes us in ways we are not even aware of? Shouldn’t we know about that, and shouldn’t we care?

All blood sports have at some point been viewed as ‘just a bit of fun’ by the people who enjoyed them. The badger baiting and cock fighting, the dog fights, fox hunting and so forth. Shooting wildlife you do not mean to eat is no doubt ‘just a bit of fun’ for the people who participate. Less so for the wildlife, at a guess. When historical armies have raped their way through conquered peoples, you can be sure someone was ‘just having fun’. It is the first line of defence for abusers – nothing bad is happening to you, this is just a bit of fun. This is the classic defence of all bullies too – especially at school. Normal rough and tumble play. Just fun. No harm real harm done…

What troubles me about the ‘just a bit of fun’ defence is that it seeks to minimise and dismiss the questions that are being raised. While there is a huge difference between a writing program and physical assault, the line of defence being taken is equally invalid and itself needs challenging. I did not question whether NaNo was fun. I’m sure it is for a lot of people. I also know fox hunting is fun for a lot of people who do it (no, I am not implying any similarity between NaNo and fox hunting).‘Fun’ is not an ethical assessment of a thing. Why should the pleasure we take in something be given priority over its wider impact? ‘Just a bit of fun’ is often a refusal to consider the alternatives.

Of course no one wants to consider that the things they were innocently, thoughtlessly enjoying might be problematic and not that cool. We don’t want to be that wrong, any of us. We don’t want to have to feel guilty about things we like, or change our behaviour because of the ethical impact. So we keep buying the fun shoes made by slave labour and the chocolate harvested by children, and we close our eyes and ears to what’s going on. Pagans with our dubiously sourced crystals, taking pilgrimage by aeroplane to international sacred sites. We are all guilty of this, to some degree. I know I could do more to avoid wilful ignorance. Do we choose to keep shutting our eyes and putting our fingers in our ears “la la la, can’t hear you, it’s just a bit of fun, it’s all fine” or are we willing to look the problems in the face when someone brings them to our attention?

And on the flip side, if you want to defend anything, ‘just a bit of fun’ is a really flimsy approach. Not least because the people for whom it isn’t fun probably couldn’t care less how you feel about it. If you love something, argue for it with more considered replies, with more reasoning and better justifications. Many people did defend NaNo on those better terms with talk of community and literacy programs – a powerful counter to my critique, and a valuable addition to the wider discussion. Thank you, those of you who dropped in to do that. That is an important counter argument, well worth sharing, and a definite consideration when thinking about the wider impact of NaNo.

If it’s truly just a bit of fun, why on earth are we willing to ignore the possibility we are hurting someone or something else?

(And feel free to place bets over how many people misread this and go on to get angry with me for comparing NaNoWriMo to rape, because if this week is anything to go by, someone will. Not something one of you lovely regulars would do, I feel confident. You all seem sane and tend to reply to what I’ve written, not what you’ve inferred after reading every third word… )

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

14 responses to “Just a bit of fun

  • angharadlois

    What you’ve done here is offer a very clear analysis of a widely-used and problematic justification – and for that I salute you 🙂

    As an aside, I find it interesting to consider the role of the internet in the twin problems of shallow reading and overly-hasty reaction. The very fact that you expressed a need to point out the distinction between what you were saying (that the “just a bit of fun” defence bears further exploration, regardless of its context) and what some people are likely to perceive (the use of disparate examples which, if read without concentration, could be – wilfully? – misunderstood as conflating separate issues) – and the fact that I agreed with your need to do so – is a bit of a sad indictment. I love the contribution that blogs make to our ability to have these important collective cultural conversations, but it seems they come at a cost. I’ve been guilty of responding in anger to comments online; reading back, with hindsight, every single ‘flame war’ looks ridiculous. I sometimes wish we could implement a kind of timer system whereby wordpress would only allow people to add comments 5 minutes or more after opening a blog post. Ho hum.

    • Nimue Brown

      This last week has taught me a lot about the willingness of people to read things in, I’m going to be caveating more, I suspect. Whether it makes any odds remains to be seen. The internet, it is a strange place, as troubling as it is useful, often.

  • Michelle Joelle

    This is so timely for me. I just finished teaching Mill’s Utilitarianism in my Ethics class, which is precisely the philosophy of the “it just a bit of fun” defense. Essentially, things which maximize general happiness are morally good – the question becomes one of weighing how much happiness is gained by an act against how much happiness it takes away. In this case, the defense would need to show that the thing in question (NaNoWriMo) brings more fun than it takes away, and leaves the balance sheet in the black.

