Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Catholic Apologist Gets Dinged for Writing Fan Fiction

As always, we are late on news.  In fact, that might be our new byline.

Lucky referred this to me while she was preparing her news post for this week, but I thought it worth discussing in its own post.  The Catholic News Agency (not to be confused with the Catholic News Service, which is run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) recently ran an article entitled "RealCatholicTV's Voris had 'no idea' about internal problems."  The article has two parts; it focuses on RealCatholicTV's non-profit status, a subject about which I know nothing and will refrain from commenting, but then goes on to attack RealCatholicTV's senior executive producer, the aforenamed Voris, because one of his employees, a certain Simon Rafe, had written Star Wars fan fiction and a role-playing game called "Castle Dracula."  "Castle Dracula" apparently has some erotic content involving an elf goddess, and the Star Wars story apparently depicts a lesbian relationship.

I claim no familiarity with Rafe's work, either apologetical or fictional, but I do find it disturbing that an organization can get criticized for one of its employee's artistic hobbies. It reminds me of my time in Canada some years back when I could open the newspaper and read about a long-time employee being fired from a job on the subway because somebody read his blog and found content disparaging of homosexuals.  Of course, Canada now has Big Brother-like laws and a review board responsible for persecuting outspoken individuals who don't toe the party line, but it gets my dander up to see Catholics trying to institute an informal version of the same sort of thing here in the U.S.  The CNA's attack on Rafe is analogous to a news reporter digging into a novelist's book, finding some seamy content on page 346, writing an article announcing to the world that said novelist should be fired from his day job, and further insinuating that the employee's boss should be thoroughly familiar with all the non-work-related hobbies of his staff.  Personally, I'd be bugged if my boss read my short stories and brought them up at my performance review.

Rafe has an extremely contrite and repetitive apology up at his blog, and from the look of things--the few things that are available to look at, anyway--the CNA is making a mountain from a very small molehill.  It's impossible to say for sure, because the allegedly offensive works are no longer online, but a close look at what the CNA article does and doesn't say, coupled with Rafe's explanations, makes the CNA article looks suspicious.

The CNA says, without elaboration, that Rafe wrote "fan-fiction depicting homosexuality in the Star Wars universe."  That leaves the reader to imagine that Rafe has written pornographic slash.  His apology, however, suggests otherwise:

. . . the Star Wars story (characterized by the article as introducing lesbianism into the narrative) was an attempt to introduce genuine love into the narrative. Star Wars is a story of selfless individuals (the Jedi) who do not express real love - they lack a Catholic understanding of the virtue.  They can be cold and logical, somewhat unfeeling and motivated by the end result. The changes I made to the narrative of Star Wars to write my story were to inject love into key characters, and allow them to grow positively as a result.

The lesbian characters are shown as deficient in love (the story was incomplete, so the final denoument of the piece is not seen) but gradually grow in love and realize the incorrectness of their position.  The main heroine of the piece has a very clear growth from selfish lust to genuine love (and even motherhood).  [more . . .]

Just think: if you work for a Catholic organization in the U.S., writing fiction that depicts characters growing from selfish lust to genuine love can now get you publicly embarrassed and get your job threatened.

Stronger than the indictment of his fan fic is the indictment of his role-playing game, "Castle Dracula."  Again, as any readers are free to point out, I'm hobbled by being unable to access the work of the guy I'm trying to defend, but the difference between what the CNA says Rafe wrote, and what Rafe says Rafe wrote, is striking.  Here's the CNA:

As recently as August 15, the website hosted the text of “Castle Dracula: A Tunnels & Trolls Solo Adventure by Simon Rafe.” Signed and dated “Simon 'The Darknight' Rafe, Baptism of Our Lord, 2010,” the work contains a paragraph vividly describing a sexual encounter with “a beautiful Elven woman” revealed to be “Asrel, the goddess of love, life, health, healing, beauty and sex.”

Rafe gives the player a series of options in the scenario: “If you would like strength and vitality, turn to 70. If you would like health and life, turn to 383. If you would like true love, turn to 467. If you would like sex appeal, turn to 203. If you would like sexual potency, turn to 366. If you would like make love to the goddess (even if you are female - Asrel is an equal-opportunity lover!), turn to 11.” [more . . .]

That sounds tacky, yet I can't help but suspect the CNA has made it sound worse than it is.  I note the use of the word vividly, which could mean anything, but again leaves the reader to imagine Rafe has written pornography.  I note also that we are left to imagine what happens if you turn to any of those pages:  For all we know, the goddess smites you for your presumption on pages 11, 203, and 366.

