When I was a budding writer of about fourteen I saw a documentary about Leni Riefenstahl. Leni was the glamourous actress who became an innovative film-maker in 1930s Germany. She was a genius. By the time of the documentary she was an angry old woman raging that her career had been derailed by her association with the Nazi regime. She vehemently denied being a Nazi even though her most famous film ‘Triumph of the Will’ is an aesthetically gorgeous chronicle of the Nuremburg Rally.
Being an idiot I believed her.
I started to fret uselessly about two issues :
1. Being a hostage to fate and circumstance. What if I never get to be a writer because I’m in the wrong place in the wrong time surrounded by the wrong people? What if I get to be a writer and then my luck goes and I’m cast out like a demon?
2. Accidently writing stuff that ruins the world. What if – like Leni – I’m busy making a film about elfs and my gypsy extras are getting shipped off to concentration camps and I don’t even notice. And the fascists doing the shipping love my elfs?
I fret so much I hardly have time to write anything. I’m too busy scrutinising Scotland/Britain/The world for signs that it hates me. I’m too paranoid that fiction has a negative effect on readers and audiences. My lack of faith and trust is near total. I panic at the drop of a hat. I could die of shame just thinking about it.
I’d feel safer with something nice to consciously push. But I can’t think of anything guaranteed to have no negative consequences. Christianity kills people, Marxism kills people, Buddhists kill people!
Of course now I’m old I realise that Leni was a lying liar who either was a Nazi or didn’t care who they hurt as long as it wasn’t her.
Art has consequences. It shapes who we think we are, what we think is good, what we think is evil, who we don’t like. ‘Birth Of A Nation’ led to a revival of the Ku Klux Klan. ‘Braveheart’ led directly to me hearing a bunch of over-excited teenage boys yelling anti-English abuse in the woods next to my house. But these manias come out of the culture the film-maker was steeped in. Or the culture the film is seen in. They trigger emotions that were waiting to be triggered. Our tendency to witch-hunt, to lynch, to righteously condemn is part of human nature. I couldn’t not know what I was doing. But without Leni – I might have written a hate story without caring it was a hate story. I might have thought they deserved it. I might have thought it was helpful. I might have cared more about being rejected and thwarted by anti-nazis than I cared about millions of people being murdered.
I’m glad I minced about treating fiction like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with myself as the potential Whore of Babylon… I just wish I could stop it.