Writing as cultural cocoon – or culture shock?
I was struck by a recent article in Business Insider titled “I moved from LA to a town of 2,300 people — here were the biggest culture shocks I faced in small-town America“. Here are a couple of excerpts.
The media focus on the local community
I still remember one of my first big culture shocks: when I saw a picture from the local high school basketball team on the front page of the daily paper.
I used to read the nationally-minded LA Times. Now my local paper, the Jackson Hole News & Guide, runs stories about the debate team.
The issues people care about here are different than those in the city. Stories about land usage, grazing rights, and the Bureau of Land Management are hot-button topics over here, while they may not register with my friends in coastal cities.
. . .
Small towns are more intimate but also more isolating than big cities
You have a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts up here, and if you have issues with crowds and the bustle of busy boulevards, this is a great place. Acre lots are pretty standard in neighborhoods. You can always find parking, traffic is minimal, and there’s a real sense of “we’re all in this together” even if we’re all more separated.
On the other hand, there are fewer social events here, especially in the winter. And many people in small towns have had their friends for years, so it can take a while to build strong relationships, whereas in cities people are usually more interested in networking and trying to expand their social groups. Still, within a few years you begin to feel like you know everybody.
There’s more at the link. Recommended reading.
The writer is talking about cultural shock between communities of different sizes, with different priorities. For ourselves, as writers, how often do we consider our work as “cultural shock” for our readers? Are we, consciously or otherwise, trying to write in a way that readers from a particular cultural background or mindset will find familiar and accommodating, or are we trying to jolt them out of their cultural comfort zone(s) to consider other, perhaps radically different outlooks on life, the universe and everything? If it comes to that, are we challenging ourselves and our own cultural outlook in our writing?
While I was thinking about that, I was referred to a video of a young bear trying to kill a deer in the back yard of a Colorado Springs house. I embedded and wrote about it on my blog a few days ago. It’s rather noisy and upsetting to people who’ve never thought about the realities of life in the wild. I noted:
What’s astonished me about that video is not the fact that it happened so close to human habitation – it’s the response from the special snowflake brigade. I’ve seen comments in some quarters about how cruel the bear was, and how the bear should have been shot to save the deer, and how evil it is that a living being should have to be food for another, and so on and so on. (My wife tells of an adult acquaintance who had an absolute full-on hysterical meltdown in the middle of a supermarket after being informed that yes, beef does come from what she still, as an adult, called “moo-cows”!)
What is wrong with us, that we don’t bring up our kids to realize that this is NORMAL? Our nice, soft, fluffy domestic cats kill small animals and birds like this day in, day out. Deer become prey at least several thousand times every day in this country, to predators that include ourselves (using vehicles and/or guns). We nice, civilized humans don’t often kill our meat ourselves – we outsource the tasks to slaughterhouses and butcheries, where it’s done in a “sanitized” manner; but it’s killing nonetheless. In Africa, where I was born and raised, humans all too often end up on the menu of something bigger, stronger and faster than they are – lions, leopards, crocodiles, hippo and the like. The tiny mosquito probably kills more people every year than all other animals and insects put together – and it does so by feeding on us, just as that bear fed on that deer!
Now and again nature slaps us in the face with the reminder that it really is “red in tooth and claw”, and most living things, plant or animal, will end up as food for something else. That’s the natural order of things. Animals don’t retire on pension at the end of a long and happy life, to die peacefully in their beds! Almost all of them will die of disease, or starvation, or by being killed and eaten. It’s always been that way, and it always will.
Again, more at the link.
The video clip blows out of the water misperceptions of the realities of life. Would that be a good example for us to emulate? Why, or why not? I thought I’d put the question to you, fellow writers and readers.
- To what extent should we use our writing to challenge our readers’ built-in cultural assumptions and biases? Is this in any way useful, or even necessary?
- To what extent is challenging cultural assumptions and biases a “message fiction” misstep, or a natural progression in telling a story? (For example: Grimm’s Fairy Tales are obviously not real life, but they stem from real life and teach lessons that are applicable in real life. Are they challenging cultural perspectives, or not? I think they are. Others differ. What say you?)
- If and when it’s necessary, should we change our perspective incrementally, leading our readers step by step to consider a different outlook, or in a big jump that will require them to take a “leap of faith” and abandon their comfort zones in order to “go with the flow”?
- Is this applicable in all genres, or only some? I can see it working very well in fantasy, and possibly in some branches of science fiction; but I really can’t see it working in cozy mysteries or crime novels!
What say you, readers? Let us know your views in Comments. Let’s get this discussion going.
Finally, I’m very pleased to report that my latest fantasy novel, “Taghri’s Prize”, seems to be doing well on Amazon. It briefly hit #1 in their Hot New Releases list for Historical Fantasy, and is now available in paperback as well as e-book editions. So far, so good! My next novel, a Western in my “Ames Archives” series, will be published later this month.
Also, I have a short story in the latest Tom Kratman anthology, “Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation“, published earlier this week.
Thanks for your support!