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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Taboos, Part 1

Taboos, those things that disgust, lure, and define the boundaries of acceptability whether they are right or not.

Each genre possesses its own taboos, most of which are drawn from those in contemporary culture. Historicals in general escape the modern bounds best, but they, more than any other genre, attempt to portray another time and place separate from modern influence. Therefore, a good historical will also incorporate the taboos of the time it wishes to evoke.

Taboos, whatever anyone may think of them individually or as a group, are an integral part of human society. It’s no wonder then that they pervade our fiction. This isn’t a bad or a good thing, just a fact. For some, the avoidance of taboos allow them to enjoy a reading experience safe from subjects that might disgust or horrify them to the point of finding a book mentally or emotionally abrasive. Others find taboos in fiction a curiosity, for they can allow exploration of the human experience beyond the norm. Whatever a reader’s opinions regarding one taboo or another, they define, limit, and expand fiction.

Taboos also take a range of forms. Some are blatant enough that a publisher can state plainly that they will not accept them. For example, in romance of all types, with the exception of YA, the heroine must be at least eighteen. Obviously, girls younger than eighteen fall in love, have relationships, and some even engage in sexual activity. However, because our culture defines eighteen as the acceptable age for sexual choice, romance heroines, whether modern or historical, must also abide by the rule.

Other taboos are subtle and may not warrant the outright label of taboo but still limit or act as a deterrent or automatic draw for many. For example, interracial relationships are rare in fiction. Perhaps they do not warrant the category of taboo because, in modern society, we are not allowed to think of them that way. It’s not politically correct. However, PC or not, people tend to have strong reactions to them. They either embrace them as fresh, new, and enlightened or shy away from them out of discomfort, even if they’re not coming from a place of prejudice.

A huge majority of taboos involve those three subjects advised against during polite holiday dinners: politics, religion, and sex/relationships. Bodily functions also tend to find themselves in the taboo department. After all, unless it’s that sort of humor, most readers and writers shy away from excrement.

What other examples of taboos in fiction can you think of?

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