Bias And Politics In Books

A while ago I read this (verbatim) comment in a discussion forum about writing:

"I don't like when an author injects their agenda into a book. If I want to read a political opinion, religious argument, IdealogicalX feminist, LGBT or race related diatribe, I'll buy a book on the subject and willfully seek the author's voice on the subject. But I don't like when an author uses geurilla tactics to sneak their argument for their agenda into a work of fiction that is being marketed as genre fiction. i have read a lot of stephen king, richard laymon, dean koontz. They all have opinions about thinks, if you follow stephen king on twitter, he is more of a political commentator than a fiction author. But, his personal agenda is never shoved on the reader in his published work."

I pointed out that all authors have viewpoints, and it's impossible to separate them from the book. Everything's political - everything we do, everything we buy, everything we believe. Politics is not just about the rare times we get to vote on a limited number of choices that may be equally bad; politics is about everyday values and how they are expressed by our actions. They are all the life choices we think are "best", with the implicit understanding that we think other people should agree with us, or follow our example.

Obviously any plot elements in a story should be relevant to the plot, but what's excluded from a book - or not mentioned in it - is as telling as what's included. The books that, at first glance, seem "least political" are often those with the most entrenched biases; it's just that they're the mainstream biases, so most people who accept them don't see them as "politics". The book that seems to be about a young woman finding happiness through a combination of shopping for brand names, finding a man to love her, and settling down to have a baby? That's as political as anything else, even though many people won't read it that way.

To take another example: if an author has a lot of main characters who feature/seek monogamous (heterosexual) relationships and marriage as part of their stories, then that won't be an issue for someone into monogamous (heterosexual) relationships and marriage, but might feel like politics being rammed down the throat of someone who doesn't believe in those things, who might be asking "Why are they injecting their agenda into the stories? They could have included anything in the world, but this was their choice?" My point is that there is always another side to it.

I usually feel the best approach isn't to take offence (which is fanning flames of negativity within oneself, then projecting it outwards), but to think "It's not for me, but I'm glad there's variety, and something for everyone" and just move on. Part of the challenge of being a reader is to find authors you're happy with (style and content); those you're not happy with aren't necessarily bad books though.

Obviously it's different if you buy a book and don't enjoy it, since you have spent some time and money for little gain, but that's always a risk with any purchase. :-)

I have come to accept that the viewpoints of many authors are opposed to my own in many areas, just as the viewpoints of the random man on the street may be opposed. We just have to be aware that the values adopted by mainstream culture are just as much of an agenda as any other, even when we agree with them.

Am I right? Or am I misguided fool? I'm sure you'll tell me either way.



Lloyd said...

I enjoyed this article. I also have seen readers make similar proclamations in their book reviews for authors they deem guilty of this. I think it is generally those who are threatened when anything deviates from what they can relate to. You used monogamous (heterosexual)relationships/marriage as an example of normative behavior. I have seen instances where anything that falls outside of that paradigm i.e an affirming stance towards a gay relationship or the depiction of a right-wing religious group who bombs clinics for performing abortions, are blasted for being part of an author's nefarious plot to infuse their writing with some sort of social or political agenda. It's never a problem as long as they agree with the politics. Only when the politics of reader and author diverge is when the reader cries foul. I agree that you can not escape some form of politics. Frankly, I like to challenge myself by reading books that expose me to different cultures, races, or persuasions. That's how I broaden my world view.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Many thanks Lloyd, you put it extremely well, and I was really pleased to read your comment. Finding out more about characters, worlds and lifestyles beyond our own is a positive, and helps to counteract small-mindedness, isolation and unacknowledged fear.

lynne said...

I quite agree Karl, there's politics in everything. I won't use Boots the chemist cos they don't pay their taxes, I go to a local independent one, it keeps the high st vibrant too. Up to a point, I like reading different points of view too, that way you learn more and get rid of bias.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Good on you Lynne. I get 95% of my shopping from local independents too (health shops, organic veg shop, bakers etc). It breaks my heart when councils go out of their way to encourage huge supermarkets and chains into towns, then wonder why all the local independents disappear ...

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