I was reading this great Times piece and came across this nugget:
But then, as Robert Musil pointed out in “The Man Without Qualities,” “most people” seeking “refuge from chaos” long for “narrative order, the simple order that enables one to say: ‘First this happened and then that happened.’ ” The numerous obituarists of the novel in the West, who opportunistically thrive after the periodic battering of bourgeois illusions, underestimate its will to live, to improvise resourcefully and mutate.
Those of us currently working the salt mines of fiction would raise our collective fists in solidarity with the last sentence of that section: obituaries for the novel should be written, in the West, East, or wherever such works that skip blithely from Point A to B with minimal conflict or difficulty earn one brown penny. We who spend far too many hours pining over questions like, Why does this character matter? or Why does this story matter? want to shatter those 'bourgeois illusions' and make sure we mutate the truth enough to make it truer than real life.That's what makes you want to keep turning the pages. That's what makes you turn to riotous behavior as you wait for our next work-in-progress to land on the shelf.So, how does cultural relevance fit into this conversation?Let's ponder two popular art genres -- film and video game creation. A Reddit post about the possible 'whitewashing' of characters includes this profound response:
It's really difficult to include diversity as a content creator because you will not make everybody happy no matter what you do. If you don't include enough, your work will be used as an example that the industry doesn't care about diversity. If you do it in a way that not everybody on the planet agrees with, your work might be criticized as ignorant, misguided, or even racist. It's hard to represent racial diversity in a climate where even Tyler Perry gets criticized for merely exploring some of the issues surrounding what it means to be black and what black identity truly is (this pertains to an example you've mentioned) [referring to an earlier response in the thread]. This indicates to me that even as someone who is not white that I'll easily find myself torn to shreds by somebody somewhere if I do my best to include racial diversity in my work, which makes it really difficult to want to even bother with trying to represent things that are outside of my own experience even though I know many people would appreciate being represented. I mean I'm only human; I can't begin to understand all the unique experiences of all ethnic backgrounds that are not my own in a single lifetime.
Earlier this month, writer Sophia Banks offered an article titled Why Do White People Hold Their Fictional Characters So Dearly? Does no one else get a say in who plays everyone's most loved fictional characters? in which she shares examples, such as why Idris Elba caused an uproar when his name was put forth as the next James Bond (for the record: while I adore Daniel Craig and find him quite dashing, I would strongly consider buying a ticket to an actual theater -- outside my house -- to see Mr. Elba play that part) and the similar uproar Quvenzhane Wallis (who I also have absolutely adored since seeing her is 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' -- an incredible film if you haven't seen it) caused when she was selected to play 'Annie'. The Huffington Post had this article about Hollywood whitewashing last year as well.How does this work with the written word? Many times, we probably assume the characters in a piece of literary fiction look like the author -- it's easiest to write about who we are (in many genres of fiction), right? If we live in multicultural communities and want to create multicultural worlds for our readers, how do we get that across on paper? Our character names might give the suggestion or we might take the leap and give details on heritage.But is it always clear? Is it always without risk?Nope.But it is always necessary.We live in a technicolor world and our literature should show it.Buckle in for my next work of literary art, in which I hope to successfully offer a culturally relevant murder-mystery. A little love, a little death, a lot of imagery!