Part 3 of 3.
The devoted fan or adamantly apathetic’s defense against the criticism of fiction 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.
The last one, like the first, is intended to stop people from criticizing at all. Unlike the first, it isn’t entirely disingenuous. Regardless, the argument is invalid for one simple reason: A lack of overt political messaging does not mean that a work of fiction has no messages and is therefore “neutral.”In the case of the messaging transmitted by fiction, a lack of intention is less than unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Stories are an important part of human socialization and conceptualization of the world. Even ones that we know are fictional affect our brains whether we like it or not. This isn’t to say that there is a straight line from any action leading back to a particular work of fiction; that simplistic assessment isn’t supported by the data we have on the effects of fiction on people. Rather, the works we consume, along with other factors in our environments, help to shape the ways in which we perceive and think.
The ways by which creators perceive and think also affect the fiction that they produce. It’s no coincidence that societal norms regarding matters like gender, sexuality, race, and class are reflected, often without thought or comment, in fiction. It’s not a coincidence that most mainstream protagonists are straight, cis white men. The people considered to be the “default” in society are represented in a diverse and richly-developed ways, while those outside those norms are, relatively speaking, not afforded many chances to attain the same level of representation.
It is the assumption that a certain type of person is the “default” that leads to the argument that fiction featuring that type is not making a “political” statement. White cis hetero male concerns are “concerns” so assumed to be so universal that they don’t even need to be framed as such, while racial/feminist/queer/economic concerns are framed as “political.”
Singling out something for its “politics” merely because it portrays a non-default person and their non-default concerns is very much a political statement in itself. It’s saying that the discomfort caused in a viewer by the deviation from the default that they behold in fiction is more important than a creator’s right to depict what they want. On the flip side, saying that we aren’t allowed to criticize creators for lacking representation (or if their representation is lacking) is saying that certain people do not deserve the same level of representation as others. Last I checked, exclusion is pretty damn political.