Tuesday, February 10, 2015

On the Topic Of...Cheating in Books

It’s been a while since I’ve written a discussion post, but there’s been something that’s been on my mind recently. I’ve noticed that there are certain topics in books that get people to automatically write off a book, even if it was a book they had initially been very excited about. Now, I’m not here to say that anyone’s opinion isn’t right or not valid. That’s the last thing I want to do. But sometimes it just seems like there are some things that happen in books that get people in an uproar, while there are others that, in my opinion, are much worse that get justified or explained away as if it were nothing. And I’m just trying to understand it all.

So what I really want to talk about is cheating. Before I say anything else, let me just say this: I DO NOT condone cheating. It’s not something I’ve ever had a direct experience with and it’s something I hope I never have to experience. But finding out that one character in a book cheats on their significant other is not going to make or break the story for me. If anything, it almost makes me more curious about the story. Because in my experience, and with all the books I’ve read that involve cheating, there’s always something more going on than just straight up cheating.

That’s not to say that I’m trying to excuse or justify the cheating happening, but at the same time, based on the context or the other things happening in a character’s life, I can see why the cheating happened. And more often than not, at least with the books I’ve read that deal with this subject matter, the character who does the cheating typically tends to regret it and struggle with it. The most recent book I read that involved cheating saw the character struggling with it throughout the whole book, almost hating herself for what she did. In another book I’ve read, it turned out that one character had just been led to believe the other one had cheated and no cheating had actually happened. In another case, the two characters were doing everything in their power to fight their attraction for each other, out of respect for the person one of them was with. But just because the word “cheating” was mentioned, some people were all “Nope, not reading this. Cheating is absolutely unacceptable.”

And that’s fine. People are entitled to their opinions on any number of topics, cheating included. So if they don’t want to read a book because cheating is part of the storyline, that is their right and I am not going to force them to read something they don’t want to read. But there’s a flip-side to this. And that’s that there are other questionable behaviours that get taken in stride, even legitimated. As one of my friends put it “Smack your love interest around and you’re damaged and need saving. Cheat and you are the devil.” Why is it that someone who cheats gets metaphorically crucified, but someone who beats people up gets by with people saying “Oh, he’s had a rough life, it’s not his fault”? That’s the part that bugs me. That a character can be abusive, physically or mentally, but because of reason X, Y, or Z that behaviour gets excused and the person is seen as damaged and that makes them all the more attractive. But the second even someone THINKS, we’re not even talking about acting here, about doing something with someone who isn’t their significant other, it’s like they’ve committed the worse crime there is. 

And that brings me to the point I’m trying to make. If you try hard enough, you can justify or legitimate any behaviour. Believe me, I’ve seen it done in some fandoms and the things that get excused or justified or legitimated scare me sometimes (but that’s a story for another day). But why is it that some behaviours that are, in my opinion, horrible get a free pass while others get a snap judgement, most often one that’s negative? I know there’s no clear-cut answer to this question. Whether it’s with the TV shows and movies we watch or the books we read, everyone brings their own baggage and background to the table and that’s going to affect how they judge something. 

So maybe this is my question: Why are some behaviours more excusable or justifiable than others? And why are we so quick to judge some arguably morally questionable behaviour while we work tirelessly to legitimize other equally morally questionable behaviour?

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