Sign in to follow this  
Ben X

Allegorical prejudice in genre fiction

Recommended Posts

Just read this Cracked article [EDIT: forgot to link to it, thanks Spenny!] about how the allegories in Bright, X-Men etc are flawed. I was hoping for some examples and explanations of it being done right.

 

So, does anyone disagree with the article? Or, if not, can anyone think of any examples of successful prejudice allegories in genre fiction.

 

One that comes to my mind (without much thought put into it or a recent viewing, so feel free to destroy me) that at least got closer is District 9, because while the aliens were supposedly repulsive due to their insectoid looks and cat-food diet, that comes across to me more as the humans' judging them to be repulsive or fearful because they're different. They're generally friendly and non-violent; they do get a bit rowdy, but to a level that seems mild when they've been stuck in an internment camp slum for 25 years - perhaps it's less ham-fisted this way than to have them all angelic and meek? I have read criticisms of it that most of the actual black people in it are voodoo gangsters, though...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem with District 9 is it ties everything into Apartheid but the aliens are refugees, not an oppressed indigenous people.

 

I find most genre fiction that tackles prejudice head on (The Spook Who Sat By The Door, Deep Cover) to be more effective than allegory, as allegory almost always waters down or distorts the actual cost of prejudice. I think rather than the allegory serving the message it serves the fiction. X-Men probably* isn't a great metaphor for civil rights (whether addressing racial prejudice in the original comics or gay rights in Bryan Singer's films) but by centering on that metaphor it feels realer, richer, more emotionally urgent. It works gives the superhero combat opera more weight, rather than being a better way to explore prejudice.

 

I think there's a lot of horror films that do a great job exploring prejudice (usually misogyny, occasionally racism) but they tend to work as barely hidden subtext and not an actual allegory. Night of the Living Dead has racial subtext to it's tensions (though, given Ben was not originally envisioned as black, I always read it as more about generation gaps) but it's not as if the zombies represent something specific about prejudice the way they represent consumerism in Dawn of the Dead.

 

I don't know if it qualifies as genre fiction (and it's been over a decade since I've read it) but I always thought Maus was really good. But then again I just checked the Wikipedia and there are many who have similar criticisms.

 

*I've read a fair bit of classic X-Men but am by no means an expert, so maybe it's actually amazing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I feel like Star Trek might have done some episodes where the crew thinks they know how sentient beings should behave, but eventually come to understand that a different set of values or traditions can work; but I can't think of any specific episodes.

But in general I agree with what Patrick R wrote.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to think that allegorical prejudice was handled quite well in The Witcher books and games, but I haven't thought about it lately, and I was probably wrong.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's really hard to do allegorical prejudice in genre fiction well, because you have to:

  • have a good metaphor for the prejudiced in the first place,
  • that's not leaky enough that your metaphor doesn't break down when you explore it (e.g. Zootopia's predators),
  • that doesn't sound like a stupid basis to your audience, most of whom have prejudices that would sound stupid to people hearing of them for the first time,
  • that talks about prejudice in an insightful way that resonates with the lived experiences of those prejudiced against,
  • that talks about prejudice in an insightful way that pricks the conscience of those who are prejudiced,
  • and also be entertaining.

There are those who can do it. There are a lot more people who think they can do it and can't.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/11/2018 at 2:29 AM, Merus said:

There are those who can do it.

On 2/9/2018 at 12:07 PM, Ben X said:

can anyone think of any examples of successful prejudice allegories in genre fiction.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ha ha, I was about to ask, "Who?!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This isn't really the same thing but last night I watched Moana for the first time and one thing that struck me was that I was waiting for Captain Cook to show up and he never did. It was a bit of a relief to just have a story about an indigenous people's mythos instead of the story having to be about colonialism because an indigenous culture was featured.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was hedging just in case someone came in with LeGuin or N. K. Jemisin because I haven't read either.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Heh, fair enough.

 

Thanks for the response, everyone!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Merus said:

I was hedging just in case someone came in with LeGuin or N. K. Jemisin because I haven't read either.

 

I've only read the first of N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth books, but it definitely immediately falls into the X-Men trap of the "out" group being outrageously dangerous to the point you can't really blame anyone for fearing them. The oppressed people in her book can literally cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions massive enough to cause years to decades of climate change.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Gwardinen said:

I've only read the first of N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth books, but it definitely immediately falls into the X-Men trap of the "out" group being outrageously dangerous to the point you can't really blame anyone for fearing them. The oppressed people in her book can literally cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions massive enough to cause years to decades of climate change.

 

I loved the Inheritance Trilogy, but I've found The Fifth Season so far to be a much clumsier effort by Jemisin. That said, I don't think of her as the master of allegory in genre fiction, not compared to, say, Mervyn Peake.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

LeGuin's Dispossessed is amazing, and deals with two different cultures, including the views they have of each other. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this