According to somebody’s idea of polite conversation, these are the things you just should not talk about. But in the world of fiction and satire writers, these are just the juicy topics that fire the imagination and give us great books.
But with a caveat. Responsibility.
I write this piece against the background of the tragic events in Libya.
I lived and worked in Libya in the late 1960s. My daughter was born in Tripoli and in September 1969, I drove to work weaving in and out of an Army convoy that, little did I know, was Colonel Ghaddafi’s army carrying out their coup d’etat.
It is all too easy to write a small non-fiction book, or a short blog, that highlights one’s own political or religious leanings, fired off at high speed with little thought or responsibility in this high-tech world. An emotional bullet, blasted without aiming, into the ether. I have been guilty of that. And so have some film-makers out to make a vicious assault either politically or religiously, with a carefully planned cynicism or simply an ignorant defamatory assault.
Fiction on the other hand, can allow a discussion amongst characters set against varying locations and events, but the author’s own biases better have a solid foundation. There are those who write books that discuss social issues based on particular political and religious views, and those that are more like historians of social change.
Some of the greatest books in literature take a definite stand, such as those by DH Lawrence and George Orwell, who wrote novels on political and social issues. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were more chroniclers of the society in which they lived, allowing their characters to breathlessly move through the social upheavals of the day, individually providing personal vignettes and collectively creating the atmosphere of the early 20th century.
With Animal Farm, George Orwell created a stunning condemnation of Stalin’s Communist totalitarian beliefs, in a satire about animals running the farmyard, but only the top and most aggressive animals. It’s a short book, but massive in its effect on social, political and religious thinking.
Politics and Religion control our daily lives and absolutely should be a major source for stories about characters trying to struggle through life’s daily grind. Political and Religious leaders affect everything we do, from eating, working, loving, having children, war, and racism and they should be held accountable for their actions. With a well crafted fictional story, various viewpoints can be discussed, the idiocies highlighted and the truth allowed to emerge. We need more fiction and satirical books that show the ridiculousness of the world in which we live, as well as the wonder. The graciousness of the human spirit as well as the greed and corruption.
Fiction and satire allow the reader to ‘get inside’ the people and the issues in a more engaging way than simply reading a short one sided tirade, which only satisfies a small section of the community.
I have a very close friend who is completely opposite in his political thinking to myself, hates the political tirades I sometimes make on this blog and yet loves my books. He has enjoyed both the satires Dreams from the Death Age and Armageddon from The Book of Baker series, and my political thriller An Unquiet American. It’s the story and characters that engage him, no matter that he disagrees with some of the premise. Fiction has allowed us to agree and disagree without cost to our friendship, even though we have such disparate political views.
I like fiction and I like satire. Both disciplines allow the discussions to flow through characters that reflect every day people and situations. The doubts, the convictions, the hypocrisies and emotions that rule our lives can be explored through the characters as they travel the twisting road of the story.
Most of the time I have absolutely no idea how the story is going to play out. A set the stage and let the characters play, but I always choose one character that holds my own personal views and several characters that do not. What is intriguing is the counter-play between them as the story unfolds. It sharpens my own views and sometimes changes them as a good discussion should.
But there is a big ‘but’.
All art carries with it responsibility.
Just because an painter, author, poet or musician doesn’t have the same philosophy or religious belief of another, is no excuse for extremism using ‘art’ as a platform. With all forms of disagreement there should be knowledge and respect for other people’s Political and Religious views, provided those views are solidly formed and not wild speculation or just downright lies. There are always those people in the world who will resort to violence just because they can, using any excuse to do so. The responsibility of the author, painter, poet or musician is not to give extremists the excuse they look for.