The Politics of Storytelling

First Man is a movie about Neil Armstrong’s torturous journey to walk on the Moon. Watching the film, it’s easy to become swept up in the astonishing courage and technological marvel of reaching the Lunar surface, but right before Apollo 11 launches, there’s a shot of protestors with the Saturn V in the background. The music that plays is ‘Whitey on the Moon.’

For the entire movie, we’ve been in the insular world of Neil Armstrong and his immediate family, and suddenly we’re made aware of the Vietnam protests and dissent such as ‘Whitey on the Moon,’ which makes the juxtaposition incredibly powerful. I didn’t see it coming. I guess that was the point, showing us how easy it was to become swept up in the moment.

Interweaved within the film is historical footage, including an interview with Kurt Vonnegut saying, “I don’t care about making the Moon habitable. Let’s make New York City habitable.” Arthur C. Clarke is sitting beside Vonnegut and gives him a filthy look, which again, provides a powerful counterpoint to the overall arc of the film. 

Politics, it seems, is about being honest with life. I love the Apollo programme. I think it rates up there with the building of the pyramids as one of the greatest accomplishments of our species, and yet there’s no denying it was conducted against a time of astonishing upheaval in American society.  

Recently, I’ve had a run of negative reviews against my novel Losing Mars because of “politics,” which is something I find curious as there’s no political ideology in the book whatsoever. 

Losing Mars chronicles the challenges of six crew members at Shepherd base on the edge of the Vallis Marineris. Three couples. One of the couples (which doesn’t contain our protagonist) is gay and has to deal with the kind of criticisms commonly leveled against the LGBT+ community. Rather than being a human rights issue, this is somehow “political.”

Why did I include a gay couple? I didn’t. Society did. My story is simply a reflection of society, whether you want to recognize that or not. 

All storytelling is political. All of it. Whether by inclusion or omission, regardless of whether the story is set in the past or the future, EVERY novel says something about our society now. Whether we’re dealing with sexism, racism, homophobia or ableism, the absence of social issues is as much a statement as their inclusion. Their absence simply means those readers/writers are happy to ignore reality—which is not a position everyone can take as discrimination is forced on them.   

I’ve written about people of color (Galactic Exploration), disabilities (Welcome to the Occupied States of America), homophobia (Starship Mine), etc, because THIS is the world in which we live. 

Call me slow, but I’m spotting a bit of a pattern. Just today, author Chuck Wendig was fired from Marvel comics “for profanity” (despite Deadpool making Chuck look like a kindergarten teacher). My novels are somehow considered “political.” Then you’ve got situations like African-American football players being criticised for kneeling as “disrespecting the flag.” I don’t know about you, but to me none of these criticisms are honest.

Chuck wasn’t fired for profanity—but because he was challenging racism and sexism in his stories.

My novel isn’t political—it’s simply reflecting issues real people have to deal with in real life because of inequality.

African-American football players aren’t kneeling to disrespect the flag—they’re honoring their fallen brothers and sisters unjustly killed by US police at alarming rates.  

If you’re going to be critical of anyone for speaking up against injustice, at least have the courage to be honest and admit you hate the idea of equality rather than hiding behind weasel words.

When Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse Five it was an affront to the Hollywood ideal of war as a noble endeavour. Fiction is fiction—it’s not true, it’s not real, but it is a reflection of the reality in which we live and should make us think a little deeper about life.  

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