Social Commentary in Fiction

In this article:
  • Authors often express their worldviews in and through their fiction.
  • Through reading fiction, we have the opportunity to become exposed to different forms of social commentary.
  • Social commentary in fiction can be broken down into five broad categories.

As I said in my last post, I don’t normally read as an escape (Star Wars novels being a general exception).  I read in order to learn, to challenge myself and my beliefs, to expose myself to new ideas.  Media, in any form, presents ideas, messages, and particular worldviews, no matter how tame or, at times, trite they may be.  We must be aware of these messages, even when they seem unimportant.

However, this is not to say that we cannot read for escape.  I agree with Brian that there is a place for escapist literature. We all need an escape; some of us choose to escape into books, others watch movies, some even choose to abuse small white balls with metal clubs . . . I’ve never understood that one.  However, even in escapist reading we must be aware that we are being exposed to certain points of view.  Sometimes they will mirror our own, sometimes they will be strongly opposed, sometimes they will seem completely alien, and sometimes they will be disturbingly familiar.  Whatever these views might be, it is our responsibility as readers, indeed, as humans, to be aware of them.

That being said, I intend to spend several posts discussing social commentary in fiction.  As I have said, I learn much better from a good story than I do from a textbook or lecture (though these certainly have their place in my educational experience).  I much prefer lessons presented through fiction; it allows me to better interact with the material presented and to see the ideas in action.  Currently we have a plethora of social commentary in fiction.  Though scientific commentary is less common (and rarely accurate), there are a few good examples (e.g. the work of the late Michael Crichton), which range from The Simpsons to Carnivale, from Starship Troopers to Haze. This glut of social commentary makes it an easy subject to analyze and even makes finding good examples of social commentary easy, though bad examples are, as in everything, even easier.

In general, we may separate social commentary in fiction into five major categories, these are as follows:

  • Sociopolitical Commentary (e.g. Haze by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson, 1984 by George Orwell, Star Wars: Legacy of the Force by various authors, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi by various authors )
  • Socioreligious Commentary (e.g. Dune by Frank Herbert, The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, The Simpsons created by Matt Groening, Carnivale created by Daniel Knauf, Star Wars: Legacy of the Force by various authors, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi by various authors)
  • Socioeconomic Commentary (e.g. Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson, Haze by L.E. Modesitt Jr.)
  • Socioscientific Commentary (e.g. Jurassic Park, State of Fear, Prey all by Michael Crichton, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Brave New World By Aldous Huxley)
  • Pure Sociological Commentary (e.g. Simpsons created by Matt Groening, Family Guy created by Seth Mcfarlane, South Park created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson, Animal Farm by George Orwell, 1984 By George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Mist Based On A Novella by Stephen King)

Obviously my favorite of the above is Socioreligious Commentary, under which I include commentary on the moral, doctrinal, and practical aspects of religion; however, all of them interest me. I intend to discuss each of these aspects of social commentary in fiction over several posts, using the given examples (and probably others as I think of them) and the effects that they may have, both positive and negative, on the reader.


About noothergods

I hate writing these things. Ok, a little bit about me. I split my time between this world and other worlds so I'm only here about 25% to 50% of the time. Other times my body might be here (or you never know it might not) but I am off somewhere else having strange and usually pretty horrible adventures. I consider myself a scholar of Christian Theology and of Religion in general, I love learning about other people's belief systems. I think that Shinto is fascinating and I'm obsessed with the theology of sin...and with monkeys...I don't know why I'm obsessed with monkeys but I blame Gus...if you know him you'll understand that, if you don't then...well...I blame Gus. Anyway, I'm the one of the blog that needs to be censored the most so if there's anything posted that you find offensive it was probably me. I think that my brain doesn't really work the way it's supposed to but that's an issue for a whole other time. I have two degrees, a B.S. in Religion and an M.Div. in leadership. I enjoy a great many things some of which include writing (gee, what a surprise), martial arts, anything media that has a good story to tell, cooking, discussing/reading/occasionally writing about Christian theology, General theology, religious belief systems, philosophy, etc. I also enjoy reading medieval and previous magical texts and studying the history, practice, and beliefs about magic from around the world. I don't practice magic and if you want to know my personal beliefs on the subject you can email me, however the intersection of magic and religion is a very interesting topic.

Posted on November 10, 2010, in Books, Tobias Mastgrave and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree. World view is present even in the most “escapist” literature, and may be most dangerous there because the reader’s guard isn’t up. It needs to be. It also follows that the line between “serious” and “escapist” literature is somewhat more blurry than many people assume. I look forward to the future commentary.

  2. Kyle,
    Very good start on the subject. Can we tell you read just a little bit? Praise God. Your scholarship is showing, as it has in many of your recent posts.

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