Monday, April 22, 2013

Fantasy for Social Change? - Guest Post by Nicholas Mena

Today, I welcome to my blog  fantasy writer Nicholas Mena, whose varied works combine traditional fantasy with the perspective of his Caribbean culture.  You can read his musings about writing and cooking on his blog Sancocho Pot, but here he talks about the often-ignored subject of social responsibility in fantasy.

Let me introduce myself by saying I am a Caribbean writer (not to be confused with the local anthology series, The Caribbean Writer; they turned me down without so much as a form letter, but at least I’m not bitter). I prefer to emphasize “Caribbean” because that in itself hints at trends of social recognition, culture, and revolutionary thinking. And being a fantasy writer at heart, there are times where I wonder, how does writing about the supposedly “unreal” factor into my primary motivation for writing, to stir changes, whatever they may be.

When you read nearly anything, doesn’t it do something to at least modify or nudge your thinking or frame of mind from where it was a moment ago? And if “Fantasy” is supposed to be about escapism that brings you back to reality once you’re done with it, then where does the change come into play?

I’ll reintroduce myself by saying I am not an escapist fantasy writer. Yes, there are definitely notions of unreal themes in my writing, but I always try to use fantasy as a colorful mirror for myself and the world around me. I believe this can be said for all fantasy as well. If a story doesn’t have enough of us and our society in it to be relatable, even if it is races of elves and gnomes and such, then the tale would be nothing but alien jibber-jabber-- not really a story at all.

Fantasy provides the opportunity to look at themes in our society with different lenses. We get to be the outsiders looking in. We can even completely immerse ourselves in these other worlds, but then step away and become the outside observers again. We are often jaded to the social issues that exist in our society because we are so embedded in it that they don’t stand out to us. I like the analogy of comedians who make jokes about racism, but do so because at some level they see the need to bring our attention to it. Fantasy does that for us as well. Yes, it can be shocking to hear a joke about racism, just like it might be shocking to see a race of elves devastating a city of fairies because they hate them and what they stand for. However, now that we have the issue all up in our face, we are forced to think about it the way a newcomer to our society would, as an outside observer.

One vital difference, though, is that fantasy lets us bring these issues to light without being so blatant. We can face social change in our writing with a subtle pen (or keyboard or whatever). And while I agree with most of my writer comrades that preachy stories are a waste of good ink and toner, attempting to forego all your social responsibilities within your prose can be just as detrimental. While your barbarian story with the hero killing indiscriminately left and right and freely raping women while his black slave boy carries his weapons may be considered entertaining to some people (I’d hate to be in a room with any of those folks), it really doesn’t have any place in our present society and can actually incite a lot of harm in the folks who read it and deem it socially acceptable. If you’re not giving them any messages to the contrary, then why would they believe there would be anything wrong with it?

So I do believe fantasy can be a powerful medium for social change, and while not everyone may see the underlying messages we try to bring to these important issues, we’ll at least know that we’re doing something to add to the dialogue while (hopefully) entertaining the masses with our stories.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely said. I think a lot of people confuse social conscience and perspective with preaching and are afraid of taking the "Goodkind" route.

    But it's pretty darned hard to keep your values and hopes for humanity completely out of your writing. And if you did, that in of itself, might be making a statement you didn't intend.