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Social Commentary

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by matt0044, Dec 31, 2012.

  1. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    Long story short: how well can one handle social commentary in Fanfiction or, heck, any sort of fiction and how wrong can one handle it as well?

    I await your lengthy walls-of-text responses (no offense, of course).
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012
  2. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie 桜咲くこの坂を今も上っている

    Dude, I had no idea what social commentary was until I looked it up. It would've helped immensely had you had a more detailed OP to help start a conversation.

    Anyway, from what I've gathered, technically, there is no right-or-wrong way to do social commentary in writing, even though I think it's pretty much like a way of showing bias while giving your reasons why you believe in such things. However, it just depends on whom it is you're trying to get the message out to, and how you portray it in your writing. Like say I want to write a story focusing on the values of tradition. I'm a person who believes in tradition, and wouldn't dare rebel against tradition unless I feel it needs changing. However, I am aware that there are people out there who don't like their traditions they were brought up in, and wish to change it, though as each individual is different, they thus have different ways of showing how they want to change tradition. While I have no issue with it at times, it just depends on what traditions they want to change or dismantle altogether and how they're doing it.

    Thus, in my hypothetical story, I would show a character, a family, or a community living with whatever tradition they have--any tradition you can think of. Some of them are happy for this tradition, but there are those who aren't. So something then happens in the community, whether it's another family moving in, the rising generation being influence by media to change the tradition, whatever it is, and it rocks the community. The community is then split on two sides: one for tradition, the other for change. Some neighbors may turn on each other, some family members fight over it, it becomes a mess. The character or family who are the main characters are then caught in a struggle between the conflicting sides, and decide for themselves or as a family (though more-than-likely it will be for themselves as individuals) about whether they want to stand for their tradition and protect it, or to decide on a change, though how they will change it depends on what they feel they want to do.

    As a writer, I would decide whether to show a side win (normally the side I'm for), or to keep it ambiguous. Most of the time, though, I would feel a more ambiguous ending leaves a better impact, as the outcome is different for each person. I would rather have the reader decide which ending they choose than to choose one for them that may leave them in a mess of conflicting emotions. I'm sure that most actual social commentary stories out there do have an ending to prove the author's point and the message they wish to get across, but it tends to be bias most of the time--and it's not always bad, but the reader may have a different feel for it. And that's something you have to be aware of. You can't please everybody even if you're on the fence about whatever it is you're writing about.

    But in all honesty, what writer is truly on the fence about what it is they're writing about? That's where the social commentary can go wrong if something slips in the narrative. You could try and write a story on neutral ground and give both sides pros and cons, however you have to make the balance equal. Otherwise, in the end, someone is going to discover an imbalance because you couldn't keep your balance on this extremely narrow line, and thus are leaning toward one side, whether you're for that side or not.

    Social commentary in fan fiction is iffy, because you can end up making a character OOC by having them be your own mouthpiece and share your ideals when they themselves probably don't in their own world. Fan fiction seems to be more touchy than when it comes to other professionally-published stories, if only because there are people who are familiar with the characters, and expect the characters to be treated with care and not change one bit. If I have to point out an example, albeit a poorly-done one, I'd say Harry Potter Turns to the Lord is social commentary. It would've been a decent social commentary had Harry Potter been kept in character, had all of the information of the wizardry world be correct, had the character he ran into not be such a Gary-Stu, and had the "witchcraft is of the Devil, Jesus saves" aesop not been in your face and shoved down your throat and was instead more subtle and realistic. But it failed miserably and managed to offend both the religious party and the non-religious party while still making us all laugh and scoff at the idiocy of the writer.

    Get what I'm saying? I hope I covered everything fine with what little I was given.
  3. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    Sorry about that but, and I'm totally not trying to be modest, I was nervous about my wording when trying to make the OP longer and opted to not risk seeming ignorant.

    But you did hit the nail on the head pretty well. Thanks.
  4. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine ██████████

    I do have to say that there is a wrong way to do social commentary, and it's pretty much up to how you handle subtlety.

    Think of it like this. You know that 90's cartoon from your childhood that made you feel like crap because it ripped into you for not recycling all your soda cans? What about the cartoon that not only stated its message flat-out but also did it so frequently that it made you think that the show was made for idiots? You do? Great! Keep that in mind.

    Now try to imagine those shows doing an entire episode about racism. Pretty ugly mental image, am I right?

    See, that's the problem with consciously dealing with deep themes. You've got to do it with tact, but you also have to do it with enough balance between metaphor and message. In other words, if you want to present a message, you'll need to remember that your audience is usually intelligent enough to figure things out for themselves. So, it's not necessary to amp up the drama by having characters state the message, and it's not even all that necessary to make your story absolutely dripping at every turn with what you're trying to say.

    Moreover, you'll also want to remember that it's dangerous to preach at an audience. The reason why Captain Planet was successful as a cartoon was because it was all about magic and fighting bad guys and a superhero with a legit mullet, but the reason why it doesn't quite do it for people nostalgically (as in, not that many people rewatch and and go, "OH MY GOD THIS IS AWESOME") is because it was preachy. When we were kids, for the most part, we only really cared about the magic and shiny things; when we're adults, we just don't care for the propaganda.

