You’re absolutely right, most of these stories have a moral/political message/social commentary, etc. Admittedly, it’s next to impossible to avoid in stories. Even if you don’t intend for your story to have any sort of message like that, one could be drawn from it.
When I first published my YA series Magnifica , I started getting emails from people who wanted to comment on my ‘handling of racial discrimination and bigotry’. I actually got a lot of positive feedback on how Lia’na was treated in modern society, which I was surprised about.
All this time, I’m sitting there scratching my head like, “That… wasn’t really the intention. Elves have traditionally been bashed, badmouthed, and mistreated by other species around them. I just put a modern slant on it.”
However, that’s what my audience drew from it.
So let me address your specific criticisms. You are absolutely correct on all counts that each of those mediums have inserted social commentary or political message into their writing. That being said, I invite you to pick up a copy of something like Mockingbird, or some of the newer X-Men and compare them to the original… even just go back to the early 80s during the Chris Claremont age.
Do you see a difference? The key to putting a message into your story is to do it in a way where the story doesn’t take a back seat to the message. If you write just for the sake of delivering a political message, nine times out of ten, you’re going to either bore or disenfranchise your audience. Yes, there are some writers that have successfully pulled this off, but a broken clock is right twice a day. That’s the exception, not the rule.
The difference we see is that when Claremont or Lee wrote their stories, they were aware of the message that they wanted to convey, but they also respected their audience’s intelligence. Not only did they show their perspective, but they demonstrated an understanding of the other perspectives as well. In the case of the X-Men, you saw how hatred and segregation affected mutants, you understood not only Professor Xavier’s position, but also Magneto’s. You understand both their philosophies, and it’s honestly sometimes to take a side.
On the other side of the coin, you’re also presented with understanding of why people fear mutants. You can sympathize with, understand, and even make the case for why they feel the way they do, even if you don’t agree with it. What’s more, when we start seeing projections of the future and the seemingly unavoidable wars that break out, the writers almost make the case that Professor X’s beliefs and goals may be little more than a pipe dream. In other words, the writers acknowledge the flaws in their own beliefs.
Now take that and compare it to what we see these days. Writers for movies, comics, and normal literature have decided in many cases that hammering in a political narrative is more important than telling a good story. They’ve done everything from breaking the fourth wall, to stopping stories just to have a character get on a soap box, to insulting the intelligence of their audience, to flat out drawing a line and saying that anyone who doesn’t agree with their… increasingly narrow view is the spawn of Satan (literally in a few cases).
This is not how you attract an audience, it’s not how you keep an audience, and it’s certainly not an advisable way to get your name in print. I cancelled my subscription to some of these comics because, while I agree with some (emphasis here) of the messages they’re trying to deliver, I felt like I was being talked down to and condescended. You can really sense the cynicism in some of their writings.
So Wil, I hope I answered your question. I’m not against having a moral or political agenda in a story or medium. I am, however, very much so against the way people are going about it. We’ve seen a lot of comic writers come out and bash fans saying that they don’t work for us… and yes, that’s true… you’re free to write whatever you want… but being disrespectful, condescending, and showing little understanding or tolerance of those who disagree with you, is a good way of insuring your unemployment or solidifying your status as a ‘starving artist’ for the foreseeable future.
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When the story is subservient to the message, you get propaganda, even if the intent is good. People generally know when they’re being preached to and generally don’t care for it.
Some very good points! I’m not huge on comics, but I have noticed a lot of political sentiments seeping into the literature and cinema lately. This reminded me of a 19th-century Russian short-story writer Anton Chekov who was really great at his craft. He made a list of 6 best practices for writing good stories, and the no. 1 was not having any drawn out political-social-economic type commentary in there, another rule being to be totally objective. Even if the story is about one of those topics, which most are, the simple generosity of leaving the writer’s bias out of it while focusing on the entertainment as opposed to the deep message is a great way to impact readers on a wider scale. Not just those that happen to agree with you, but all people who want to be entertained. We need to remember how to be self-critical again. -Trystn!