“All art is propaganda… however not all propaganda is art”- George Orwell
The first purpose of fiction is to entertain. I am very suspicious of fiction made to advance some cause or ideology because it is clear and transparent propaganda that is palatable only if the views being spewed are those of the viewer, and it is often quite boring too.
But does fiction have any value beyond mere entertainment and escapism? Should fiction meet certain criteria of morality beyond what is commercially preferable? Is there any objective standard other than popularity to judge fiction? Should fiction play some sort of civic service? The answer to these questions lies in the extent that fiction affects those who consume it. But such a thing is very hard to measure.
Are the audiences desires reflected in the fiction? Or are the values of fiction imprinted onto the audience? Or in other words, does fiction brainwash people to have certain values or are the fantasies and desires of the audience reflected in the works of fiction they consume? Both of these are true but I think that the latter is truer than the former as the authors try to cater to the fantasies of the audience which are already there in some form or another rather than creating fantasies out of nothing. When it comes to things like anime, manga and video games very often the creators are also consumers. The point I am trying to get at is that most genres of fiction only exist because a demand for them exists and that this demand cannot be entirely manufactured, it is nested in the social conditions as well as in human nature, this natural demand is what allows fragments of truth to exist in what should be fictional, of course it may be a truth that some ideological groups do not want to hear and do not want others to hear but trying to artificially insert what one believes to be true only erases those naturally occurring fragments of truth. This is the reason why politically charged fiction often comes off as pamphlets in novel/film/comic form to those who don’t already agree with what the pamphlet is peddling and that the aesthetic judgement of fiction is irreparably damaged as those who agree with the pamphlet will hail it as an artistic masterpiece.
Fiction must be entertaining and if someone wants to write an opinion piece or commentary then essay form is good enough, using fiction to promote a political view almost seems like a screen to avoid criticism, after all it is not real, even satire can come off as preachy and at worst a satire of itself if overdone when the hatred for the other side simply spills out of every word and with so little justification story-wise. Turning the whole thing into a monologue much more suited to the essay form.
I am also against trying to interpret every story as an allegory for something else, a story has to be fun and nothing else, this sort of psychological analysis (and frankly speculation) can be insightful when applied to a person or event but when applied to a story and the characters in it, it just sucks the life out of the story giving place for a platform for the analyst to catapult the reader’s attention to whatever is on the analyst’s mind, to whatever the analyst wants to peddle, it is a parasitic practice, piggybacking on the already established recognition of well-liked(or disliked) fiction, eventually the actual story flies out of the window but it is implied that if you disagree with whatever the analyst is peddling then you must also disagree with the artistic value of whatever story the analyst is using for his own ends. Actually the only way to make sense of some stories, for example, fairy tales, is to treat them as allegories but that is because children’s fiction(1) is nothing but propaganda, full of platitudes and ideals, one-note characters who are caricatures acting like idealistic boy scouts or as personifications of evil, this is fine to reinforce some basic morals in children’s minds (although the idealism can backfire and can turn children especially boys into little know it all cynics who like to say(or just think) sarcastic things about things like teamwork by the time they are twelve and have realized they have been fed a bunch of platitudes that are only true some of the time although the little cynics may assume that they are just lies though some of them are of course just lies).
But the problem arises when there is a push to treat adults as if they were children, for example when it is said that they shouldn’t be shown certain pictures because those pictures will brainwash them into ardent misogynists, racists, homophobes and pedophiles and if they want to see such stories then it’s because they already are all of those things and their minds need to be cleansed of sins by watching counter-propaganda-propaganda, as Peter Hitchens puts it, it’s a bit like a god-less version of the Protestant belief in Justification and salvation through faith alone.
I am sure that most would agree that it is rather distasteful when their political opponents co-opt art to push their agenda but would they also uphold the same standard and principle where their own side does this? I doubt that but it is not impossible.
I am not denying the place that fiction plays in the discussion of morality, but it must do so directly without any need for further extrapolation, to the point where anything can be used to support any moral view. And the discussion of morality in fiction must not be had at the expense of pleasure, of entertainment, of the aesthetic value derived from fiction. What is aesthetically pleasing is often morally reprehensible but that is the reason why it must be allowed to exist in the realm of fiction rather than in reality. This is the reason that I am against both the prudish consensus of the left-wing and of the right-wing, well let’s be honest, currently, it’s mostly the left.
Unfortunately many do not seem to appreciate the aesthetic value of fiction and furthermore seem unable or unwilling to tell apart reality from fiction leading to idiotic conversations such as How the girl fighters with superpowers in Boku no Hero beating male fighters twice their size is realistic or why watching female-only screenings of Wonder Woman makes us empowered and not seem like hypocrites, which only make it seem like those involved in such things need their political beliefs to be validated through empowerment fantasies and characters with magical powers, it is quite pathetic.
(1) I know most fairy tales were not originally made for children but now they are mainly consumed by children. Actually, I would make an exception to my claim that children’s fiction is propaganda in regards to some cartoons like Tom and Jerry that cannot be interpreted as having a moral or social message that is without some heavy pretentious overthinking.
A comment I wrote under this post claiming that fiction without morals is soulless entertainment:
“Yes, maybe but fiction which is not entertaining is unwatchable. It is true that there is some implicit moral you can read from a story but when the story is written specifically to promote a moral, it comes off as contrived, as propaganda, as the author trying to unconsciously affect you without appealing to your reason. The essay form and debate is a much better means for appealing to someone’s reason. I am just sick of the infiltration of political virtue signalling into art.”