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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

A disclaimer: Don’t romanticize darker aspects of fiction

What I say today might sound a little hypocritical. I am going to discuss why people should stop comparing the current political climate to fiction. This seems a bit counterintuitive, since I spent the past few Thursdays comparing aspects of American politics and culture to two staple dystopian novels.

I will, however, preface this with saying that by no means am I dismissing the power of fiction. Books and films can change the world, cast a shadow of warning, be a brilliant reminder of the past, inspire courage in others and spark empathy and compassion. Fiction is a good thing. People borrow aspects of what particularly calls to us, and we apply it in our day-to-day life. We can incorporate the heroism of “The Avengers” and “Harry Potter” in our everyday lives or reflect upon the grim warnings that “1984” and “Brave New World” have for us.

But the important thing to remember is that fiction is fiction, and there are some elements of fiction that should stay fiction.

Though we are hesitant to admit it, “Harry Potter” often becomes the critical example of where we need to stop making comparisons for every single event that makes headlines. Yes, it’s like the Ministry of Magic has been overthrown. Yes, you can compare current politicians to the dark wizards in the novels. Yes, the whole thing was about the rise and fall of an autocrat who was bent on eliminating a specific race of people. Yes, there were a lot of Holocaust allegories and yes, “Harry Potter” can inspire people to be like Harry and Dumbledore and the rest of the Hogwarts gang and tackle the big bad villain. Makes it sound exciting, doesn’t it?

There lies the problem. People cannot romanticize the darker elements of fiction because, in reality, we cannot just close the book or pause the film when it gets too intense. This isn’t a world where a problem is going to be solved by hunting down Horcruxes. Although “Harry Potter” is the most common example in this — with brave acts of defiance being called “Gryffindor-like” and very broad and unresearched comparisons to key villains in the novel being made (for the record, Kellyanne Conway’s equivalent is definitely not Bellatrix Lestrange) — it’s not the only one, and it’s definitely not the first. How many people have thought that war was some glorious, exciting prospect because of heroic movies and books? How many comparisons to the rugged rebellion leaders in “Les Miserables” and “Star Wars” came about because of the protests — failing to remember, of course, that almost everyone in “Les Miserables” ends up dead and so did basically all the Jedi? How many times has some teenage girl posted on her Tumblr about being the Mockingjay after this election and preparing for “The Hunger Games” — picking out her weapon, attire and district?

The risk of comparing real life to fiction is that sometimes we may secretly crave that excitement that comes from books, television and movies — forgetting that, in actuality, things like dystopian governments, authoritarian leaders, rebellions, resistances and long wars are not exciting. In reality, they are grim, bloody, traumatic and serious.

So do we stay away from fiction? No, of course not. We just need to remember what stays in fiction and what we should take away. Because there are great things we can learn from fiction — bravery, standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and being a kind soul in a world that tells you otherwise.

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