Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fiction's Philosophy

Has Fiction Forgotten About Cooperation?

As Rorschach slinks into dark corners to find the gaps in the Watchmen mystery, one overriding theme is the way people cannot rely on one another. Fiction has long been either a reflective mirror of our society, or a guiding path to an alternative. Our present social climate is ushering in a stream of reflection with little on the alternative side. Mistrust is abundant, cooperation bears few examples. Reasons exist for the trend, but many arguments also cry for a counter to the trends.

Whether it’s the Watchmen, Taken, Angels and Demons or even the Jack Bauer look-alikes on television, more material is coming forth reflecting the distrust in our society. It’s been several years since the Hobbits cooperated with Humans, Elves and Dwarfs. Since then, we have seen one character after another offer a smile to an associate, only to use a cell phone in the next scene to set an obstacle in that person’s path. Great plots with conflicts now cast the protagonist at the right spot at the right time, but only to miss the very goal he seeks because he failed to trust someone in the previous scene.

Reasons exist for the plethora of mistrust. When our economic leaders shred the idea of trust with mortgages or skirt the social responsibility to aid a community,that leads to part of the public’s frustration. Yet, that image of mistrust is heightened as political leaders laugh at the concept of promises. The previous political campaign showed debates where one party embraced Joe the Plumber as a small businessman before they discovered the following day that Joe wasn’t his name and he failed to own his business. The society’s craving for fiction’s depiction of distrust naturally follows the frustration.

However, that’s exactly why fiction has the responsibility to lead with an image to counter that frustration. During the terror of the McCarthy era, the SF world showed how people could trust aliens. That era showed how Henry Fonda instilled cooperation against racism when he encouraged a consensus in 12 Angry Men. During the height of the Cold War, an episode of the original Star Trek asked the question, “Maybe they thought we were the aggressors.” Daring to ask that question defied the political hammer that pointed a finger at our real world people who asked the same question.

Fiction’s history shows a proactive role of countering the norm. Yet fiction’s display of cooperation has wavered over the past few years. We expect our fiction to reflect the real world, show us the details that make up scenarios we all face. But fiction also has the responsibility to show a path where few trod, to open up a consciousness that shows where society is missing the mark. That means showing the value of cooperation.

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