ta·boo adjective \tə-ˈbü, ta-\1 Forbidden to profane use or contact because of what are held to be dangerous supernatural powers2 Banned on grounds of morality or taste <the subject is taboo>3 Banned as constituting a risk <the area beyond is taboo, still alive with explosives — Robert Leckie>
There are many subjects that are taboo, topics that people just don’t talk about. Taboo subjects aren’t universal either. Everyone has their own preferences due to their own experiences and upbringing.
In fiction, horror specifically, dismembering bodies and killing innocent people isn’t the best thing in the world, but more than likely we’ve all read a book or two that contains a graphic scene. But even those books don’t breach certain topics. I don’t want to even type them here because they’re so undeniably wrong. Perverse acts that involve the deceased or children tend to be on the other side of that invisible line we all know not to cross.
(This is, of course, a generalization. There are sick people out there that enjoy these things. There are people out there that might not see a subject like necrophilia as taboo as the average person, but those are the outliers. We’re ignoring them for the sake of our own sanity.)
The world is ever changing, and different cultures have their own special circumstances when it comes to taboos. When I was in Italy, visiting Pompeii, there was a stand selling little mechanical dolls. When you moved the trigger up and down, they would come together and fall apart in the act of sex. As an American, we were pretty shocked and embarrassed. Can you even imagine someone selling that on a street corner over here? But the guy, in broken English, laughed at us and said, “It’s funny! It’s a joke!”
And, of course, time changes taboos too. A few decades ago no one talked about sex or menstruation. Now? Sex is all over the radio, and I see about thirty commercials a day for feminine products. We’re much more comfortable with certain topics these days than we were back in the ’50s, for example, and that’s going to keep changing and keep evolving.
But should it? It’s an honest question, not because I feel uncomfortable talking about certain taboo subjects – in fact, I find the idea of some of those subjects being taboo completely ridiculous – but because you have to think of the whole picture. You have to think of other people.
Over on Hypable, one of the other staffers wrote a brilliant article titled, “Breaking fandom taboos: Let’s talk about slash shipping.” For those that don’t know, slash shipping is the pairing of two characters of the same sex. This might just be who you want to see get together in a show (your “OTP,” or “One True Pairing”), or it might be who you decide to pair in your fan-fiction.
In the article, Selina talks about what happened at a Supernatural panel and the followup explosion that resulted from it. It’s an interesting read, and I suggest you read both the Hypable article and the Daily Dot article she sources. It really is fascinating to see fandom coming out into the daylight and walking around in the real world. It has some interesting consequences.
The question here is, should these subjects stay taboo? Should they stay in that dark corner of the internet we call Tumblr? Or should we talk about them, bring them out in the open, and normalize them?
I’m of the opinion that the more we talk about these uncomfortable subjects, the less uncomfortable they’ll be. Acceptance of certain subjects in pop culture can lead to their acceptance in real life, and in some cases that truly is a wonderful thing.
Don’t get me wrong. Some subjects should be taboo. Some subjects are just plain wrong. I’m not talking about those.
But, to bring this back around to fiction, as I know most of you here are writers, it makes me wonder, what can we be doing to help normalize the topics that have not quite stepped over that invisible line yet? Shows like Teen Wolf make homosexuality a complete non-issue. Books like The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices by Cassie Clare have insanely popular and likable characters that just happen to be gay. And this is just one topic in a long list of topics that are beginning to be addressed in popular works.
To give you guys a more relevant topic, I feel as though erotica is just touching down on the other side of that invisible line. Some people still don’t like to talk about it. Some people still giggle or side-eye you when you say you’ve read it, but a lot more people are accepting it as okay. And whether or not that’s your thing, I think acceptance of any person and their preferences – save for the truly twisted, of course – is a wonderful thing.
What do you think? Should taboo subjects stay taboo? Are we becoming too open and too comfortable with certain topics? Or do you think accepting people with open arms as they are will bring us all together in a more positive light?