The virtues of blunt social commentary

Sunday I watched Elysium, a movie I had wanted to watch when it came out but never got around to. While it’s not as clever and engaging as Neill Blomkamp’s first feature District 9, it had its moments. Even if the pacing and structure of the story had issues, the pathos was spot on. Just like District 9, you felt genuine empathy for the oppressed side of the conflict, beyond what the film compels you to.

Elysium, the ark of the wealthy and powerful

One thing Blomkamp is becoming known for is a special type of blunt social commentary. Generally we applaud works of fiction that put social commentary around the edges, and weave it in under the surface of the narrative. Subtlety is the hallmark of both satire and earnest appeals to action.

Yet it seems that more in-your-face types of commentary have an important place to. Elysium is principally an allegory for immigration. Wealthy citizens live in a protected space station- a walled community on a massive scale. Running the blockade, coming from a crapsack Earth, is an ‘illegal entry’. There is an obvious racial split between the rich and poor.

One shouldn’t be surprised. District 9 was Blomkamp’s take on apartheid, a work more personal to his origins. It was similarly blunt, to the point where the black Africans were replaced with repulsive aliens to drive home the point.

Quite simply, big issues deserve bold commentary from time to time. If inequality and racial discrimination are huge, endemic problems, perhaps it’s refreshing to read a book or watch a movie that shoves it before you. As anyone who gets Amnesty International mail may recall  they often put the phrase “Massive injustice demands a massive response” on the envelope’s outside.

Of course, there are few things more disliked than a preachy work of fiction, one that principally is there to entertain. Aggressive messaging still has a vital place. It can catalyze our minds into new thoughts in a way a slow burn of satire cannot. It creates variety in our cultural intake.

NaNo 2013: How it begins

I’m presently doing National Novel Writing Month for the third straight year. In 2011 I attempted to turn my Occupy experience into something paying homage to Steinbeck and the cast of characters he describes in Cannery Row. In 2012 I wrote a lot of personal essays and memoir material, some of which was edited and put on this blog.

This year it’s an attempt to write fiction again- a near-future story about villains and the people that play that role.

Here’s the opening to the first chapter, “Through Crystal”:

The wind held them aloft, a billion tiny specks of crystal floating in a cloud. Were it not for a radiant sun, they would hardly be noticeable. The beams struck each point and cast innumerable rainbows. Beautiful. It was a sight that most would never see. And here, those that did see it in that brief, shining moment might never tell another soul, for today was a day of death.

Sifting through the archives

For the past couple years I’ve ditched Microsoft Office and embraced Google’s cloud-based suite (presently called Google Drive). It’s quicker to start up, autosaves constantly, and I can grab whatever I need with the computer I have, rather than the one I own. It doesn’t have the features to do high-end professional work, but I am not a high-end professional.

Because it’s become my single writing platform, I can delve into the past and find bits of writing that fell through the cracks.

  • An essay outlining the curriculum, goals, and philosophy of an alternative secondary school in my area
  • A short treatise of feasible alternatives to capitalism and socialism
  • The introduction to a booklet about the concept of “neutral politics”- the philosophy that ten moderators and myself have developed in our discussion community
  • Several complete, edited speeches that I never got around to using
  • Truly bizarre fiction works- a man speaking to fog as day breaks, a devious thief admiring a storage locker of his (difficult to acquire) junk, some political fiction
  • Two edited statements of character that were needed for a series of scholarships that I did not apply to

Some of this has real promise- it’s unfinished but the writing stands up with fresh eyes. Some of it needs a full re-write. And of course, some of it is the utter crap that everyone writes as part of the process.

It’s cool to have this list of everything that I’ve felt needed to be written down. One can chart my psychological state, passions, and diligence based on the results. Many other people may not have such easy access to their archives, but it’s certainly handy to have.


A segue of sorts

Hello there, all 21 followers I’ve accrued over the past year. It’s a source of pride that I haven’t relied on spamming my Facebook and bugging my friends to get these few hits. Writing for strangers is difficult, but it keeps you from being lazy.

This will be the 50th post in the history of the blog. Though there were sparse times, I never thought I would stick with a writing project and end up with a post a week. A dozen other posts never quite saw the light of day, though I hope their content will find a home sometime soon.

Continue reading “A segue of sorts”