We write the words that keep you up at night.

Freedom of Speech – A Bizarro Author’s Perspective – An Op-ed/guest commentary from “Vulgarity for the Masses” Author J.S. Lawhead

Vulgarity For The Masses by J.S. LawheadTrying to find a starting place for my first guest blog article on Burning Bulb makes me feel like I’m trying to write a pretentious introduction for some snooty New York University film class. I keep finding myself wanting to start with “What IS creativity?” or “what IS freedom of speech/expression?” as if this was the first time you came into the big city off the turnip truck from Yutzylvania. You know what creativity is – it is the act of exercising actions contrary to what is redundant in your context.

Freedom of Speech, however, isn’t quite as easy to define – at least not anymore. It used to be a concept, nay, a dream of societies that lived genuinely under the thumbs of the inarguable tyrants to be able to say and think their own opinions without being thrown into the gulag or whatever funny foreigner word they had for “prison” at the time. Today, freedom of speech is largely used to justify paying drunk, poorly educated George Carlin clones millions of dollars to be racist, sexist, hateful and intolerant assholes to the roaring applause of society’s quasi-intellectual bottom-feeders, inbetween voice acting gigs for Dreamworks and PBS.

I wasn’t alive for much of history, so I don’t actually know when the switch from dignity and truth to giving sociopathic people excuses to make fun of teenage mothers who lost their disabled children to cancer happened, but I probably wasn’t alive for it and am thankful there is a very low chance I had anything to do with it. Truth be told, despite being a published author in the most extreme literature genre you can find, I actually really find offending people to be distasteful… a demeaning self-exposure to the very center of the humanity that has put a permanent cap on the quality of life on Earth, and a self-evident admission to being part of the problem for everyone.

Is that what you were hoping to read when you saw another article on Freedom of Speech? Another nameless paraquot blindly preaching anarchy without any real thinking on the subject and without earning any of the wisdom that comes with it? Aside from being a total cliche at this point in history, I refuse to waste what few opportunities I have to speak to people by contributing more to the shallow, stupid-minded dogma that any punk-rock poseur with half a tongue in his mouth (and usually not much else) can regurgitate and pretend he’s Luke f’n Skywalker. No sir, what I want to talk about is where Freedom of Speech should be utilized to its intended, maximum effect in literature.

Yeah, I could’ve been a pompous, hippie professor and asked “What is creativity? What is Freedom of Speech?”, but a better question is “how does a bizarro author reconcile his personal feelings on Freedom of Speech versus the essence behind what he publishes?” well, it may not be a better question, but it’s certainly longer, and that’s just as good. My basis was this existed long before I was old enough to remember things, but I don’t think it was actually organized and realized until my first novel, Vulgarity For The Masses was published.

If you’ve read Vulgarity For The Masses (and judging by my sales numbers, YOU HAVEN’T) you might get the subtlest hint that I was trying to see what real Freedom of Speech might be like. I really wanted to see how much I could possibly get away with in this new bizarro genre I discovered. I wanted to see what would happen if I could cram all my creativity and nonsense into every sentence of this 200-something page tome and really create something I’ve never seen before. You know how some hot sauce makers make sauces you have to sign legal waivers to try? I wanted to make one so hot that the waiver comes with an additional mandatory purchase of life insurance to keep your family funded for the very expensive funeral they will have to purchase once you put that sauce in your mouth – in a literature context of course. Somehow, the Good Lord Iehova deemed it was fit to become part of fate, and after much searching, I found Gary Vincent of Burning Bulb Publishing (a man who makes John Kricfalusi look like Art Garfunkel) who said he would take it.

And what came of it? Well, if you’ve ever wondered what an “aftermath” might be like without the “math” part of it, you might have a half-decent idea to what I’m talking about. Even worse than the reviews I got for it where the reviews I DIDN’T get. I sent over 100 books, electronic and not, and I think only two ever got written. Everyone else told me either, “umm, it was… interesting, but not my cup of tea” or “dude, no, just… no.” I’ve heard people tell me they couldn’t read it for more than 5 minutes at a time without getting a headache, which for their minor betrayal of me I felt completely justified in advance. The high point of my praise was when a composer working for John Williams at LucasArts got a copy and posted in IRC that he liked it. If I could’ve gotten that review in advance, it would’ve been printed on the back of the book looking like this:

“Ah yeah, this is awesome!” – Wilbert Roget II, composer at LucasArts (paraphrased).

After absorbing, ad nauseum, the conventional art wisdom of “who cares what other people think?”, “they’re just haters” and all that and finding it not as functionally useful as its continued use for ego panacea suggests, I came to study the relationship of why readers and audiences and publishers always demand something new, something creative, and then turn their noses up at it when you actually deliver on those demands. You see, every self-proclaimed alternative genius and off-the-beaten-path hiker can shout about the dignities and tennants of Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Speech is not Freedom of Consequence. Ok, you can’t really be thrown in jail for something you say anymore, but that doesn’t mean you get away with every word to commit to the commonwealth either. Vulgarity For The Masses was never really designed to be specifically offensive, but it was a vile trip for all those who took the ride, and I should’ve known better than to think everyone would appreciate it just because I wanted to be different. Different is not always better, and that’s a fact of life.

That fact is why we’re still in a quagmire of art. So many people are more focused with WHAT they say than how they say it, and any publisher worth his salt knows he or she can’t put a whole company in jeopardy to satisfy the deluded grandeur visions of one narcissistic little pill. There we’ve found that nearly every genre left is reduced to its lowest common denominators. Publishers can’t take chances, and writers refuse to change their “messages” because they think everything they said in their work is gold and something the public truly needs.

I submit to you that creativity is more important in the writing world now than Freedom of Speech is. As I’ve demonstrated in this post, any moron can climb up on his soapbox and rant on and on about a subject, but it takes real skill to deliver words and stories in a format that twists and turns the mind, and that’s what art is truly about. For the most part, it doesn’t matter WHAT you say, but HOW you say it, and HOW you say it can make all the difference in the world to you getting published and inspiring others to do so too.

That’s why I still reside in the bizarro genre despite my first attempt crashing and burning in lames (that is not a typo). Bizarro is probably the last genre on Earth that still respects the inherent creativity that comes with writing, but if we still focus on being as offensive and gritty as humanly possible, that outlet won’t last too long. We need to cut the bullshit, for now at least, and focus on stimulating readers with concepts and structures that go outside the box, instead of getting a rise out of them with words and “messages” that will only shock once and quickly lose their edge after that.

I mean, you can only say the word “fuck” so many times before it loses its whole value of being written, don’t you think?

Now, I will point out that I’ve currently written myself into a corner and have no idea how to do this without making my entire blog above it a hypocritical mountain of tripe, but I am an author doing a guest blog post, and I am most definitely obligated to plug the book that started this off in the first place.



J. S. LawheadJ.S. Lawhead – J.S. Lawhead is a child of the mystic Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee; where magick and logick often collide behind shadows left by the Einherjar, ghosts rise above the waters and mists to further dull the grey air, and the fabric that separates life and death between dreams is camouflaged as the seasonal mountain canopy of nature. It is an excellent environment to foster the concepts explored in his anthology Vulgarity For The Masses published by Burning Bulb Publishing. Jeff’s short story The McCarter House was published online by CreepyPasta.com.

He is a practicing Lutheran, lives with a wife and a moderately extended family, dives off the deep end to get shit done and occasionally releases music under the name 12 Followers/Meteo Xavier. Born in 1984 and completely ignorant of his blood type.

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