Blurring the Lines

Content Warning: Politics

I have, so far, tried to keep my personal politics out of this blog but, today, I’m going to be discussing in more detail the panel I sat upon at Dublin Worldcon 2019. The theme was ‘How Creators and Fans Respond to Political Unrest’ and I cannot discuss that subject without sharing my own views. It is also an important question for all of us who create to consider. Do we attempt to keep our content free of politics? Or do we embrace and announce our personal opinions or explore the opinions of those we disagree with?

So, upon the bright and sunny morning of the Thursday of Worldcon, I trotted down toward the Point Square Odeon to sit on a panel that had been the source of some anxiety for me. A week or so before it was to be my first panel ever and the weight of the subject was quite daunting given the Global Political Climate. What were my intentions? Was I out to cause some uproar, did I want to avoid offending anyone, what was I going into this room to do? As I met and greeted the moderator, John R. Douglas (a Canadian National living in America) and the other panelists, Teresa Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books (a U.S. National), Michi Trota of Uncanny Magazine (a U.S. born Filipino) and Julia Rios (a U.S. born Latinx) I started to get an idea of  what I (a white, cis, U.K. National) had to offer.

We all introduced ourselves to the audience (a smaller gathering than I had expected but fiction is about escaping reality so it makes sense) and spoke a little about ourselves. Michi is a San Francisco resident and, although it is a ‘Sanctuary City’ and she is an U.S. resident, she still has concerns about I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or the police and carries all her ID with her at all times. She even exchanges texts with her partner to reassure them that she’s gotten to work safely and let them know when to expect her home. Julia passes for white, and has done since their family essentially erased all Latino cultural elements from their upbringing so that they would pass, and even then they carry all their documents around in case of I.C.E. even John voiced concerns. Although he is a white male and therefore less likely to draw the casual attention of those organisation because he is an ‘alien’ living and working within the borders of an America that is rapidly growing more hostile to from outside it’s borders. I feel for Teresa, it’s quite heart-rending to hear someone apologising for the policies of their Government but it was not long after that I had to do the same.

The U.K.’s recent human rights record (and it’s not so recent record) is a disgrace. The stereotypical English persona (as I thought it a cross between Terry Thomas and Hugh Grant) has been almost completely replaced by the image of Football Hooligans, Racists and Neo-Fascists. ‘The Donald’ (a phrase I would say came about after a tan-Trump over not being able to copyright the name) has bombastically presented his intentions to stop Southern and Middle Americans, refugee’s from poverty, corrupt Governments and drug Cartels (but not, importantly, active war zones) entering the U.S. but, the U.K.’s Conservative Government have (with the assistance of their partner, media mogul Rupert Murdoch) have been demonising immigrants and refugee’s and actively blurring the line between the two, for over a decade now. The Syrian Refugee camps are still in Calais and, between restricting the number of refugee’s allowed into the U.K. and generating the so-called ‘Hostile Atmosphere’ toward immigrants, Conservative PM’s like Cameron, May and Johnson have personally contributed to a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions. If you then factor in austerity and the ongoing erosion of our Social Care system and support for the Aged, the Disabled and anyone beneath a certain income bracket and you see the class divide isn’t going away and the subtle, sinister attacks by certain elements of the social elite are progressing with thoughtless cruelty against the most vulnerable people in society.

So where does that leave us creatives? With comedy satires like ‘Yes Minister?’ and ‘The New Statesman‘ actually becoming more accurate representations of the goings-on of Government has Satire lost it’s teeth? With Dystopian fictions like Orwell’s ‘1984‘ and Alan Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta‘ more representative of our media and social culture what do we do? The world is a far more cynical place than it has ever been and we haven’t really touched on Corporate Culture of Religion yet (although, if your deity or scripture compels you to enact violence against other over a difference of belief you might as well raise an altar to Ash Ketchum in my opinion), so what is our message? Times have changed since Aesop’s fables and the stories we consume are more complex. Moral ambiguity as found in ‘Hannibal‘, ‘Dexter‘ and ‘The Punisher‘ is far more commonplace. We live in a time where the heroes don’t always win and the villains don’t always come to justice, times when the ‘good guys’ are found to have their own dark secrets and the ‘bad guys’ are shown to be not monsters but simply flawed people raging against the circumstances that created them. In times like this do we have to dig deeper? Become more aggressive or extreme in our storytelling? Or should we wind back to simpler values and clearer moral lines?

What I learned from appearing on that panel is this, for as long as I write stories I will stand beside those who can’t stand for themselves. I will represent and normalise the minorities who suffer erasure, misrepresentation and bigotry in the wider world and I will try to teach my readers the virtue of simple acts of kindness, compassion and acceptance in the hopes that they carry that forward day-to-day. Over the coming years I might create worlds of wonder and fantasy but none of those will matter if I cannot live in this one.

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