Occupy Morality, or: Are Occupy Writers Doing It Wrong?

When I first heard about the Occupy Movement (which has now spread far beyond Wall Street), I was intrigued because I felt like I identified with the frustration behind it. I wasn’t sure what it stood for or wanted (and still, in ways, am not), but I was glad someone was acknowledging rampant injustice.

I still am, but I’m realizing everything’s a little more complicated than that.

The other day, I came across a website, Occupy Writers. Apparently, a lot of writers have submitted stories based on their experiences of the movement, however direct or indirect those experiences may be. There are several well-known authors whose names are listed, and who contributed their stories and have spoken about the movement’s ideals.

The fact that they are well known may be part of the problem. Or at least, the reasons they are well known.

The first two authors listed were Francine Prose and Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket). Now, I don’t mean to single out either Prose or Handler. I think I’m speaking more philosophically about this but using them as concrete examples.

I read Prose’s submission. It’s effective. Moving, in fact. She talks about how devastated she was and how she wept.

Now, this is all well and good. And I’m familiar with Prose mainly because I read Blue Angel years ago. Decent book.

The thing is, I’m familiar with Francine Prose because she’s published, and I wondered how she was published. I’d thought I remembered Blue Angel as a handsome, well-designed hardcover. I wasn’t sure who published it, so I went to Wikipedia.

Turns out, Francine Prose’s publisher is Harper Collins. Coincidentally, it’s Daniel Handler’s, as well. A Series of Unfortunate Events? Harper books.

Harper Collins is one of the big-six conglomerate publishers. It’s got dozens of imprints, and it’s owned by News Corp. News Corp is the parent company of such properties as Fox, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and News of the World. You might recognize News of the World not for recent headlines it published but which were published about it; they were behind the big phone-hacking scandal.

The one in which reporters hacked into people’s voicemail.

Not really questionable so far as ethics goes. Really just outright wrong.

News Corp is Rupert Murdoch’s company. He was brought to trial for the phone-hacking scandal.

Now, as I see it, the Occupy movement is about all the wrongdoings committed by corporations (among other things). It’s about the disenfranchisement of the 99% by the 1%–the 1% being the most wealthy among us, and the 99% being . . . well. All the rest of us, really. Most of us are the 99%. Big population.

There are, of course, myriad factors and ideas at work, and it’s impossible to distill the movement down to any single one. That’s probably why the media has shrugged its collective shoulders in terms of figuring out how to deal with it. It just doesn’t know.

I don’t, either.

I can’t decide how it makes me feel to know that Prose is writing about weeping for protestors and the movement while at the same time she’s collecting checks from Rupert Murdoch. Prose might be sympathetic to the movement, but given their coverage, it’s fairly obvious that Fox News is not.

How does one reconcile those ideas? Some things are complicated, but it seems like this is on opposite ends of a spectrum.

It’s something I wonder about fairly often, in fact. I know a lot of authors who are with one of Harper Collins’ imprints, Harper Perennial. I’m pretty sure they are, politically, progressive. They like Obama and probably voted for him. They would decry Fox News.

But yet they’re part of that conglomerate nonetheless.

*

For years, publishing was, to me, both fantasy and dream. As I learned more about it, and then went to USC and Regis, it became both reality and business.

I think there’s some moral component to it, as well.

There seems to be some moral component to Occupy. People want corporations and the wealthy to be held accountable and to do the right thing, respectively. Universal health care as a right is more a question of ethics than anything else, as is universal human rights. These are ethical questions. Moral questions.

How does one answer such questions?

For one’s self, I think.

Maybe Prose believes there is no conflict. Maybe she feels she can weep for the movement and decry corporations while at the same time earning some part of her livelihood from them.

I can’t say that there is a conflict. But I can’t say that there isn’t one.

All I can really say is how I see things. The only thing I can control is my own actions. I try to live my life with integrity, and it may not be integrity other people agree with, but it is integrity I have defined for myself.

And maybe Prose’s integrity includes a belief she can weep for protesters while cashing corporate checks, and I can’t really say I disagree with that. I don’t know that she’s wrong. It’s her integrity, after all, which she’s defined for herself.

I’ve been making more such decisions lately. Figuring out how I want to be more positive in the world, what I can do. That whole be the change you want to see.

Sometimes, though, you have to define the change before you can be it, and that’s more difficult.


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