It’s something you’ll hear about genre fiction these days — or even about an author or musician or some other art form that asks people to buy the result of that art:
“Can’t you just keep politics out of it?”
I can’t, and I won’t. For several reasons, but before I get to those, let me make one incredibly salient point regarding the leave-politics-out-of-it sentiment: it is dripping with privilege.
If you’re in a position where you can ignore politics and the way they affect things, that likely means you’ve never been targeted by or are largely immune from the aftereffects of politics. Historically, that means you’re white, male, straight, and/or a specific type of Christian (hint: it’s not the love-thy-neighbor type).
If you’re some combination of the above traits, you’ve likely been spared much of the worst politics has to offer. Countless people do not have the luxury to just ignore politics; for them, politics can mean life and death.
If you think that’s hyperbole, you’re not paying attention.
Now, with that out of the way… art — be it painting or sculpture or writing or whatever — is often a window through which we examine and comment on life and society. That means, inevitably, that art can and often will be political. Don’t let anyone tell you genre fiction in particular has always been apolitical (I pick genre fiction because that’s what I peddle in).
The dudebros who hate Brie Larson and the idea of a black Captain America and the mere hint of a Harley Quinn film where she’s not fawning all over Mistah J will have you think there was this utopia where comics and genre fiction were free from politics (this “utopia” was also almost exclusively white, male, and straight).
Genre fiction has always had political undertones, whether its audience saw them or not. The X-Men were an allegory for racism in the 1960s (and later evolved to represent other oppressed minorities, including the LGBT community). Superman was an alien come to America (created by two Jewish men). Wonder Woman was the original feminist superhero.
If we take fiction as a reflection of the world we live in, and not merely a way to escape said world, then it can’t help but be political — because like it or not, politics shape much of the world we live in. Ignoring that doesn’t make it less true.
Sometimes it’s covert. Sometimes it’s right in your face.
You see where I’m going with this?
More personally, I hear other authors tell me I should tone down my political opinions, lest I run the risk of alienating potential readers. I refuse, for a number of reasons:
I’m not just a writer. I’m a full-fledged person with opinions about the state of the country and the world — and I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a person and as an American citizen if I didn’t express those opinions (whether it be verbally, through donating to causes and candidates, or in the voting booth). My work does not rob me of my voice.
If I were to set aside my ideals in the interest of making just a little more money… well, then in a way, I’m no better than the greedy sycophant currently occupying the White House.
And to be perfectly frank, the people who would hate me for my political opinions wouldn’t like my work anyway. It represents everything they hate; it’s full of racial and sexual diversity, with a big heaping plate of what they would call “SJW bullshit.” So even if they did give me their money, they wouldn’t enjoy the product.
As the late Kurt Cobain once said, those aren’t the sort of people I want as fans anyway. He really did say that, on multiple occasions. And I feel the same way; if you’re the sort of person who looks at Donald Trump and those like him and you think that’s the sort of world we need to live in, pass me right on by. I don’t want or need your money.
So no, I will not keep politics out of it. Not out of the fiction I consume, not out of the fiction I create. I will not be silenced, I will not sit down. I will not allow my privilege to protect me; I will instead use it to fight for what’s right. My station as a writer, as a published author, has no bearing on my ability or willingness to use my voice to enact change.
And if that bothers you… well, that’s your issue, not mine.
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About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.