Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Roots Phenomenon

I just got done watching Pillars of Earth (series not book) and am starting to move on to it's sequel World Without End. It's during a breast groping prior to a woman's execution that I realize a fundamental problem I have with the World Without End.

That said I'm still watching it and I am not a woman, I am black and the same problem can be found in Roots. I have some slavery baggage.

While in the past I've said I reserve the right to be pissed about slavery, I still have to function. I do this by putting it and every other fucked up thing that EVER happened into historical context. While I don't excuse all that stuff it's the way the world was. It happened and unless I had a DeLorean I can't change it. If I try to look at every event in history, and being a history nut I would try, through contemporary value and moral lenses I would drive myself insane. I have to live with it and move on.

Which brings me to the Roots phenomenon. Roots took my anger at racial injustice and manipulated me. When I first saw it was when I was a kid, and I was more or less told this is how it happened. This is how life was back then. I'm not denying that some fucked up shit happened, but Roots, which by the way Alex Haley plagerized, is a book that was written in the racially charged 1960's it's not exactly an unbiased account of history. I'm talking mostly about the miniseries but in rewatching it becomes clear that it is somewhat manipulative.

I hate this sort of thing for two reasons, one I feel that audience manipulation, especially blatant audience manipulation is a sure sign of bad writing. If you haven't written a character I care about enough about to get invested in without cutting off his foot, go back and try again.

But moreover I hate it because it uses real social injustices to manipulate and amplify indigence, not for the sake of history, or justice or equality, but for the sake of the narrative and book sales. It's cheap.  There is a lot to be furious over slavery, and I am, make no mistake, but that anger shouldn't be for Kunta Kinte and his foot. It should be for the millions who were kidnapped, whipped, and mutilated. Now telling thier story through a fictional character is one thing, but a lot of these stories have an ulterior agenda.

I don't mind allegory.

But often times it's not. It's using people's emotions about not just historical, but also contemporary social injustice to get them invested in characters. I've said it about five times but, it's cheap and manipulative. And I hate writing like that, but moreover I think writing like that hurts society. It creates indigence not based on historical events but on a fiction. "Based on a true story" is not the same as "this is a true story". People get hung up on the contrivances used to manipulate their emotions, while at the same time diminishing the effects of the real thing.  I feel this is the super trope of using rape as drama.

Don't use slavery as the Scrubs music. Don't use rape as a scare chord.

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