Do we have to be so “edgy?”

This is a guest post by author Bill Savage

Bill Savage is a journalist, editor, writer and playwright. His fiction works include “Redemption by the Bay” and “To the Mill and Back.” His dramatic works include the plays “On Our Way to the Fair” and “Men of the Empire.” He is a graduate of the University of Scranton and Towson University and has taught writing at Towson University, York College of Pennsylvania, and Harrisburg Area Community College.

Whenever I attend a writing seminar or workshop, or sit in on a reading of a prospective new play, it takes, on average, about five minutes before somebody questions how “edgy” a work is.

In 2017 America, this often refers to whether a work has a theme and characters involving racial issues, sexuality, gender preference, or one of the many other aspects of life that have become daily grist for our politics.

And, rue to the writer who have a “fuck” or two in his or her copy, whether it be as an adjective, a noun, or a verb.

I am not judging here, lest I be judged. In one of my plays, two characters at a bar spend at least a minute or so telling each other to do that to themselves.

But the point is, why do we have to start the process of reviewing a work by asking, “Is it edgy?” And who decides what is edgy?

For example, if a play or novel has a character or two who are gay, does the work then get an “EDGY!” stamp, and is allowed to go on?

If a play takes place in Chicago’s gangland, but has nothing to do with violence, racism or any issues du jour, is it, by its very setting, edgy? Conversely, does a work set in the suburbs necessarily fall into the category of being “for old white folks,” despite what its underlying themes, perhaps allegorical in nature, might be?

One of my books is about an interracial relationship. I didn’t write it to be edgy. I wrote it because I experienced something similar.

But if I set out to write an edgy book about drug dealing in Baltimore, or the life of a male hustler in San Antonio, I would not be writing from experience. It would be somewhat fraudulent (although I like to think I can write about almost anything.)

One of my plays takes place in the 1930s. All the characters are white. But the play is, in many ways, an allegory about immigrants. If you don’t think about that while you read or watch it being performed, you might think it wasn’t edgy. But I think, in its own way, it is.

I suppose, in their day, Hemingway and O’Neil, Aristophanes and Browning, Thornton Wilder and Dr. Seuss, they all were “edgy.”

I suggest we look deeper into things being written today before we write them off as just more of yesterday’s obsolete literature. The words and themes and subjects make work worthwhile, not some irrelevant stamp of approval.