Yes, unless it’s dangerous an idea does not really deserve to be called an idea. But these days where every little thought gets shared online and shredded, most new ideas are about as dangerous as a small and rapidly evaporating puddle on the pavement. Why is that? Is it because all the exciting ideas have already been had? Is it because ideas in and of themselves become less dangerous, the more widely they are shared? Or is it because truly exciting ideas engender fear, and the world’s got far too much scary stuff already?
There is no way that all the dangerous ideas have already been had. Rather it seems we just don’t seem to embrace much radical thinking these days, perhaps because there is so little bandwidth for thinking things through with any great depth. Our worlds and headspaces are filled with trivial superficialities, reality television and a miscellany of horrors. From politics to climate change, from identity confusion to sex, processing all the data is quite exhausting and there’s always more information, and less focused indepth debate.
Ideas about who and what we are, what we share and our societal roles and identities are hard to express in a world where news bulletins range from the deeply depressing to vacuous and cheesy, deceitful. There’s a weird new scale for understanding how we are expected to relate to each other, ranging from abject confused victimhood to glittering fantastic stardom. There’s a creepy and even desperate need to place the individual, the self even, somewhere on that scale, to make it conform to some external construct. And yet most of the scale is about not conforming, about coming up with a category that no one else should be allowed to share. Yet they want to.
Of late this has provided quite a rich seam for fiction writers in all formats, but particularly works highlighting some of the horrible stuff that’s always been a fact of life, but that now people want to understand better. Yet apart from the human tragedy themes, in fiction the range of truly new ideas in début works is limited. The classic stuff about identity and the fear of change, of struggling to deal with new experiences, new people, the quest thing, it’s all pretty available if not terribly original. And perhaps readers understand that they should not expect truly original ideas, original writing. They can buy the book as an object, buy its packaging and the comforting familiarity of the themes the blurb summarises. Maybe they don’t much care about its originality.
The bright exceptions are those stories that have often taken a long time before finally reaching the light, and when they do their individuality gets lapped up: think Harry Potter or His Dark Materials. Then a torrent flows and washes around the reading universe, swamping everything else and turning the creators into megamillionaires, stars even. This is a good thing for originality, but it sets a very high bar for all the up and coming writers who lack a champion or the means to keep pushing their books for twenty years or whatever, before a publisher is willing to take a punt.
Moaning aside, it’s a great time for fiction because there is so much technology aiding writers new and old. Technology has also cut the risk of diverse publishing projects and created a host of new channels, making fiction available to global audiences. Once we all get over this and once expectations for what’s new and exciting shift, we can expect to see more brave, bold thinking. And that’s when we can look for truly dangerous ideas again.