2017-09-07 Politics and Entertainment

Recently, Scott Anderson wrote on G+ that Wizards of the Coast were “so stupid about injecting their own real-world politics into their games.” I wonder, is this a new thing? Or is this complaint new?

I think this has been true, always. Politics has always found a way into books and games. Maybe some issues don’t seem political to us now, but they are about what people feel they ought to be doing, they wished to be doing, be it performing masculinity, feminism, taming frontiers, spreading freedom (the freedom that is different from the freedom on the other side of the iron curtain), a message of rugged individualism, of caring and sharing, of power, of war, of misery, all the messages are political because humans are political animals.

And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech. The mere voice, it is true, can indicate pain and pleasure, and therefore is possessed by the other animals as well (for their nature has been developed so far as to have sensations of what is painful and pleasant and to indicate those sensations to one another), but speech is designed to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, and therefore also the right and the wrong; for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities, and it is partnership in these things that makes a household and a city-state.

Aristot. Pol. 1.1253a

And all the books and all the stories have alienated some part of the population but they didn’t speak up because they didn’t share the ideas that were coming, the mainstream, and not every underdog makes it big. Perhaps they did speak up, hated on The Lord of the Rings, on Star Wars, on Star Trek, on War and Peace, on Plato, on Goethe, but their point of view did not prevail. And now we look back and think the old days had less politics and I think we are wrong.

That is why the complaint seems new: previous complaints didn’t make across the gulf of time and space. Sure, people objected to Henry Miller’s books, some of them were banned, even. And yet these days we don’t blink and it’s OK. These complaints are old. At the same time, some complaints are new because the issues we complain about today were simply too far fetched in the past. Back when The Lord of the Rings was written, the people who had anything to say didn’t complain about a lack of representation. These days, however, our attitudes have changed.

I’d like to go further than just claiming that the complaints have always been there, or that the things we complain about just keep changing. I believe that a book or a game that teaches us nothing about the human condition, speaks not of feelings, makes no judgements, such a thing is as shallow and flaccid as pop songs about love. Everybody understands them and nothing else needs to be said. In fact, anything that goes beyond the simple feeling is already political. You might think that we can talk about more than love and be unpolitical but faithfulness, polyamory, homosexuality, marriage, equal pay, equal say, everything is political and if you think it is not then that’s because you think the issues are so obvious it isn’t a contest. But it is. Somewhere, it is. When we think it’s unpolitical we are simply in such an agreement we don’t even notice.

The division we experience these days is simply the division that has always been there but we didn’t talk about it. One side was without a voice, but just as the spread of new media caused war and strife in past, so does social media serve politics now. The printing press allowed the church schism to spin out of control and lead to the thirty years war and more. Radio and TV was used for propaganda on a populace that did not have the media savviness to ignore it. The Internet is used to drown us because we have yet to find a way to filter it appropriately.

Tags:

Comments

In an answer to further comments I wrote: I always found the argument very convincing that unless you are in a minority, you just don’t see it. So when we don’t see it, some will feel excluded. When they feel included, we feel it’s political. But since I don’t belong to any obvious minorities (perpetual foreigner, maybe?) I can’t provide examples from my own life. I do remember reading the account of a black girl liking science fiction and her parents asking her why she liked it because that was for whites (don’t remember the details). Until then I had simply never thought about it. And I can always spot the American ads here in Switzerland: so many people of color! So all I can say is that I’m noticing the politics more these days, but it seems to me more like an eye opening, not a politicization.

– Alex 2017-09-07 20:59 UTC


Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Please say HELLO.