Part 1 of 3.
Whenever anyone has the utter gall — the gall, I say! — to criticize fictional works, especially ones beloved by the person viewing said criticism, the defensive party’s argument is generally is along one or more of three veins.
- It’s just fiction and exists merely to entertain. There is no need to take it so seriously.
- The adaptation of this fiction cannot be blamed for elements that are true to its source material.
- It’s fiction and is not meant to be a political statement / politically correct.
I have ranked them from most to least flimsy, but really, they are all quite flimsy. Here’s why the first holds the least water.
Stop Taking It So Seriously!
Firstly, and most importantly, this is a clearly disingenuous argument. If the person making the argument actually thought that the fiction in question weren’t to be taken seriously, then they wouldn’t be bothering to defend it. Instead, they would have quietly ignored arguments regarding the problematic elements of the fiction and resumed their mindless enjoyment of it. That they speak up at all says that they take at least their fandom of it somewhat seriously.
Furthemore, fans who defend their favorite works with this argument are demeaning the object of their love far more than those who bother with criticisms of it. Are they saying that their treasured fiction has no effect or impact on the world whatsoever? Fiction in the form of a radio adaptation of widely-consumed comics was a huge part of what turned the most notorious racist organizations in the United States from a scary threat to mostly a laughingstock. That isn’t to say that all fiction has such an important impact, but to claim that fiction never shapes people’s perceptions is patently false.
If the idea that fiction could influence reality seems to absurd, then consider the flip side, where fiction reflects reality. Are fans really saying that the fiction they adore is so poor at world-building and character-development that it cannot serve as a mirror of or statement about real life? A well-built fictional universe with fully-realized characters can very much serve up insights about the societal context of both the creators and the consumers of that universe. Even poorly-conceived worlds and characters often betray the biases and preferences of their creators. The reactions and interpretation of fans, in turn, betrays their biases and preferences.
The quality (or lack thereof) of a particular work of fiction aside, analysis is part of some people’s entertainment. Thinking about fiction’s reflection of and influence on reality is highly enjoyable for people whose interests are in sociology, cultural anthropology, psychology, sociobiology, and/or the general “meta” of existence. For example, zombies and vampires can be seen as reflections of the fears of the right and the left, respectively
As an American, I find tracing the vampires vs. zombies line against the Democrats vs. Republicans one to be a highly pleasurable pursuit. That I do so hardly demands that everyone feel that way, yet I find myself chastised by people for doing what I like. I find that more than a little hypocritical given that those people’s transparent excuse for being opposed to me doing what I enjoy is that they enjoy the thing about which I choose to think critically.
Please note that in the original version of this piece, I erroneously attributed to the downfall of the reputation of the KKK to the Superman comics. It was actually the radio adaptation of the comics. Thanks to George Grimanelis for pointing that out to me.