It is all about what people don’t read. Central books are few. Erudition is optional, reading everything at sight is crippling.
Reading fiction is escapism and imagination. Getting away from the boredom of the same commute, the same job, the same faces. Fleeing from reality to enter a new world made of magic quests, manly honour and vastless forests. Sounds fun, right?
In this essay we will discuss how bad fiction can spoil you, in particular mass-fantasy fiction. I am not advocating against fiction as a genre. Fables, novels and many other sub-genres belong are built on a fictitious narration, and there is nothing bad about reading it. Sharing a story will alwasys be more powerful than explaining directly a message. As Taleb says:
"With novelists, names and dates are wrong, the rest is true.— Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) February 23, 2019
With historians, names and dates are correct, the rest is false."https://t.co/qhQxqtF4qu
However, here we are not discussing novels but that kind of content you find everywhere in 2020s mainstream culture: Marvel superheroes, idealized history Netflix series, cheap intellectual Sci-Fi, Harry Potter… Since the start of the millenium, and even more with the Internet, we had a surge in popularity. People spend more and more time in front of a screen digesting and absorbing this stuff. In the next paragraphs, we will try to explore the two main different ways in which mass-fantasy fiction can spoil you.
The first issue: Escapism
Mass-fantasy fiction is escapism.
While it can be argued that fleeing from time to time to a different world can be natural for us, or can even inspire us to be better, a constant intellectual diet based on escapism is the recipe for a disaster.
We feel the need to escape reality when we cannot accept the present moment. Maybe your job doesn’t satisfy you that much and are you are bored of your constant routing of commuting, working and watching Netflix at night. You don’t see a goal in what you are doing. Now, instead of facing this deep monster inside our soul (Why am I suffering?) and then channel this pain into possible solutions (What do I need to change in my life?), you could stop all this process by ingesting dopamine through instant gratification, either in the form of cheap entertainment, drugs or junk food. It is the modern equivalent of having fever and instantly taking paracetamol. Utter stupidity. ** We need to listen to our body signals. Emotions ARE body signals.**
Burying your own emotions has a price. First off, you need more and more of the substance to cover your pain. This is the addiction mechanism. Secondly, pain is a symptom. While you are ignoring your pain, chances are that you letting him grow behind the surfaces, waiting one day to explode near, or worse, inside your head.
Mass-fantasy fiction is cheap entertainment
What you will usually here that they can provide “a little bit of distraction for the boring suburban routine”. Well, I would argue that if you feel bored and depressed your need to realize and process this signal coming from your emotions, not shut it down ingesting and consuming shitty content.
The good thing to do in my opinion would be:
- acknowledging this pain (and yes, it is painful)
- Trying to understand where does it come from (through writing or a journal; a paper gives you the tool to avoid loops and to fix on certain problems)
- Elaborate possible solutions to solve this problem
The real world is the real thing. I do not waste time pursuing cheap fantasies made by others to forget real problems.
The second issue: Morals
Reading fantasy fiction resonates with us, not just because it makes us escape from reality. Along with imaginary scenes, fiction transmits some key messages or morals that our brain then apply to the real world. This morals can be dangerous, especially when fed to a young audience, who is thirsty to understand how the world works.
That is why we love reading fantasy fiction: their messages appeal to certain values, that are usually crafted by story tellers to be either “inspiring” (they show you a better way to live) or “comfortable” (nothing needs to be change, you are good the way you are). Almost always it is a mix of the two, but let me make an example to show you what I mean:
Vikings: this series is inspirational. The few messages you get are:
- In old times, strong and brutal men were the real men. They also fuck the best women
- Honor (whatever that means today), courage and resistance are imperative for men.
We start to think “old times were better” and “I wish I was born in VIII century”, nothing crazy and just a little bit goliardic. However, it depends on the dose of the consumption. I truly think, that constant exposure to similar material can affect the way you think. Take somebody who watches a series like Viking, consumes history fiction novels about ancients, plays video-games still about war and “honor” and is a fan of movies like “The Gladiator”. You get a brainwashed kid who truly thinks that the best way for a man to be is like Ragnar Lothbrok or Maximus Decimus Meridius. Ideals like these manifest for example in situation of conflicts, where you would search for open conflict, thinking this is the way it works (false. In our modern times, everything is indirect). While they are fascinating characters, it is again smokescreens for the real thing. I think other role models would be far more useful.
Again, what I just described is the prototype of the “war-history” junkie. I know it quite well because… it was me. I needed to unlearn and spit out all the junk that I absorbed during my teens and it was not without pain. My favorite example however is the damage that the Harry Potter series has done and is doing to generations of young kids, through the morals transmitted. As I told above, the problem lies in the dose. When you craft series of trillion of movies and books and spin-offs, what you are doing is creating a universe where the young is feeding constantly without ever getting tired. Let us examine what are the key messages underlying the HP series:
- You are not wrong in any way possible. You are special. The little wizard didn’t need to learn how to cope with normal people or to fight bullies, because that wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t wrong, it was the others that were evil and wrong. That is the key messages alongside all the series. Do you know why reading HP provides such a wave of comfort? It speaks to your limbic brain and tells you: you are just good, no, perfect, the way you are, it is just the world that is messed up. However, if I tell you are perfect like this, but the world still manages to fuck you and punishes you CONSTANTLY, what will you do? You still have to adapt in order to survive. UNLESS, I tell you (this resembles like Christianity) that happiness (translated: things will be fixed) will be found in another, parallel world that is just “FANTASTIC”. In fact, here is the second point..
- There is a perfect world just waiting for you, where all of your problems will be fixed and you will be the best, simply the way you are. Instead of improving and suffering, there is another simpler way: you wait a fucking giant knocking on your door. He will tell you that all you have been through ends starting from now. In this new world you are the cool one. Ah don’t forget that there will be friends and pussy that will accept you and love you the way you are now
- Since you will be the special one in this world and you do not need to improve, all the other people in the real world are stupid and evil. Complaining and whining is acceptable because everybody else finds pleasure harming you.
- Relationships. There is the One special woman, only waiting for you to appear in her realm. You just have to wait and she will find you. For introverts, it is not a matter of improving your skills and forcing yourself to go out the comfort zone to meet new people. No, there is the one perfect twin soul and you are destined to meet her, live a happy life together, drinking tea at five o’clock and having children.
- At the end, all will be alright. Happy ending exist! If you apply, everything will be more or less right for everybody. Happiness is consequential to living.
- Mediocrity is happiness in the magic world. You do not need to be more than the average to be happy, you just need to find a spot where you “feel good” and that’s it. Running, improving, achieving do not make sense when thingsWhere all love you and disease do not exist, you will be happy with simple things.
- Friendship and love are the most important values. Except that in real life being “friends” mean one thing and being in “love” means another. Many times it happens when we are young and we talk about relationships for example.
These are at least seven and more reasons to avoid reading such material.
We need to re-discover classics.