It starts with the idea that anyone with an internet connection can go and find instructions on how to make a bomb with a common kitchen appliance. Sadly, this idea isn’t new. The information has existed for decades, but the technological age in which we live makes this information all too easy to obtain. You would be right to think that there must be violent motivations behind the desire to create such a device and put it to use, but that’s not always the case.
There’s a company in the U.S. currently publishing blueprints that you can simply plug into a 3D printer and then print yourself restricted parts for firearms, like the lower receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle. When asked about what his thoughts were on the fact that this was one step closer to anyone being able to manufacture a gun that could pass freely thought a metal detector the co-owner of the company, Cody Wilson, replied:
“I think there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing in a moral sense. We’re pursuing what we think is a step toward liberty…”
The first time I was exposed to the question of social responsibility when it came to published material was in high school. There was a rumour floating around that someone in the school had acquired a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook and people were freaking out! Well the adults were, but the students, they just wanted to see something blow up. Several years after publication the author of the book had a change of heart and wrote the publisher requesting it be taken out of print. Due to the manner in which the copyright was assigned (to the publisher, not the author) the author was told that that wasn’t going to happen. William Powell, says of his infamous book:
“The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.”
While I applaud William Powell’s change of heart, the content is still readily available and it continues to promote violence. You can’t un-ring a bell. But this isn’t a post about gun control or anti-terrorism (though I happen to feel that both of those things are generally a good idea). All of the above are examples of content that’s driven by an agenda (terrorism, civil liberties, political protest). But what about when the agenda is simply to entertain? What happens when a work of fiction becomes the Anarchist Cookbook for the sociopath living next door?
This is a question that recently popped into my head when I was driving to work and listening to Metallica’s Nothing else Matters. For whatever reason, a spectacularly disturbing scene popped in my head as the song played. I imagined it as a soundtrack playing over the events as they unfolded, the main character singing along as he committed heinous acts of evil and atrocity. If I think about it, there’s nothing unique about what I envisioned – I’m sure several movies, televisions shows, or books have captured the essence of this scene several hundred times over – but when the song ended I paused my music and drove the rest of the way in silence thinking to myself, What is this crazy serial killer’s motivation? What would drive this individual to commit such unspeakable acts of violence?
Before long, I had established a back story for my antagonist, the motivations behind his actions, and a suitable ending that, depending on which way I want the story to go, could either please readers or make them scream in frustration (i.e. getting caught or getting away with it). Once I had these ideas in place, and after a day’s worth of work of thinking about something else, I was left to ponder, What if any of this were to be used by someone in real life?
Part of me thinks it’s ridiculous to worry that a work of fiction would end up driving someone to act on it, but it happens all the time. It’s not in the same as distributing bomb making instructions or blueprints for restricted gun parts but is the fact that the book is labelled as fiction enough? I would like to think so, but at the same time I still feel somewhat responsible of making sure that it’s crystal clear I’m talking bullshit for your enjoyment and that it’s not a how-to manual or some demented personal wish list. I suspect a lot of artists struggle with this, but I’m not really sure.
Anyway, at the end of the day I can always get Bono to step in and make things right.