J.K. Rowling, renowned for her beloved Harry Potter series, first faced intense scrutiny for supporting a female researcher's stance on sex-based rights three years ago. Her ongoing refusal to bow to cancel culture stands as a powerful reminder of the challenges of today's politically charged climate. In a time where many celebrities tout the “current thing” and bend to online mobs, Rowling's steadfast resistance should be celebrated as the epitome of girl power. Instead, she’s been vilified by the so-called feminists who used to love her. This bizarre turn of events points to the pervasive impact of progressive politics.
Narrative Subversion: Redefining Reality
How did we get to a cultural moment where a progressive feminist could be “canceled” for holding that women are biologically distinct from men? Narrative subversion is the answer. For decades, political activists have gradually undermined well-established facts and replaced them with their preferred fictions through various cultural institutions. Some examples include the insistence among progressives that there are no meaningful differences between men and women, that men exhibit more “toxic” behaviors than women, and that porn and casual sex have no long-term consequences, to name a few. The growing influence of relativism (the belief in no objective truth) made this kind of subversion possible, and the result has been a growing number of false beliefs.
The most effective way to use narrative subversion is through storytelling because it’s subtle, artistic, and less in-your-face than a political rant.
The most effective way to use narrative subversion is through storytelling because it’s subtle, artistic, and less in-your-face than a political rant. Thus, through stories, viewers are presented with likable heroes who support or embody the progressive narrative. Those heroes are contrasted against distasteful, heartless villains. A perfect example of progressive narrative subversion is Olivia Wilde creating an antagonist based on Jordan Peterson in the movie Don’t Worry, Darling. In reality, Jordan Peterson is a bestselling author, world-renowned psychologist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, but Wilde intentionally reduces him to a “pseudo-intellectual hero to the incel community.” Fiction allows her to do this, but it comes with a cost.
The Limits of Narrative Subversion
There are two main reasons why so many modern stories have lost their resonance. The first is simply because they aren’t rooted in reality. For example, progressives claim that there aren't real biological differences between men and women while simultaneously insisting that women are treated poorly by men. This is an obvious contradiction because one sex can’t oppress the other unless there are real differences between the two, but that won’t stop someone who is interested in politics over truth. In reality, there are numerous, significant differences between the sexes, but both have the capacity for great virtue or cruelty. This kind of false subversion has been used and abused for so long that even a progressive like Rowling had to put her foot down in favor of the truth.
The second reason why modern storytelling has suffered is because progressive ideology requires the belief that one group of people is always oppressing another group of people. Without this narrative, there is no progressive platform, which is why so many leaders and activists are committed to pushing it. However, it means that all stories must be reduced to an “oppressor” narrative because those are the most helpful to the platform. The only possible happy ending in this type of story is that the antagonists either accept “progress” or be defeated. A progressive hero never has to stop and wonder if perhaps she’s the one who should change because her suffering is always the result of someone else’s actions. Thus, fictional characters who once embodied nuanced qualities and moral complexity have been transformed into one-dimensional heroes or villains – a sad consequence of such rigid ideological standards.
Progressive politics are fundamentally at odds with good storytelling because they deny reality.
Consider this list of recent box office failures: Gods of Egypt (2016), Ghostbusters (2016), Charlie’s Angels (2019), Birds of Prey (2020), The Matrix Resurrections (2021), Ms. Marvel (2022), She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2021), Lightyear (2022), and many more. These films had huge budgets, big name directors, and talented actors, and some already had dedicated fanbases. They should’ve performed well in theaters, but their own narrative subversion worked against them. Instead of building stories around characters and themes that would enthrall their audiences, they began with overused political statements, and the result was overall disenchantment.
On the flipside, narrative subversion can actually be a helpful tool when it’s used to break a deeply entrenched stereotype to surprise and challenge the audience. When narrative subversion is rooted in reality rather than politics, we meet characters who are morally complex, endearing, annoying, and redeemable – just like us. Positive examples of narrative subversion could be a young woman who actually feels prepared or excited for motherhood, or a likable, masculine father who’s actively involved in helping his child through an emotional crisis. These portrayals, if done well, would surprise us because we so rarely see them in modern books or film.
Subversion fails in fiction when it is too heavy-handed or unbelievable, and that is true in real life too. After all, is there a more unbelievable notion than the claim that because a man feels like a woman, he should be unquestioningly regarded as such and given access to female-only events and spaces? Progressive politics are fundamentally at odds with good storytelling because they deny reality and insist on a world where heroes and villains are reduced to their politics. What happened to J.K. Rowling is sobering for both culture and fiction, but it’s not surprising. The worship of unreality is too fragile to bear the slightest intrusion of truth.
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