Writing Activism - Are We Being Revolutionary Or Manipulative?
As a fan of contemporary fiction, I feel that this is a question I need to be asking myself.
In recent years, we have seen a wave of political correctness being interwoven into our favourite shows, movies and books but how much is too much?
Let's first look at one of my favourite series, Doctor Who.
When it was first announced that the latest regeneration of the Doctor would be the infamous Jodie Whittaker, I was overjoyed. For one, I already knew of her talent as an actress in other shows and thought she'd make a wonderful Doctor. Two, WOW! a female Doctor! That was bound to make the Doctor's character a little more interesting. Imagine what the previous companions would think! Imagine her own reaction to the concept! Like - can you just imagine how much fun Chris Chibnall could have had! If it were me, I would have dedicated a whole episode to the Doctor simply being pumped about regenerating into the opposite sex!
I was so looking forward to all the melodrama and the whacky new adventures she was going to get herself into. I read a lot of different opinions on social media about it and found that the fanbase felt 50/50 about the whole thing. The older generation of whovians couldn't wrap their head around the fact that the Doctor could regenerate into the opposite sex - deemed it unrealistic, funnily enough. However, the majority of the younger generation found it refreshing and inclusive - or simply, just interesting.
As opposed as I am to expressing personal opinions in my fictional writing, I will try to justify what I mean when I say I feel that series 12 was perhaps a bit too much. By too much, I mean too focused on controversial and taboo issues rather than on the show itself. What I normally enjoy about the show is the plots, the characters, the worldbuilding. In past series, episodes have took us back in time to the volcanic eruption in Pompeii. We have been taken into the future and visited alien worlds, explored the concepts of having cats as nurses in hospitals. Whether the episodes have been character driven, plot driven or simply bizarre, they have always touched lightly on a certain issue but have focused on the fictional elements a lot more. And I think that's where Russell Davies and Steven Moffat were most successful. They used their creativity and storytelling abilities to engage the viewer. However, I feel that the latest series has been neglectful of the previous writers' abilities in storytelling and has instead tried to focus on raising awareness for social and political issues.
When watching this last series, I felt none of the usual excitement, had no connection with any of the characters and was altogether quite bored with every new episode that aired. It seemed as though the episodes had been written purely to raise concern and did not focus on any characters. In fact, the interactions between the characters were so unrealistic that I couldn't quite believe they were talking to each other and not to us, the audience. There were several moments where the show seemed like a lecture or documentary because it was trying so hard to push a moral lesson - completely losing the fun aspect of Doctor Who.
I'm all for writing with a purpose but feel there must be limits. If you are writing with the intention to educate people on a certain matter, then you need to make sure that the audience is invested in the story in the first place. They need to feel that you are writing for their enjoyment. Film, TV and Fiction is a form of escapism, and they need to feel involved before they begin to make moral decisions about whatever the story is about. But when there is no connection, no hook, no investment, it is difficult to establish a relationship between the fictional body and the audience - hence, making it very difficult to keep them interested enough to get them thinking about any political statement you are trying to mirror in a story.
As I am currently focusing on Science Fiction as a Genre, I am going to use the book series' Maze Runner and The Hunger Games as an example of good social political fiction. Although they are perhaps not favourites for older readers, they were a hit for the YA audience - which is an important thing to think about as the younger generation are the most influential.
In both of these series, the protagonists face severe oppression and have to deal with certain things that reflect our current day issues - class differentiation, poverty, manipulation, identity etc. and both Suzanne Collins and James Dashner successfully engage their readers.
From my own experience in reading these series', I have learned to recognise when an author is trying to convey a message to their audience. The significance of the themes are held by the plot itself - weaved into the character interactions, the unravelling of events, the wordbuilding, the conflict and the resolution. The themes and issues that are raised seem a natural element that compliments the story rather than hinders it.
In my own writing, I feel that unless I explicitly intend to talk about a certain theme, I should be letting the conflict do its job. In the majority of stories, the protagonist almost always has to overcome some sort of conflict and it is very rare that said conflict doesn't represent an issue that is currently unresolved in the real world. Even in fantasy, we find we are engaged with the characters because we are able to easily relate to their problems or the injustice they face from their own society. In A Game Of Thrones, we are able to sympathise with each sibling because they possess a certain undesirable attribute that makes them an outcast in their world, despite this world being set in a pretty much completely alternate universe. The problems that the Starks face are representative of our own current day reality, and we are naturally and unobtrusively led to make our own decisions about the show.
I think it really depends on your target audience and what medium you are going to set your story in. If you're working in nonfiction and documentary - that is the ideal place to be heavily diplomatic. If you are targeting an ethically and eco-conscious audience, then it is important that you make sure your narrative reaches that audience. However, when it comes to writing activism into a fictional story, be it screen, theatre or written form, then you must first consider the genre you are writing in before you try to express an idea. Will the genre naturally discuss your ideas or will the political correctness corrupt the story? Are the characters and plot believable in relation to the subject matter? And are you making sure to be convincing rather than manipulative?
If you have any ideas or thoughts, please let me know! <3