Self censorship and one year of lockdown writing

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What I really want to talk about here is something I was unable to articulate on Facebook. I also want to talk about what led me to delete the Facebook post seconds after publishing. There’s elements of cultural appropriation and the objectification of women mixed in here, and with International Women’s Day last week it seemed highly insensitive to try and make a point in a short post on Facebook. Instead I will try and do it here using more words and more context. I will also provide an excerpt of my new novella, currently in its second draft, to help the argument. If indeed you can call it an argument.

But first here’s that octopus. It’s kind of part of the story –

It’s not really an octopus, although it has eight tentacles and looks like an octopus. But note the red eye and lack of suckers on its tentacles. This is an image I drew based on an old Japanese illustration of an octopus to all intents and purposes molesting a woman. The woman was partially clothed, but with one of the tentacles unaccounted for in the original, and in the context of some of the other images my Google search threw up at me, it was not exactly what I had in mind.

You see, I am toying with the idea of illustrating my new novella. It’s about 150 pages long, so I reckon putting ten images in every fifteen pages or so would help tell the story. The ‘octopus’ appears quite late in the game, although it’s foreshadowed early in the story. The story is ostensibly about a Japanese girl who is made into a vampire in 15th century Japan and then lives through modern times. I did two illustrations on Procreate this week and here is the second image:

This is the image I almost posted on Facebook (and Instagram) and then thought better of it. Out of context, me posting this image seems to say to my friends – “I think this is a good image to share with you.”

I am 50 years old. I have a reasonably well-developed sense of right and wrong, and a genuine respect for women which of course, being a man, I sometimes have to balance with my sexuality.

So first of all why did I self-censor? Well I didn’t want people getting the wrong end of the stick. Although I think I’ve done a good job of illustrating a vampire pretending to be a misguided Instagrammer to lure in her victims, I doubt anyone casually scrolling through their social media feeds would see it that way. There’s no context.

I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that context is everything. It’s like journalists taking a 30 second clip of an alternative comedian’s stand-up routine and accusing them of views totally in opposition to what the sketch was about – Frankie Boyle may or may not be a good example. He took the newspaper to court and won very easily, but based on his comments in a recent interview with Adam Buxton, people only remember the original allegations.

There’s at least three things wrong with my second illustration if it is presented without context. But mainly it’s that it is sexually objectifying a woman (albeit clearly imaginary) since she is posing in the ahegao pose. This is a feature of Japanese pornography where women, and let’s face it girls, have an exaggerated facial expression during sex (often forced), typically with their tongue sticking out, with rolled/crossed eyes and with blushing cheeks, to show ecstasy or orgasm. It started to proliferate among Instagrammers’ selfies over the years, often without the people posting knowing what it really implied. Flashing the ‘V’ sign doesn’t take away from the origin of the pose.

I have taken the pose and changed it slightly from the norm. Since how can a vampire have a reddened face? I also hope that I have added a kind of disdain to the look since she is not looking at the ‘camera’. What I intend to illustrate is the fact that my vampire has moved with the times to catch her prey. Here’s an excerpt from my new novella. Obviously both images here and the following excerpt are copyright (c) Matthew Haynes 2021.

I make an ahegao face showing my fangs with blood dripping off the tip of my extended tongue and press the camera button on my phone. I post the image to Instagram to join the rest. Sometimes I’ll grow the pointy ears that became fashionable round the same time all the nerds shut themselves away playing World of Warcraft.

The people who publicly comment on my photos think I’m a collective of goth cosplayers based in Nashville and are mostly cosplayers themselves. I get a lot of likes but most people just silently lurk around my posts. The female shots, the ahegao stuff, anything showing more skin, get the most views. I’ve put a contact number on the account for people who are brave enough to take it beyond voyeurism. Now and again I’ll respond to a direct message. It’s an easy way of picking up a meal when I’m feeling too antisocial for the Rainbow Bar.

If I am totally honest, my ethical brain-fart this morning made me realise that this might also be a good way to plug my new book. Written over the last year – so under tricky circumstances of seeing a lot more of Siggy than I am used to and therefore having far less time in the house on my own to concentrate on writing – it takes the form of a novella.

Rather than this being seen as a ‘failed attempt’ at a novel, I will stress that it was my intention all along for it to be a novella. I have read some cracking novellas by Neil Gaiman and China Mieville recently and I really wanted to give it a go. It also got me out of that awkward feeling I get sometimes thinking ‘is this really helping the story, am I just padding now to help the page count?’ I guess, if I do include images, these might be seen as padding, but I saw it as an opportunity to flex my Procreative skills. And maybe… you never know… my next project might be a graphic novel.

I’ve always wanted to write a story about a vampire, but generally been put off doing so by the plethora of vampire related stuff that’s already out there. I’m not particularly fascinated by them, but I guess the recent Dracula mini-series shown on the BBC1 last year rekindled by interest and was the starting point for me trying to think how I could perhaps approach a vampire story, hopefully rather differently. You can see for yourself later in the year.

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