If you don’t see social messages in fiction, you’re not reading well enough
One of my favorite science bloggers got into a bit of a tussle with some dude on Twitter the other day. The dude is a self-described “best-selling philosopher” and seems to think of himself as a big deal in the world of science fiction writing. He also dabbles in science denialism, thinking that he is doing epidemiology by tossing around numbers until they match his ideas that vaccines don’t work. (We’ll leave out his other ideas for the time being, but you can read all about them on his Rational Wiki page.)
The Dude (whose real name is Theodore Beale but goes by “Vox Day”) seems to also have a big beef with today’s science fiction writers. He, and his followers, seems to think that there’s too much “social warfare” going on in science fiction:
“A quick sidebar on Vox Day, one of a handful of this saga’s bold-faced names. In addition to writing sci-fi, he’s a video game designer and early proponent of Gamergate, which, he argues, resembles Sad Puppies in that “both groups are striking back against the left-wing control freaks who have subjected science fiction to ideological control for two decades and are now attempting to do the same thing in the game industry.” He is the second human being to be expelled from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), after he used the organization’s official Twitter feed to slam the award-winning black novelist N.K. Jemisin as a “half-savage.” He questions the need for women’s suffrage. And he believes that our national ills can be partially attributed to “the infestation of even the smallest American heartland towns by African, Asian, and Aztec cultures.” Yes, Aztecs. ANYWAY.”
Yeah, those “left-wing control freaks” are putting their ideas into science fiction, and fiction in general, and ruining things. If only it were that simple. If only the world operated on this racist dude’s ideals… I shudder at the thought.
It may not come as a surprise to you — because you’re a well-educated, smart bunch — that there have always been leftist and rightist ideas in all sorts of fiction. You just have to read those stories for all their worth, and you have to have an awareness of the world in order to recognize the messaging in them.
For example, anyone who has not experienced racism and discrimination may not catch it at first glimpse in reading a story. The dude mentioned above may see an overt act of racism or misogyny and think that it’s perfectly normal to have something like that in a story, or that those characters who engage in those actions are correct. But that’s not how the world works.
The thing is, we have artists — writers, painters, singers, songwriters — who hold up a mirror to society and tell us all about what is going on around us. Some of them do it so well that we don’t get the whole message on the first pass of a book or even a short story. We need book clubs and school lessons to understand Kurt Vonnegut’s satire. Even novels that are a little more clear, like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, need some deconstruction and analysis.
That is all if you want to find meaning in what you read. If you want to mindlessly be taken away to some far away planet to get away from the daily rigors of this one, then you can find fiction and science fiction that can do that for you, but I assure you that there will be some meaning even in that. See, some things are universal in literature, like the battle between good and evil at all levels, even the personal level. There is also the theme of “Love conquers all” and the theme of the underdog hero.
Sure, we are seeing more female and minority heroes in American and European literature, but that’s not because there is some vast conspiracy for it. It’s because females and minorities are being allowed/attracted into the profession of writing, and publishing houses are happy to expand to a wider audience. It’s not “political correctness” or some sort of conspiracy.
The world just kind of changes and leaves bigots behind, cowering in fear of a world they don’t recognize anymore. The rest of us move on, adapt, learn that the world’s cultures are all mixing together — sometimes violently, most times not — and we are all building a world culture influenced by everyone’s contributions in print, film, music, and any other kind of art. That’s not a bad thing.