This is an advertisement I recently saw on Facebook for the Netflix original movie Okja. I look upon this ad, and I marvel that people came up with it. Not only that, they filmed it. And when they had filmed it, they looked at it and said to themselves, “Yes, this is a good ad. This ad will persuade viewers to watch this movie. It will not persuade them to avoid it like the annual Anchovy and Pineapple Pizza Festival with live music by Nickelback.”
And I wonder if these people know something I don’t. (In fact, they almost certainly do. One thing my brief career in sales taught me was that I can’t sell steak to a hungry dog. People tell me that as a writer, I am my own best marketer, and this is true… but, alas, only by default.)
There is a show, also on Netflix, called Dear White People. I feel like I’m supposed to be watching it, but I haven’t. The title is kind of a turnoff. “Dear White People” is more specific than “To Whom It May Concern,” but not by a whole lot. I feel like it’s trying to tell me something, and that something is “I don’t know who you are, and I would consider it an imposition on my time and attention if I ever had to meet you face to face, but I believe I know what’s wrong with you and what you ought to do about it.” Which is not a message that appeals to me, but again, clearly some people like it.
This is going to sound strange, coming from someone whose politics run left of center, but… I don’t like to be preached at. I just don’t. Maybe it’s just that I was brought up Quaker. Different Quaker meetings follow different traditions, but the one I went to always followed the tradition of silent worship. The theory is that God might actually have something to say to one of us, and we should be listening in case He does. Anyway, I never got the chance to build up a tolerance for preaching.
But obviously some people like it. I wonder if it’s a lot of people.
And here’s the strange part — even though I don’t like preaching, every now and then I kind of like looking at PSAs* on YouTube. I can’t say what it is I like about them. They’re meant to be preachy, much more then they’re ever meant to be entertaining. Thing is, my favorite PSAs tend to be about bad behaviors I don’t engage in, such as smoking and drunk driving. When I watch them, I find myself identifying with the messenger, not the intended recipient. I have a dark suspicion that this also explains the appeal of a good many other message-oriented pieces of work.
So why does all this concern me? Because (as I may have mentioned) I’m working on a piece of cli-fi while consciously trying to avoid preachiness. I’m not trying to write a book that people buy out of a sense of obligation to a cause and then feel their work is done. In the first place, I have no idea how to elicit such a sense of obligation. In the second place, I want to be read for pleasure.
So while there are moments in what are now the Altered Seasons books where characters reflect on how nice it would be if people in previous decades had listened to the many, many warnings they were given, these moments are few and far between. The characters spend most of their time trying with various levels of success to cope with their drastically changing circumstances while preserving their values and finding humor, occasional joy and in general reasons to get up in the morning. I have some experience in this from writing the Locksmith books, which are not too dark and grim despite being half set in a future world where the human race has gone extinct.
I just hope I haven’t misjudged the market too badly.
*Public service announcements. Also called PIFs, or public information films.