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03 April 2013 @ 08:56 am
That thing. Stop doing it.  
 Since apparently my ability to sleep is MEGA BROKEN right now, I'm going to write a post about a thing that I'm thinking about.

And by thinking about, I mean "am unreasonably annoyed about because it's on my mind and it's 9am and I haven't sleep since yesterday afternoon".

So, here's the thing. In a lot of stories I've noticed a pattern of writing magic/superpowers/psychic abilities/whatever as an allegory for real-world privilege, or at least in a way where it can be pretty easily interpreted as privilege. On the same token, it's also written in stories as a thing that makes people ~different~ in a way that makes others oppress them or react to them in prejudiced ways. MAJOR EXAMPLES WOULD BE DRAGON AGE AND LEGEND OF KORRA though it extends well beyond them and can at least partially if not entirely be pinned on X-Men as a trope. It's an easy way to make your fantasy/sci-fi story address real-world issues in a non-real setting, and can be used as a tool to get people to think about their views and beliefs and even change them for the better! Hypothetically speaking, anyway.

There's just a glaring flaw with the allegory here that sort of ruins the entire thing for me. There is no real-world equivalent in terms of privilege or oppression that matches up to the trope. Like, the thing about magic and/or superpowers in these stories is that they're presented as an in-born trait to the people who possess them, like skin color or gender or predisposition to heart failure. That on its own doesn't make them a bad allegory, since privileges are something people are born with in the real world.

No, the problem is that magic is the source of the power and privilege, without the crucial element of society that the real world has. Like, I don't think it's blowing anybody's mind to point out that the reason why white people have white privilege is NOT because their skin color gives them an advantage over people with different skin colors. The only people who think that are horrific racists. Society and its history and a lot of factors that are ultra-complicated and beyond my limited ability to sufficiently lay out are the reasons why groups of people with a common genetic trait wield power over other groups. And that's where the magic/superpower metaphor breaks down badly.

It makes it so that the in-born common trait of the group read as privileged is the direct source of their ability to oppress others, granting them some kind of superiority that isn't ultimately an artificial construct, but a real superiority granted by their genetics. And that's a big problem as a metaphor if your thesis is "those oppressive magic guys are bad and do things the wrong way", because it's also saying "but they are naturally *better* than everyone else" and undermining the idea of equality.

In the end, fantasy and science fiction are great fun to write and can be powerful tools for social commentary when used right. But some metaphors just don't correspond to reality in a meaningful way, and can even hurt their message if you don't think them through enough.