    I don’t have the full industry experience to know what kind of hurt it really brings to professionals, but my general experience with NaNo (and with friends who have done NaNo and won, and failed, and everything in between) is that it has a net benefit. People who try writing novels often become better readers, and more appreciative readers, at that.

    But that’s a different conversation that what you’re raising here. Thank you for continuing this discussion!

    • Nimue Brown

      Wow, thank you for that. I must have run into it somewhere along the way by have a terrible memory for philosophers and theory titles. It is an interesting question, whether overall balance of happiness is acceptable, or whether harm caused is more the issue but I think the first option risks the tyranny of the majority far too much, and that which makes us happy is of course not always good for us, with all due reference to excesses of cake….

  • jameswilliaml

    I’ll post a link to this and see if I can hasten the rape comparison… I can’t wait for it. Maybe remove the disclaimer and just bathe in the glowing armies summoned by misdirected reading.

    One thing that I completely agree with is when you said: “What troubles me about the ‘just a bit of fun’ defense is that it seeks to minimize (you forgot the z in your post) and dismiss the questions that are being raised.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. It’s a flimsy response to a serious question and is intended to be dismissive and not an actual challenge to intellectual arguments.


    “While there is a huge difference between a writing program and physical assault, the line of defense being taken is equally invalid”.

    That is not true. You don’t address all the other things we do for fun as perfectly legitimate argument and mainly the only argument. I watch football and basketball and the olympics just for fun. I go bike riding for fun (seriously, not for physical exercise). In these cases it is a perfectly legitimate use. So the question is why “fun” for writing falls into the illegitimate category (legitimizing the extremities) and not the legitimate category (fun things). And here I think that it’s hard to make that decision.

    I write for fun. I love it and do it out of compulsion now it’s so damn fun. And that’s what keeps me going. I’ve submitted work to be line edited and it came back in pieces, and because I enjoy writing so much, I continued. I wrote another book, and now on my third in the meantime. Fun is why I’m an author. I write for just a bit of fun.

    But NaNo, I agree, encourages bad writing, and bad writing technique. And more to my ultimate point – just for fun is code for “I don’t give a damn”. It’s an excuse to not take something seriously, and not to take the 200k odd novels written in November seriously. I write just for fun, but I put my work out there and desperately want to improve it and be violently critiqued. I take my fun seriously, just like my biking and my football. The question to me is whether that 50k is taken seriously through self editing along the way. Maybe that December will be a month of alpha readers and editing. Then February as rewrites. All slowly building toward a goal through the necessary steps. Writing is just half the battle, and in many ways just the first step toward writing a book. In short, we need more novel writing months that encourages the hard parts of writing, deconstructing it, revising it, and critiquing it.

    That’s why my (currently diseased) mind thinks.

    • Nimue Brown

      On the sports side I guess when you show up and pay your money you are facilitating people who are attempting physical excellence, which is a lot like an art form, huge business side to it, community engagement…. you probably could make other cases.

      For give the spellings, I’m English, we don’t always have the same letters in the same places,,,, and my spelling in English isn’t great either 🙂

  • literaryvittles

    yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried to defend myself against this type of “logic.” Of course, everything is “fun” when you strip away the negative implications of your actions and view the world through rose-colored glasses. thanks again for a thoughtful post.

  • Fredrik R.

    I hope you don’t receive too much proverbial sour rain over this as I felt you make a fair point about the dismissal of (sometimes) topics of importance. There’s a certain element of selective perception inherent in all of us – in that we all tend to shut out truths that force us to reconsider things. Especially when they’re uncomfortable to change or personal to us. However, in my eyes it is important – even crucial in some situations – to challenge our own believes, lest we become rigid in our thinking. The quintessence of an empirical outlook on the world is to observe and constantly revise our fundament.

    Granted, just how far-reaching potential negative effects of the NaNoWriMo exercise might have is debatable, but that is exactly the point I feel you’re making – and that is worth making. It IS debatable. Simply because some people do not wish to include themselves in the discussion doesn’t mean they have the prerogative to dismiss it all together.

  • MLR

    Reblogged this on Malora Writes and commented:
    Druid Life articulates the problems with the ultimate conversation-shutter-downer.

  • MLR

    It’s a common refrain, and the companion statement “It’s just a…[book, movie, TV show].” Combined together, you could argue almost everything in our culture is not worth thinking or talking about.

    I think Socrates has the best retort: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

  • The massive power of tiny words | Druid Life

    […] about how the word ‘just’ can be used insidiously to downplay things – ‘just a hobby’ ‘just a bit of fun’… today it’s the word ’if’ that I want to scrutinise. It’s a very small word that […]

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