Ruling classes throughout the ages manipulate and control populations through emotionally compelling stories, heroic narratives that play on people’s universal need for belonging and validation. Unfortunately, these narratives often couple the feeling of being included in ways that are excluding and stereotyping of others.
Activists and activist scholars have raised our consciousness about the harmful effects of distorted stories–stereotypes. We have seen how important it is for novels, films, television shows, and other forms of fiction, to portray oppressed groups in humanizing, accessible ways, and to ensure that their members have the central voice in ensuring the completeness, truth and dignity of the portrayals. We’ve learned a lot about how dominant narratives projected through Hollywood and other mainstream producers of fiction marginalize and stereotype women, working class people, people of African, Latinx, Asian and Native heritage, and people who don’t conform to norms of gender, appearance, ability, beliefs or behavior. To a lesser extent, consciousness has been raised about the pervasive class-based stereotypes that marginalize, disrespect and inaccurately portray poor people and workers.
But what of dominant narrative fiction’s depictions of activists and activist culture? Of people who are building societies that reject capitalism? How does the nearly universal invisibilizing, minimizing, stereotyping and otherizing of activists in mainstream fiction–books, movies, TV, theater–affect our activist community? As we fight stereotyping of all oppressed groups we also need to raise consciousness about how we ourselves are targeted in media and the dominant culture in general.
And, of course, we need to take action. Activists need to create truth-filled fiction about our reality, to make our experience and inner landscape accessible, and to share the excitement, urgency, complexity and tenderness of our work, as well as its risks.