Editors' Note: Jeremy Redlien is the author of the blog Queering the Closet and holds a bachelor degree in Philosophy with a minor in Mathematics
from SUNY Oneonta.
In The Republic, Plato takes pains to express his contempt of most art. Plato's view of art of course was shaped by his conception of his beloved Forms. For those who do not know, Plato conceived of the forms as a metaphysically "real" world that everything in our world is based upon. A chair is only a chair, according to Plato, because within the realm of the Platonic Forms, the true form/idea of a chair exists.
Everything that is a copy of something else is inferior to the original, Plato claims. Therefore, our world is inferior to the world of the forms. By default then, art, which attempts to "copy" things in our world, is therefore a copy of a copy, and therefore further degraded from the Platonic Forms.
One hates to think what might happen to Plato if he were still alive today - the apocalyptic rage he might experience when he saw Hollywoods' fetish for sequels, remakes, adaptations, as well as the remakes of sequels of previous adaptations which then go on to have novelizations and video games based upon them.
In any case, this brings me to what I want to talk about: Speaking on behalf of those who have been marginalized.
In the process of writing my LGBTQ Superhero novel Silver Demon, it did not feel right to me to not honor real life LGBTQ heros, as well as use the opportunity to highlight both bits of LGBTQ history and LGBTQ individuals that have either been overlooked or forgotten.
To that end, I created secondary characters based upon real life LGBTQ individuals. This is in addition to naming individuals after LGBTQ historical figures. It was only afterwards that I started wondering, was what I was doing really all that ethical? After all, I am taking individuals, some of whom were quite controversial in their time, and putting words in their mouths that they themselves might not have agreed with. I have, of course, made every attempt to stay true to the essence of what the established record says about these individuals, but error on my part is always a real possibility.
In the same vein, I have felt a certain responsibility to raise awareness of issues facing the queer community, such as the high rate of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. I also felt it important that I not just include white, able bodied, cis-male character, in addition to characters of various religious and cultural backgrounds.
However, I personally am cis, male, able bodied, white, raised Christian (specifically Methodist), identify as agnostic, currently part of Oneonta's Unitarian Universalist Society. I have also never personally experienced what it is like to be homeless. By creating characters who are not part of my tribe or within my own experience, am I, to a degree, committing a form of cultural imperialism?
I do not know what it is like to live in our society as a person of color. I am not blind or deaf, nor am I required to rely on a wheelchair for basic mobility. I am not a member of either Islam or Buddhism. Is it therefore possible then for me to somehow appear not only to be speaking for other groups (which I'm not trying to do) but because I have included such characters, end up misrepresenting the experiences of these groups?
There is a phenomenon in many narratives in which a member of a non-oppressed group (typically a white, cis, straight man) manages to save a member or members of an oppressed group. Examples of this are abundant, Dances with Wolves,
Dances With Wolves in... er Avatar.
While I think Hollywood (or whoever is telling a particular story) does this for very specific reasons - they get to have a character (the white, cis, straight man) who appeals to the widest audience possible - while still getting to address the important issues of the
day. However, these narratives have the unfortunate effect of making the minorities in question look weak and unable to solve their problems. This problem is the one issue that I think I was fortunately able to avoid easily enough in my own work.
However, there are even thornier issues yet. When I was doing research, I discovered the stories of href="http://www.haaretz.com/news/secrets-of-nazi-camp-brothels-emerge-in-german-exhibition-1.225307">brothels that were maintained by the NAZI's in concentration camps such as Buchenwald, which is where a significant part of the back-story in Silver Demon is set. This also happens to be the one topic I feel would be the easiest for me to get wrong. I do not wish to exploit a tragedy or human suffering but if I ignore the issue altogether in the story, would I be contributing to the oppressive silence surrounding rape and sexual assault?
I don't think there are any easy answers to these questions. Anything I create can only be considered a copy of something of our real, non-Platonic Form world. Therefore, I can only ask, am I creating something inferior and exploitative or enlightened and informative? And then work towards the latter and try to avoid the former.