    The point of bringing that up is just that an audience goes into a story -- especially fanfiction -- to be entertained. Learning a valuable message about social issues or other important things just isn't high on their priority lists. Making it obvious that that's what you're doing could disappoint a reader at best and at worst make them side-eye you like there's no tomorrow. (Protip, guys? Experienced readers don't think your preachy Pokémon story about gun control in honor of the Newtown shooting is a great way to honor the dead. They think it's tactless, trying too hard to be intelligent, inappropriate, and in some cases downright moronic. Just saying. And yes, this exists. Or it exists in another fandom that's just as inappropriate, anyway.)

    So... yeah. There's definitely a wrong way to do it, but luckily, it's very easy to avoid that kind of situation: by remembering fanfic is primarily entertainment. Of course, you can explore social issues all you want. You can even create a story that, at its core, actually explores an issue thoroughly while still being entertaining. (Hey, I do too. Racism's a lot of fun to explore when you make it fantastic racism.) It's just that you'll want to make sure you're very careful to avoid forcing the message into your story or forcing your message to be every single part of your story. If you have to stop a conversation and have characters discuss social issues or whatnot, that's when you know you've crossed the line.

    Tl;dr, social commentary's okay so long as you don't end up preaching to the audience and/or beating them over the head with what you have to say.
  5. Griff4815

    Griff4815 No. 1 Grovyle Fan

    I always kind of like when social commentary is present in fiction (only if it's done well, of course). Obviously, nobody is obligated to add discussions about certain issues and a light hearted story without these sorts of things can be as good or better than a story that does have these things, but writing can be a good medium for this sort of thing. That said, when I add social commentary to stories, I'm not trying to get up on a soapbox or anything; for me, they're tools for storytelling. Of course it's important to take the issues seriously, and the most important thing is to explore both sides of the argument. You don't necessarily have to be completely balanced on your portrayal of both sides of an issue, because, honestly, not all issues are grey-and-grey, but you need to at least explore why each side is the way it is. So, I think you can have these sometimes controversial issues in a story and they're good because they can create discussion and really make people think, but the main role of a storyteller is to entertain. People aren't reading your story to hear about your political/religious/social/etc. views; they want to be entertained and if you can get somebody thinking deeply about the themes you've presented while they're raeding your work, that's a great bonus, but you shouldn't be heavy handed and preachy about writing these themes and commentaries. If you really want to get up on a soapbox about an issue, it might be better to write an essay about it, because the average reader probably won't want to be force fed opinions on a subject.

    So yeah. That was my long, non-fluent take, and I think Kutie Pie covered a lot of what I wanted to say.

    Edit: Yeah, JX pretty much covered the rest of my points too. Heh.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012
  6. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    The social commentary I have in mind is the "differing viewpoints" in Pokemon Black and White. Like how on one side of an argument and the other side might not be wrong and is mostly due to difference in values, upbringing, experience, habits, etc. You see it a lot on the internet such as with fandoms. How could I do that well?
  7. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Well, a little more info on the story you're trying to write would be good...

    Anyway, the best way to show two different viewpoints is to make both of them fallible. Since you're focusing on BW's differences, let's just call them truth and ideals. Well, the people who fight for truth are going to make mistakes. They are going to do some bad things in the pursuit of their noble goals that will lead people to get hurt. That doesn't make the people who are on the side of ideals any better or worse, because they too are going to have to make questionable choices and go to the same extremes that the truth camp will. A real world parallel would be the conflicts in recent years between religious groups in the Middle East. Is either side completely in the right and justified for what they are doing? No, they are not. But do they think that they personally can make a moral argument for what they are doing and justify it to their own conscience? Yes, or they wouldn't do it.

    Have you ever read George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels? I bring it up because many people have, or at least watched the series. The saga is rife with the same ideological quandaries that you're trying to present. Are the Lannisters evil? Well, to characters like the Starks, yes, they are (and it could be argued in Joffrey's case that he was, or at least utterly devoid of a moral compass). But in reality, they are just willing to go to extremes to get what they want. They are crafty and cunning, and utterly ruthless. But they can completely justify doing what they do to themsevles. Daenarys Targaryen views Robert Baratheon as a blackhearted usurper that mercilessly killed her brother and is singly responsible for the death of her father. Robert viewed his actions as a service to the realm, deposing a mad king and a foundering dynasty. When he sends assassins to kill Daenarys, it is because he sees her not as the relatively powerless girl she is, but as someone with the potential to become like her insane father and attempt to wrest control of her kingdom back.

    To both parties, all they had done was in the right, despite the other thinking otherwise. Make sense?
  8. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    It's basically the BW games adapted but with the Truths vs Ideals thing expanded on and more.

    And thanks for the advice. Though it's more than that: I explored how Team Plasma is able to recruit others with their fabricated goals and ideals. Like with simpleminded people who overlook certain things due to them not being deep (enough) thinkers and can persuaded into certain things. Example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oaVN0PXwHo With Pokemon in society, people accept them but don't think too much about why they like Pokemon or if it's wrong. With Team Plasma, they take advantage of these simpletons (not to offend anyone) and pose questions for them to mull over. They never consider Pokemon battles or having Pokemon to be wrong, they just accepted it and Team Plasma confuses them.

    I also show that the grunts who believe in TP's ideals aren't all dumb so much as they were easily persuaded and stubbornly believe it's correct and even enjoy themselves outside Team Plasma.

    I mean, if I'm not being too vague.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013

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