We all know that fiction imitates reality. As a fiction writer, I constantly look for ways to make my characters, and the situations they’re in, more realistic. And yet, real people constantly imitate what they read in books and see on television and in movies. So where does the line between fiction and reality stop blurring and become clear again?
It doesn’t. Fiction is a major part of popular culture and popular culture is a major part of fiction. Advertisers and marketing firms go a long way toward dictating what reality should be, but authors wield the same power. We can either continue to perpetuate what the media tells us is real or we can use our words to change the real world for the better.
Think about where you live. If it’s anything like my town, there’s prejudice based on ignorance. Why not combat that prejudice by using novels to teach? With just a few well-developed characters in a realistic setting, opinion can be swayed and people informed about cultural differences. Once they understand the differences and look past them to the people, that’s what they’ll see: people. Not skin color, religion, or country of origin; just people like everyone else.
There have been a flurry of reports in recent weeks concerning the low self-esteem of teen and pre-teen girls. They’ve traced this epidemic back to the media kids are exposed to. Why not write a book with a well-adjusted size twelve girl as the main character instead of a size four who’s worried about getting fat? With enough characters who are comfortable in their own skin and not concerned with looking like the airbrushed models in magazines, there’s a good chance girls will start seeing themselves as valuable regardless of their looks.
A lot of fiction has a habit of perpetuating the myth that you have to look and be perfect to be happy and successful. It also perpetuates stereotypes. If authors used the power of their pens (or keyboards in this age of computers) to combat stereotypes and fight back against what Hollywood tells us we should be, we could change the reality of the country. It won’t be a fast change. Most likely it will take years. But if we change the face of fiction in the publishing industry, filmmakers and musicians will follow our lead. When that happens, popular culture will metamorphose into a better thing.
Fiction imitates reality but to a lesser degree than reality imitates fiction. Walk into any middle or high school and you’ll see kids imitating their favorite movie or television character. Change the face of the big and small screens, and you’ll change the face of the country. Since many movies are based on books, and television series based on books are becoming more popular, the change needs to start in the fiction section of the bookstore.