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… )