On Certain Common Moral Concerns Regarding Fiction
some insomniac musings by The Overlord Bear/Jem De Ocampo
Maybe fiction is not as real as full reality, but it’s still based on reality, so those concerns are valid and even sound.
If I were younger and my parents and other elders complained about me watching pretty violent and sexual shows and films, I’d probably have been more likely to tell them “But it’s just fiction, it’s not real at all” and/or “I’m just relieving my stress through this so that I don’t actually do for real all this stuff shown here.” Wait, actually, I’m way more likely to think of saying those but not actually tell them because I’d be pretty sure that they’d just get angrier at me there. I’d hate that fact, but whether or not I hate it, they’d be angrier for good reason.
I think I’ve come to terms with those fair and legitimate concerns thanks to some help from three things I learned from the many classes I had to take for my Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing in UPD:
In fiction, the line between the real and the unreal is made porous.
With fiction, we try to make sense of reality.
Parables are essential in the history behind the modern thing we call fiction.
Not like the benefits of knowing those things kicked in as soon as I learned about them during classes, though. But I guess that’s how it goes when you’re prideful on top of being younger. Plus, I’m quite experienced at treating fiction, especially the popular sort, as a means to escape reality and wishing, without considering the consequences much, that all those foolish conveniences they propagate would be full reality. Well, that, and thinking of fiction as needing more message and less craft, a mindset which I usually end up materializing as violent explosions of hypocritical rants carried by poor excuses for characters. Even now, I still struggle with those, but at least they can be overcome.
And one of the earlier benefits I realized by knowing those three things about fiction is the belief that being a good writer requires a good sense of reality as well. What do I mean by “good sense of reality?” Well, if you ask this wriggly worming Roman Catholic man that is me, then I’d say that reality is God’s dominion, not mine or my fellow sinful humans, and that God’s just and merciful love for us sinful humans is quite real, whether we believe it or not. In other words, having a good sense of reality is believing that reality is God’s world filled with His fallen creations under repair, and that we fallen creations of His can choose to either cooperate with or escape from His efforts to restore us to what we’re supposed to be for Him. If you want something more pop, then here: We humans are not perfect, and we humans can and should improve, but we humans can choose not to improve instead. Believe that with all you got, and I’ll say that you have a good sense of reality.
Of course, it’s not easy to believe that. It’s easier to believe in a bunch of forces we can perceive with our five senses than in a bunch of forces existing beyond our five senses. I guess that’s why we’re more likely to believe in fiction about, say, God than to believe in the being that is God Himself. Again, with fiction, we try to make sense of reality, which is usually quite a puzzle to us. No wonder parables are considered essential in the history of fiction, then.
And another thing I learned from Creative Writing classes in UPD is that creative nonfiction is when we use fiction writing techniques to talk about full reality. In other words, the difference between fiction and nonfiction is actually in how much distance we place between ourselves and reality as we try to understand the latter. I mean, shouldn’t the term “nonfiction” already be cluing us in? We try to tell the truth, but deep down, we know that there’s the chance that we’re saying something false, especially considering our fallen nature, yet we keep on trying because of faith, whatever that is to us.
So when we tell stories, it’s impossible to use the unreality they have to suppose that the reality that powers storytelling will be unable to affect us even a single bit. And when we tell stories, we have the desire to not only understand but also change reality. And the more we desire something to be reality, the more consuming fiction about what we desire will eventually be inadequate to us. All that has me remembering another thing I learned from Creative Nonfiction classes: When we write about others, we hold power over them, for better or worse.
So yeah, stuff like “This is just a work of fiction, and any similarities to real blah blah blah are purely coincidental?” Maybe there might be a bit of coincidental, but I don’t think it would be farfetched to think that all those similarities are mostly intentional. Besides, I think we can even say that they’re not even that new a set of problems in human history, considering Matthew 5:21-22 and 6:27-28, where Jesus also implicitly calls us out on our attempts at loopholing:
“’You have heard that it was said to the men of old,’ ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’
But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire…
‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
If there’s anything new about said problems, it’s just in the ways they manifest. Plus, art is not created by authors alone, for even the audience can shape it, for better or worse. And authors can be the audience, and the audience can be authors. And we were made in the image and likeness of God Almighty, who is also the Ultimate Author and the Ultimate Audience.
Thus, it’s very much natural and I’d very much like it if people do question my inherently fallen but fortunately improvable character because of the fiction I consume and create, and I’m glad and grateful that there have been people doing their best to do that for me before. My sense of reality is still wonky here and there, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone here in this world. Sure, I’d hate the pain of being questioned and all that, but good thing God’s around to make that more manageable without compromising His just and ruling code over me and my fellow fools. And He works not only through me but also through you all. Isn’t that wonderful?
With all that said, praise and thanks to be to God Almighty very much again, and may He keep on helping us all.