Monday, January 16, 2012

"It's just a work of fiction"

A phrase that I find entirely frustrating is "it's just a work of fiction" or anything along those lines. This is usually said when a person criticizes a work of fiction, and then someone else (usually someone who enjoyed said word of fiction) will rebut with "It's just a work of fiction."

The problem with this mindset is that fiction is never just a work of fiction, especially fiction that is written with a purpose of touching people in a certain way. This comes to mind because I was just reading a blog post about the problems with The Shack (some popular novel amongst Christians that I probably won't be reading any time soon). Quite a few times in the comments, people were saying "It's just fiction." As if saying The Shack is only fiction negates the fact that there are apparently quite a few Biblical issues in the book.

Humans are such ignorant and amusing creatures. We think we can watch shows, read books, basically inundate our entire being with fiction, and yet still not be influenced by it. For example, we women watch silly Hollywood romance movies and we think, "Oh, I know this isn't realistic, so obviously I'm not going to expect this in my real life romance," but there is a part of us that really does want a Hollywood romance. There is a part of us that is influenced by all those romcoms and tear-jerkers. It is not "just fiction." What goes into the mind does not simply fall back out if you stuff it in there over and over and over again. 

Such is also the case with a fiction novel you may read only once. So many people have read The Shack and said it completely changed their lives (ironically it is those very same people who will attack someone who criticizes the book by saying "It's just fiction"). Now tell me, if a book is just fiction, and by implication shouldn't be taken seriously at all, how can it change your life? 

Then there are people that use the phrase when a work of fiction is offensive. A particular favorite of mine is Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. Personally, I've never read the book, but I'm sure many people were saying "It's just fiction" when the book was published. Yeah, it's just a fiction book that gave step-by-step instructions in how to carry out a successful murder. James Perry says he used the book as a manual on how to carry out a triple homicide. Obviously not just fiction to him (obviously not just fiction to the 4th circuit US Court of Appeals either). Fiction is powerful stuff.

Words have power. Fiction has power. It's a cop-out response to say "It's just a work of fiction." It is never just a work of fiction. People take the words of fiction to heart. I might not agree with everyone Plato taught, but his cave analogy is quite relevant here. We are so heavily influenced by the artists of society, and we don't even realize it.  We like to imagine we aren't influenced by fiction, but that's just silly. 

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