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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"Every man is wealthy in storyland!" Or: The Hatred Of Money Implicit In Fiction

Priceless comment in Nick Mamatas' blog:

silviamg notes:
Everyone is wealthy in storyland! 

Livia Llewellyn corrects her:
"Every man is wealthy in storyland!"


They put the finger on the central issue with so much fantasy fiction (and fiction in general):

The big "escapism"/"flight of fancy" part isn't that the protagonist visits The Land of Oz... or finds a magical power ring... or anything like that... but that he (it's usually a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) doesn't have to worry about, handle, or be dependent on money.

There's of course the blatantly racist aspect of this cliché: Too many fictional stories implicitly tell us that if you're a WASP, you're automatically wealthy. If you're not... well, then you simply do not exist. You're erased from the fictional world. Naturally, this is an insult to the great majority of humanity who are neither White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant nor wealthy.

But others have argued better about the implicit racism in fiction. I think there's also a deeper issue behind it. I am convinced that racism as a historical phenomenon is mainly profit-motivated. Racism was constructed around slavery to justify the profits of slavery, not the other way around.

So let's "follow the money" and see where it leads...

I ask you: Why does so much fantasy fiction feature characters who live in a world like our own, except it's untouched by money? 
Have you ever asked yourself: All these people in TV shows, when do they work?  For a wage?
(The exception would be cop shows: policemen, as shown on TV, do nothing but work. But they mostly seem suspiciously well-off, as if they didn't have to worry about their meager police wages.)

If you're wondering what I mean, come on: Who pays for your electricity, housing, car, food, education, social standing... or even your elected politicians? None of us can "stand apart" from capitalism. We are marinated in it.

So why doesn't much fantasy fiction glorify the adventure, excitement and fancy of Capitalism? (Except the fantasy fiction of Ayn Rand, maybe...)

I arrive at the possible explanation that people have a desperate need to dream themselves away from our money-oriented society.

I'm not really sure what that means, but it could mean that somewhere, deep down, most of us hate money. Not just on the level of envy (that someone, somewhere has More Stuff Than You) but the system of money itself.

Communism is dead, stone dead -- I never believed in it, despite some pathetic attempts to make us kids growing up in 1970s Sweden think that life in Cuba or China or the Soviet Union was good.

But clearly, I detect from the fantasy fiction of today -- the dreams of our society -- this persistent and deep unease with money, the medium of exchange that makes capitalism possible. We want to wish it away, pretend that money doesn't exist.

There should be a fairly easy way to test this hypothesis. Watch a whole day's worth of TV shows, or read a whole novel by some very popular writer, and count
1) The number of times someone buys or sells something in the story, plus
2) The number of times actual money is described or shown in the story.

I assure you, you will find that money is rarely shown or described. (The exception is the cliché of "dirty" money: cash stacked into an attache case in a drug deal, stolen money, or otherwise ill-gained.)

In medieval Europe, money was considered unclean. A whole social class, the Jews, was "condemned" by Christian society to be the despised money-lenders. And the resulting hatred mixed with confused envy felt by the Christians, went so deep it probably culminated in the Holocaust. That's what the feelings nurtured by money can produce: that much hate.

But the Medieval scheme to banish money from society didn't last; the lure of money proved irresistible even to the Catholic Church. Soon enough the Church was raking it in, selling tickets to Paradise to believers, which angered Martin Luther and triggered the Reformation -- and the 30 Years War.

Conclusion: Our hatred of money -- actually amplified by the bottomless greed for it -- persists to this day.
Right now, everyone knows that greed is threatening to tear apart the very fabric of the global economy (have you been watching the news lately?). And the problems caused by money is a daily complaint on all levels of society.

So should fantasy fiction (virtually all fiction, regarding the subject of money) deal with this, confront the issue of money, or continue to dance around it?

I could go on, but I don't have enough money to do so...

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