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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Authoritarianism And Writing

I found this article about the rise of American authoritarianism to be a fascinating read. What made it fascinating was not just what it says about how the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination race is taking shape, but about so many of the books I've read and the movies I've watched.

There's a theme of authoritarianism that runs to a degree in books such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divirgent, and in the Star Wars franchise and Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. The whole idea of how fears about change and threats abroad can lead to the rise of a push to keep people safe, to prevent change or to ensure little deviates from what certain citizens believe should remain societal norms, result in the rise of such leaders who promise to protect those norms and keep people safe.

Authoritarianism certainly allows for an author to present a natural conflict in a story: A character who sees an issue with societal norms and wants to push for change, coming against those in charge who want to keep those norms in place. The character has legitimate reasons for pushing for change, while those in charge having their reasons for not wanting things to change.

What was interesting about the article, though, is that those citizens who do tend to favor authoritarianism have legitimate worries. These worries are not really touched upon in the books or movies I've mentioned, but raise the interesting point about what happens once somebody who holds absolute authority is removed from power. It's likely those people who would embrace authoritarianism will still exist, whether they were among those in power or not.

But this leads to the question about what happens when authoritarianism does prevail. As we have seen in history, ideas are shunned, difference of opinion is not allowed and conformity is pushed ahead of curiosity. That's not a field in which writers can flourish, of course.

Yet while I would believe many writers would openly reject authoritarianism, I wonder how many have those deep-rooted fears the article discusses. It's possible that even those who present conflicts such as those I've described may be prone to letting deep-rooted fears dictate the type of leader they wish to follow.

I don't necessarily believe it's reflected in writing, either. It's possible for a writer who doesn't embrace authoritarianism, or doesn't allow their fears and worries to cause them to accept certain positions, would consider making an authoritarian a protagonist. And a writer who may allow that could still write a story in which the authoritarian is the antagonist.

One thing is certain, though: Authoritarianism presents a natural conflict for a writer to explore. I imagine we'll see more of it in books, movies, TV shows and other media.

In the meantime, it's worth asking how much we want to embrace authoritarianism or let our fears lead us to decide who we want to support for elected office. After all, no writer wants the exchange of ideas to go away any time soon.

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