Nov 8, 2010

About "Hanging Dirty Laundry" in Public

I had an interaction with someone who writes popular novels in installments for a frum publication.  She decries what she calls burying heads in the sand rather than facing reality and coming up with solutions and sees nothing wrong with public discussion of frum society's ills.  On the contrary, she thinks that fictional writing is a good way to call attention to problems that ought to be addressed and that it deals with these problems.

My initial response to that was:

My question is, what evidence do you have that writing about our flaws will help remove them? Do you truly think that people with the flaws you write about will read your story and say, "Hey, I better fix that problem in myself!" Have you gotten any feedback over the years from readers who did that? Or have you gotten feedback from readers who told you that after reading about a certain problem (not in themselves) they decided to take action to correct it?

You ask, "Is it scandalous to admit that there are problems in our communities?" My question is, is there virtue in talking about our flaws? Does it say anywhere in our Torah literature that vidui of our collective sins should be broadcast to the public? Or, is it rather, as I have learned, talking about the negative strengthens it and focusing on "light" and the positive, strengthens that.

By calling attention to these issues, are you aware of specific steps that were taken to rectify them that can be credited to fiction? How about that can be credited to non-fictional articles?

If writing about abuse in a fictional story "deals with it" by actually helping anyone I'd like to know about that.

And I hope I'm not going to hear the tired line, "If it helps just one person, it's worth it," because I'm not convinced that's true.


  1. Some articles raise consciousness and inform the public about how to behave more sensitively in certain situations. For example, many people act inappropriately in a shiva house and there have been articles printed about how to behave in a more sensitive manner. There are many situations where our behavior falls short of what would make our community a more harmonious place and if we read about how it affects others, we can try to modify our behavior. Sometimes I read a article that opens up my eyes about a perspective that I may have never been aware of. Those who have been blessed with happy marriages, good health, normal children, etc, may benefit from reading the perspective of those on the other side of the fence and what they are experiencing in the frum community.
    With regard to fiction, sometimes if it makes a dysfunctional situation seem part and parcel of frum family life, it could make people feel that dysfunction is "normal".

  2. sometimes it's beneficial and sometimes it's pointless and a miserable read.

    recently I read a book (fiction) about a child whose parents got divorced.
    there is a letter in the intro about someone who after reading it chose to work on her marriage as opposed to her original plans of filing for divorce.

  3. I guess that I am drawn to reading material that I feel that I can gain something from. If I find a book or article a waste of time, or if I get the message in the first few pages and it is not something that I can use, I don't waste time reading further.

  4. sometimes you don't know how it's going to end, you think it's heading in a good direction and then you get let down. Unfortunately the Jewish novels are poorly written in general so I tend to gravitate towards the non-fiction. There just isn't enough to choose from and my main reading is on Shabbos.

  5. Articles on how to behave at a shiva house or when visiting the sick etc. - I wouldn't call that displaying dirty laundry in public.

    I think the writer was talking about topics like: molestation, gambling, drinking, abuse of the Internet and so on.

  6. How should we deal with topics such as molestation, gambling, etc? I look at such topics like situations where we need the exterminator. By the time we see a problem, it has been there for awhile. On the one hand, I have been fortunate that my children were not molested, our family does not gamble, abuse the internet, drink, etc. I could happily go through the rest of my life assuming that other families are identical to mine. But then, should I not be aware that such social ills could chas v'sholem develop as they become a contagious disease in the community and no one has even developed a vaccine?

  7. Being aware is one thing. Having an ongoing fictional serial about it, is another thing.

  8. I agree with you there. Fiction can be made more dramatic than what occurs in real life and may not be an accurate portrayal of what actually occurs.

  9. and poorly written fiction doesn't do much for getting a message across anyway.
    I think the issue is that what works for some doesn't work for others.
    while some people find some reading material beneficial another may think it's worthless or harmful. It's hard to do it right.

    What I've always found strange though is when people say they are glad to hear that others are going through the same thing..
    Why would any suffering person be glad that someone else is suffering to?

  10. 'Tzoras rabbim chatzi nechama' - to know that your difficulty is shared with many is a half consolation.