Here is Rafe's explanation; please pardon the long quote:

The specific piece of work in question is an interactive adventure set in a fantasy universe similar to that of Tolkien's Middle Earth. The theme of the adventure game (the objective of the game, if you will) is to fight and defeat a group of evil vampires terrorizing a village. The work is based on the novel "Dracula" and other classic horror stories.

As is common in these stories, the vampire is used as a metaphor for lustful, inappropriate sexuality. Throughout the work, the hero is encouraged to fight against these vampires both with combat and intellect, and also with moral resistance to their seduction. The vampires attempt to seduce the hero character and - if they succeed - then the player has lost the game. His character is destroyed by the vampires.

Set against the evil of the vampires - a debased sexuality which takes and does not give (a contracepted and barren sexuality) is a figure of love; the goddess Asrel. Within the logic of the gameworld, she is the author of all life on the fictional planet as well as the source of goodness and love - the very antithesis of the undead vampires.

The portrayal of this figure in an erotic manner may seem appropriate for the genre, but it is something which is inappropriate to do. Certainly, to portray the character with such a lack of morals as I did is completely wrong.

I do not offer the above explanation as a justification or a defence, but rather simply as an explanation.

The article describes the writings as "sexually explicit". This is a description I would not have used, although the way I wrote the piece was certainly inappropriate and is it definitely "vividly" written (as the article says). The work does not contain explicit descriptions of sexual acts as I would define the term. Obviously, this is no defence - what I wrote was wrong to have written - but I feel the article may give an erroneous impression of what I wrote. [more . . .]

Rafe, being holier and more charitable than I would be in his circumstances, is careful to avoid blaming the CNA, yet in spite of his obviously real contrition, he appears throughout his blog post to be struggling hard to come up with anything for which to be contrite.  He admits he wrote "vividly" (how else is a writer supposed to write?), and he admits that he portrayed a love goddess "in an erotic manner" (how else would he portray one?).

Mark Shea has already gone all anti-Calvinist on CNA.  While not entirely unpersuasive, he resorts to guesswork about the CNA's motives and a lot of huffing at imagined enemies, though he too is handicapped by inability to access "Castle Dracula" and give it some genuine moral criticism.

Since none of us in the Catholic blogosphere are working on anything here besides the inadequate CNA article, a lot of guesswork, and a lot of emotion, I suppose I'll throw in my own worthless guesses and emotions.  What Rafe is probably guilty of, if anything, is making public ill-advised works that would be unable to see the light of day if it were not for the new possibilities of self-publication on the Internet.  I have certainly written things that it is better if few people, or no people, see.  I have written works with good intentions such as those Rafe had, which nonetheless mutated into horrific monsters--monsters bigger and nastier and uglier than his, I'll bet--because I was too unskilled to do what I was attempting or because I was off-base in my way of doing it, or both.  Most of these have fortunately never gone beyond the rough draft stage.  I have also, as a blog owner, written things on the Internet that it would have been better if I had not written.  I suspect most budding writers have done these things.

Certainly Rafe's goals and intentions in his "Castle Dracula," as stated in his apology, were not wrong, but he chose for himself a project that would be quite difficult to execute well.  It is not wrong in itself for a Christian to produce "erotic content" (if anyone doubts, I commend him to a re-reading of the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's), but it is difficult:  chastity is a fragile thing, easy to destroy; it takes a light touch, and in the hands of a boor, an amateur, or a philistine (though Rafe may be none of those), it can fracture and become pornographic, or at least disgusting, or at least silly.  Of course, even amateurs can evaluate their work and edit, or just not publish--unless of course they've already posted it to the Internet.

The Internet has not only made it much easier to publish ill-advised work, but has also made it easier to tear people down:  now a CNA reporter can, with his web browser, his word processor, and a few mouse clicks, ruin a man's reputation without even leaving the comfort of his office.

RealCatholicTV has an official response. The issue of non-profit status is apparently a very minor one, inaccurately represented by CNA.  Voris returns the favor by claiming the CNA is behind on its own non-profit paperwork, a claim that is apparently also inaccurate.  Rafe, on the other hand, is getting hosed.

Voris also rails against his enemies, bemoaning "vicious personal attacks" and in the same speech comparing his critics to "sniveling schoolgirls."  Hm.  I note that Voris blames the CNA article on some vaguely defined enemies of the liberal camp, while Shea in the above-posted article blames RealCatholicTV's own ultra-Traditionalist crowd.  To me, both of them appear to be shadow-boxing, merely guessing at motives they don't actually know.
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