I recently contributed a story to an anthology titled Everything Is So Political (Roseway Publishing). In keeping with the book’s title, my story was called “Suicide Bombers”—how more political could that be, I thought. But then I realized that most stories, if not all of them, are political.
Politics has many definitions. Here are some from the Free Dictionary that I took particular note of: “intrigue or manoeuvring within a political unit or group in order to gain control or power,” “the often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society,” “any activity concerned with the acquisition of power, gaining one's own ends.” Power, intrigue, manoeuvring, conflict, relationships—all aspects of a rollicking good story or novel. Even a love story has all these ingredients in it.
So I concluded that fiction writers are closet politicians. We may not have the opportunity, energy or canniness needed to survive as real politicians (a few notables have tried and failed: Michael Ignatieff and Mario Vargas Llosa come to mind) but we certainly are eager for change and for promoting good in the world, our way. And that way may be by inventing situations in which the ills of bad politics are exposed or where the benefits of good politics rise to the surface. We also have the ability to invent a safe world through our fiction and kill off the bad politicians in it—something which is a bit hard to do in real life without going to jail.
Some books started civil wars, if you can believe that tall tale about Uncle Tom’s Cabin; others like Ann Frank’s Diary warned us of our innate ability create good and evil; and others have extrapolated trends into the future to show us what might happen if we do not pause and shift course: 1984 comes to mind.
Many authors abhor political activism and believe they are above “those deal-making slime buckets that shift towards wherever the votes are the highest.” But in their own way, consciously or unconsciously, writers are involved in, and are making a contribution to political consciousness, not just on their home turf but wherever their work is read.
The challenge however is, like the shrinking turnout at the ballot box, the numbers of readers are diminishing these days as people are caught up in the struggle for survival, or with fulfilling advertising-led consumerist images of themselves. Or that blasted 140-byte writing and reading style has won them over. Get everyone reading engaging, entertaining, educational and enlightening literature, and we may raise the bar on political awareness in a nation—that’s my hope.
Now, I wonder, if I had sent Roseway a love story, replete with boy meets girl (intrigue), they have a great love affair (manoeuvring), boy cheats on girl (conflict), girl leaves boy (more manoeuvring), boy feels lonely and runs back to girl (power, or the loss of it for him), girl takes him back and they live happily ever after (relationships), would they have published me in their political anthology?