AG: Fiction Matters
I was having a conversation with Jack Cavanaugh when he made a comment that reminded me of the power of fiction. In our chat, he mentioned Gene Roddenberry’s habit of dealing with earthly problems by placing them in an otherworldly setting. Of course, Jack had classic Star Trek in mind. The moment he made the comment, images from several episodes flashed in my brain. The first broadcast of an interracial kiss came when Captain Kirk planted one on the lovely Lt. Uhura. Of course, the writers attempted to avoid criticism by making the kiss the work of mind-controlling aliens. Apparently, Kirk didn’t want to kiss Uhura but couldn’t help himself. (Right, I was a kid when that episode aired and I wanted to kiss Uhura.)
Racial tension and bigotry were shown as foolish beliefs in an episode where one bilaterally, two-tone alien (black on the right side; white on the left) tries to track and kill the racially inferior bilaterally, two-tone alien (white on the right side; black on the left). Although the episode played as a drama, its obvious moral lesson was laughably clear and successfully showed bigotry for the foolish mindset it is.
All of this made me think of Rod Serling and Twilight Zone. He too, despite his statement that he had no social agenda, often crafted stories that dealt with society’s struggles with the significance of the individual (The Obsolete Man), the price of dictatorship (in a half dozen episodes), and dozens of other concerns.
Fiction has the ability to touch areas of the mind and heart often closed to other means of communications. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, documentaries, and the like provide us with much needed facts and insights, but they cannot do what a well-crafted story can: enable the reader or viewer to experience vicariously the event.
Fiction allows us to see through someone else’s eyes, to feel their joy and pain, to think their thoughts, views that might not normally percolate in our minds. Alex Hailey’s Roots may have done more good for race relations than all the speeches and marches combined. Through his words, he put faces on slaves and slave owners, moving the topic from the shelves of history to the coffee tables of our homes and deep into our thinking.
This is not to say that fiction is superior to nonfiction. It’s not. Then again, it’s not the redheaded stepchild as some wish to portray it.
Sometimes a story is just a story, a jaunt into a world with only the intent of being entertained. There is honor in that as well. Other times, fiction is an alarm, a slap to the face, or an apologetic for a meaningful cause.
Jesus used parables for a reason: More can be said in a story than can be in a lecture.
Al Gansky writes from California. Check out more of his work at www.altongansky.com.