Whether it be a novel, a TV show, or a comic book, it is important to be mindful of the storytelling ethics within the story. For example, imagine if there were a children’s book where the main character scammed homeless people and the narrative of the story rewards them for this behavior rather than punishing them.
What this tells the audience is that it is ok to do these things and that you will be rewarded for doing so. This is narrative analysis on a basic level, but it gets more complicated than just characters doing bad things on screen and not being punished for it. Things like societal issues can complicate this issue. Things like race, gender, sexuality, and class can complicate the ethics of any story.
Storytelling Featuring Race
Let’s take a look at racial issues in storytelling. Some genres like the fantasy genre actively encourage the creation of new races for the story. However, if that author doesn’t have much knowledge of the history of real-life racism they may make a few mistakes. Like making an entire race entirely “evil” or “good.” In reality, there are no races that are inherently morally good or evil. However, this has been a common trope in many fantasy stories.
However, what is so dangerous about this is that the traits that are used to describe the “evil” races typically match up with real-life ethnicities and cultures. Through the story, the author is calling these real-life races and ethnicities “evil” by giving their “evil” race features from a real-life culture or ethnicity. Obviously, this is very wrong and it shouldn’t have to be explained why racism is wrong.
Gender And Others
Similarly, sexist tropes exist in storytelling as well. Some authors end up using stereotypes about women and marginalized people unintentionally or purposefully. Regardless of intent, the use of stereotypes in storytelling is morally reprehensible. The use of stereotypes like the “angry Black woman” or “the smart Asian” result in the further oppression of those groups and a worse story overall. Nuanced understandings of those groups make for better stories specifically because it adds more depth and characters with more layers.
This creates a better experience for the reader who may be from any of the races that are frequently stereotyped. The reason for this is that those who are frequently stereotyped rarely get to see stories with a nuanced understanding of their culture and their people. Not using stereotypes and racist imagery within stories helps those stories have the ability to be enjoyed by more people. Racist narratives within storytelling only serve the will and ideology of oppression and further the exploitation and subjugation of marginalized peoples. So maybe think ahead next time about the idea of a fantasy race that is evil, has dark skin, and has locks.
Think Before Writing
Ultimately, it is up to the author to make certain choices with their work. Whether it be a song, a novel, or any sort of storytelling art form, ethics are important. How certain things are portrayed matters deeply to the narrative of the work. The way the story presents certain actions is important.
The way it resolves conflict is important. Storytelling is an art form where things are communicated sometimes without blatantly saying things out loud. So, when creating a story, think about what is being communicated within the narrative itself.
Catch The Bias
Sometimes things can end up being communicated that were not intended. Or unconscious bias may also show up in the story. For example, an author that is a man may unconsciously give his female characters less agency in the story.
Another example is a white author killing off the black characters first because they are less valuable in the author’s mind. All in all, be self-aware, acknowledge the bias, and check for stereotypical storytelling.
Written by Kenneth Mazerat
Lunceford, Tama, “Stories of Color: An Exploration of Storytelling and Racial Microaggression” (2019).
Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 3672.
Wired: D&D Must Grapple With the Racism in Fantasy by CECILIA D’ANASTASIO
Rearick, Anderson. “Why is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orc? The Dark Face of Racism Examined in Tolkien’s World.”: MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 50 no. 4, 2004, p. 861-874
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Studio Sarah Lou’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Alexander Svensson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License