Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Narrative and Politics

The panel on Narrative and Politics sounds really interesting. I missed so much at Wiscon. Where was I? What was I doing? Clearly I should have followed Josh around.

I would like to talk more about the topic. How does class influence narrative structure? Does it? Can one talk about a working class narrative vs. and middle class or ruling class narrative? What is it like?

I used to make a distinction between mass culture and popular culture. Mass culture is created for the masses by people who do not belong to the masses: Hollywood movies is probably an example. Popular culture is created by the people: garage bands and indy rock are probably examples of this.

The two are not entirely distinct. Rock music is an industry, involving many people who are not members of the masses or the populace. But there is constant flow of new music, up from garages and basements, and a constant flow of new musicians, like peasants coming into third world cities to find work.

Where does science fiction sit? Is SF a popular art or a mass art form or both?

And how is this expressed in narrative structure?

I used to argue that there three kinds of story: the wish fulfillment fantasies about solving problems and changing the world that are so far from reality that nothing useful can be taken from them. You can't kill the boss with an enchanted sword. You can't flee the authorities on your winged horse.

The second type, often more intelligently written, is the story (ultimately) of despair. Our social problems cannot be solved. We cannot build a new world in the shill of the old. Either life is okay in a limited way, or it is dark. Either way, we are stuck with the status quo.

Focus on yourself, your problems, your own personal angst. Life is about the personal and the individual.

The first kind of story is aimed at working people. It's mind candy, though -- at least -- it admits that there is injustice and struggle in life. The second kind of story is aimed at the middle class people who maybe feel some discomfort about their jobs and lives. It says, don't try for anything better. There is nothing better.

It is (often) a story about living in a box lined with mirrors.

Finally, there are stories that question that status quo and say: community is real; society is real; injustice and struggle are real; the world can be changed. Not easily, but it can be done.

But this is message, not narrative structure.

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