Unhidden Agendas and flying your flags

Whether you want to accept that “everything is political” or not, when it comes to writing fiction, it is impossible to stay neutral or not express an opinion on social questions. When you write a story, you make a statement about what you think is right or wrong. You make choices on what things you portray in a positive or a negative light. Your narration indicates what characters’ actions you approve or disapprove of. Even if you “only want to write fun adventures”, you make decisions on what events and behaviors you want your audiences to cheer at. The only way to not express an opinion or take a stand is to not write anything.

Depending on how you want to look at it, the idea that fiction can be apolitical or neutral on social issues is either a delusion or a lie. Anyone who claims to not want social issues to appear in the fiction they write or read and watch is expressing a desire to either stick with the status quo, or more commonly to revert to an outdated consensus from the past. Wishing for fiction to return to the social norms of the 50s or the 30s is a very explicit stance on social issues.

That is not to say that all people who don’t want to get involved in debates about social issues in fiction are reactionary bigots. That’s only the ones who constantly have to tel everyone and can’t stop shutting up about it. I think probably a majority is simply shying away from the boogeyman of controversy and are afraid to repel potential audiences by committing to any opinion. But that’s not how things work. You can’t not take a stance or not express your personal views.  To write fiction is to express your view of the world and of right and wrong.

One of the most annoying expression in debates (though usually they are angry shouting matches) is the tired idea of hidden agendas. All fiction has an agenda because all fiction expresses a view on right or wrong, with the intention of getting the audience’s approval for that view. The whole thing only becomes hidden when the creators shy away from committing to it. Either out of a fear for controversy or a desire to please everyone for all the sweet, sweet moneys.

I think this is a mistake. If you have to say something, stand up for it and defend it. Things are controversial only because society has not yet reached a consensus yet on what is acceptable or not. And they will remain controversial until people come out an take a stance for what is right and speak up for what is wrong. I am German, and in Germany we take reflecting on the errors of the past very seriously. To slightly misquote Edmund Burke, we know that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to say nothing.”

I do understand that there are many people who genuinely can’t handle loudmouthed idiots shouting hurtful shit at them, regardless of how obviously wrong and stupid it is. Not everyone is made to just have it bounce off and forget it. I am all for picking your fights and knowing when to walk. But wanting to please everyone, even the idiots who are obviously wrong in their bigoted beliefs, is not a sufficient reason to deny having an opinion on things. Few people become writers to get rich (which would be one of the worst ways to get there). People start writing because they have something to say and want it to be heard. All fiction stands for something and writers should be able to fully stand behind it. Sanitizing your work to be free of “controversial content” defeats the entire point of writing it in the first place. If people have a problem with the values expressed in your works, and you feel certain that these people are wrong, then so be it. Don’t try to sneakily get them to read your work and hopefully not notice what you believe in. I think all artists should be open about what they believe in.

I recently added the two flags to the sidebar of this site because of it. Though not to gain attention through virtue signaling and hoping people will like me more if they know I believe in social equality and diversity. The actual intention is as a deterrent for people who might mistake me for being supportive of their reactionary bigoted views of “traditional fantasy classics”. My interest in fantasy fiction leans very heavily to Sword & Sorcery, which is a genre that looks very simple and pretty dumb on the surface, but has very interesting hidden depths once you start looking for them. With the stereotypes of hyper-manly barbarians killing whoever they please and rescuing voiceless naked slave girls, Sword & Sorcery is one of the most obvious styles of fantasy that has huge appeal to the worst kind of fantasy fans. I always feel like walking on eggshells when I discover a new site with Sword & Sorcery content and take a careful look around to make sure I didn’t stumble into some neo-nazi hate pit. I really don’t want to deal with these people and always worried that the currently resurgent interest in Sword & Sorcery could be mutating into some alt-right hate forum.

I think a new Sword & Sorcery movement would have great potential to be boldly progressive and inclusive. It has always been about protagonists who live outside the accept structures of society and assert their individuality against the expectations of others. When you write them poorly they can be self-congratulating bullies, but they can just as well be people who have what it takes to ignore social expectations to do what is right, instead of what is accepted. It’s also a genre that never aspired to be respectable and willing to cross boundaries in the pursuit of fun. There is potential for abuse, but also great potential to be a force for good. But to keep it from getting hijacked by people with bad intentions, I think is is absolutely mandatory for writers to establish the developing space of dialog and exchange of ideas as one that doesn’t tolerate hateful bigotry. If you wait until some alt-right idiots or neo-nazis start spewing their poison, it will already be too late. You can never get rid of them and end up with the progressively thinking people gradually hemorrhaging away and dispersing instead of making the required step of making a deliberate split.

For that reason I think it is necessary to make my stance on these things known now. Better to be rejected by certain people early than finding out later that you’ve fallen in with the wrong crowd and participated in helping them getting a stage.

2 thoughts on “Unhidden Agendas and flying your flags”

  1. Great post. I agree with pretty much all of it.

    One problem I have with the current state of affairs here in America is the ridiculous polarization. You get shoved into one camp, and must agree with everything that is espoused. I like the concept of social justice, and always have. But its modern incarnation on the left fosters as much bigotry as is traditionally associated on the right. But if you try and talk to someone on the left about this, you are labeled a troll or a worse because you are not in lockstep with their own hatreds.

    This is particularly bad in modern Science Fiction. I agree entirely that S&S can draw some alt-righters, and I generally avoid most such sites because of that. But the clinical hatred for white men, because of their skin and gender, is the de-facto position of most plugged-in sf fans. A recent example of this can be seen on Black Gate, an apology from Rich Horton to a lady who wrote ill of Mike Resnick after his passing. In the linked Facebook post, she of course expresses her bigotry toward white men. She later showed up on the Black Gate post, accepting the apology and said some tripe about how we must move forward together. But she will not include herself in the self-examination; she will never address her own hate for a certain race/gender composition. And the apology from Horton just cements her own opinions all the more.

    I am focusing here on the left, because I agree with you about the badness on the right. I believe in equality for all.

    I am neither right nor left, not from being undecided, but they both are terrible right now, and unwilling to hold themselves to any standard of self-examination. I do have strong opinions and ethics, but I despise the traditional political divide and what it does to people. I am my own political party.

    OK, I have rambled on enough. Thanks for listening.

    1. I believe talk about political hypocrisy, double standards, and misguided actions tends to focus on the left because the right no longer even pretends to be interested in making anything better for anyone. There just isn’t anything to debate about the words and actions of people who brag about being selfish bullies with no morals who are against everything and stand for nothing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *