I have loved fiction for as long as I have had the mind to love anything, and as a child, they molded my morals and priorities. Telling stories and hearing them or reading them is about communicating more than just cognitive information. Stories imprint upon us emotionally, taking hold of something in our minds and changing us in some small way forever.
Quantitative facts are analyzed. The realness of them is of upmost importance, and that the realness be proven, a requirement for their claim. Facts, data, and science are tangible, their truths made plain in the scrutinizing light of reason, and we accept them because they insist we must. And those things would exist whether we chose to see them or not.
A story, however, must be seen or heard in order to be true, and the truth of fiction is often different from one person to the next. A story begs a relationship with its audience to be what it is and belongs as much to its audience as to its creator in the telling. And fiction, especially, seeps easily into the memory-filled crevices of our minds, because it isn’t real, after all. So, what could it hurt?
As an atheist, I know full well the power of fiction. Even now, fiction holds sway over the actions of most people in the world, compelling them to kindness and cruelty alike. Religious texts are stories. The realness of them is debatable to some, but the realness of the story isn’t why they are so compelling. They are compelling because aspects of the story and of the characters in the story are entirely emotional in nature. Guilt, love, contentment, security, fear, and joy all play crucial parts in these tales and modern fiction is no different.
We know for certain that many stories aren’t real. We know because these stories have authors, directors, or special effects coordinators to dazzle us with lies. We pay money to be lied to, and I’m not even referencing homeopathic medicine, religion, or any other pseudoscience. I’m talking about things that everyone knows for sure are fiction and leave no room for delusions of being real in any way. I’m talking about movies, books, video games, live theatre, or any other form of fictional narrative art. To assert that fiction isn’t important because it isn’t real is utterly ignorant. Once again setting aside “debatable fiction,” I was struck this morning by how relevant modern fiction has become to the very real struggles of so many people.
“Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One” and the entire “Hunger Games” series is based on the struggles of fictional oppressed people in a fictional oppressive government. I’ve read the books and have yet to see any but the first movie, but I’ve been following the hype and excitement of audiences throughout their releases. And it isn’t just American audiences that are devouring these stories. International audiences love them, too. Just how well the movies are produced, directed, and casted is, of course, important. But I think that the story is what really gets people. People being oppressed by their government? Who could identify with that?
The first thing that comes to mind is what has been happening in Ferguson, Mo. The deaths of many, many young black men at the hands of police officers frightened into action by racism or motivated to malicious violence by the same provoked an entire city into mobilized outrage. All it took was for one more black man to fall victim to the swiftly dragging undertow of systemic racism for this to happen. For years, this kind of racism went largely unnoticed by unoppressed people. For years, the mistreatment of young black men at the hands of armed police officers was either ignored or accepted on the understanding that these men deserved their fate, that they must have been up to no good, or why else would our just and fair police force be targeting them with such impunity?
It has taken too long for the unoppressed to realize that arming people with lethal weapons and the authority to use them against a population, often without the means to defend itself in name or body, isn’t justice. And so what began as a nonviolent but emotionally charged, protest has escalated into a full blown “state of emergency” with even more armed authority figures being called in to “keep the peace.” Likening this to the narrative presented by the “Hunger Games” movies is not a stretch, but the narrative of Ferguson, Mo. is still being written.
However, there are other protests happening in other places of the world that have been directly inspired by the “Hunger Games” movies. In Thailand, PM Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared indefinite martial law. The Thai military took over the government on May 22 and has been forcibly quashing protests of their actions to include arresting people giving the infamous three fingered salute from The Hunger Games. Reading about this literally gave me goosebumps. Theater chains in Thailand have cancelled showings of Mockingjay to avoid trouble. Students arranging free showings of the Hunger Games movies have been arrested, and Prayuth has said that anyone showing the salute was “endangering their future.”
You can read more about the events in Thailand here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30140596
Protesters in Thailand are gathering strength and courage from something someone made up. The director of Mockingjay, Francis Lawrence, has addressed the issue by asserting, "My goal is not for kids to be out there doing things that are getting them arrested." However, the story has become larger than his directorial efforts. The audience has claimed the story, and it is now as much theirs as anyone else’s. The creators of the story can do nothing to stop this.
Our fiction, what we read, what we write, and what is written, reflect the times in which we live. History may be written by those in power, but our stories tell the truths behind what happened and why. I used to feel guilty about reading more fiction than non-fiction. Admittedly, I do read more news and non-fiction than I used to, but the stories are really what nourishes me and keeps me going. Our stories motivate us, and the facts that surround us give us some sense of direction and purpose.
Every person has at least one story inside of them. Some people have many. But the continued progress of our culture and of humanity relies on our ability to tell these stories and on those stories being heard. The more I listen, the more I am able to understand just how important these things are. Whether you read books, watch movies, or go to shows, know that you are taking part in a great cultural phenomenon that has been a tradition for as long as humanity has thrived. In as much as I’m addressing you, I am also reminding myself to never stop valuing the tale or the telling, or to feel idle in doing either.