Using Fiction to Slow Cultural Erosion?

Cthulhu Scribe by Drew Pocza

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago when I went out for sushi therapy. One of my favorite chefs (shows you how much I like sushi, eh?) is from Indonesia, and he told me a story about the islands in his home country. He said that, thanks to Facebook, the younger generations just want to be cool. Speak English. Dress like their favorite singers, artists, and celebrities–which worried him a little. The more his fellow Indonesians fully adopted an American lifestyle, the faster his own culture (specifically, the various dialects spoken on the different islands and how distinct each one of them is) would begin to disappear forever.

Now, of course, he’s an American immigrant. He’s had an interesting time getting to this country and had something else to say, about how we don’t know how great we have it here, how free we really are to be whoever we want. I was inspired by this conversation, because when the subject of “what I do” came up eventually, I told him I was a writer and he asked me to write about Indonesia, about his culture. (The funny thing? One of the waiters was from Indonesia, too, and they met completely by random here in the States, each from separate islands.) He didn’t care that I was an American or that I know F-Bomb all about the country. I don’t know why that is, really, but I felt there was a sense of trust there. This is, after all, what writers do: we read, we research, we write based on what we learn.

This isn’t the first conversation I’ve had about this topic and it won’t be my last. Maybe you don’t know why I have these discussions, why I’m insufferably curious, and why I care. What I’ve come to understand is this: the more we communicate, the greater the chance cultural lines will blur as certain dominate cultural traits take over. This can be a natural occurrence, but it’s often been forced, too, and you don’t have to look very far into the past to see that. For better or for worse, cultural blending has happened throughout history–even outside of war and genocide. Now, however, I feel (and I could be wrong about this) it’s happening at a faster rate than it ever has before. What I see, is that this (being erased) is what people might be afraid of. Zeroing in on that gentleman’s point, dialects/languages used for hundreds, thousands of years could completely disappear within one-or-two generations if they’re no longer used or taught. It doesn’t take much time at all for a custom or language to be erased, adopted, or modified into something new. Just a blink.

I feel there’s a bright light, however, because we can preserve and slow cultural erosion. It takes time and effort, sure, but this is the benefit of art. By making art–whether that’s pottery, jewelry, music, paintings, stories, etc.–by drawing from who we are, what’s around us, and digging deep to that core, I feel we can preserve and slow cultural erosion through our fine works. What I’ve also learned over time, is that people want to see themselves in the media that we create, because they don’t want to be forgotten or feel invisible.

Also, I feel that people who don’t see themselves physically represented in mainstream media don’t automatically ignore a story if they’re not included. How much money has the Star Wars franchise grossed? How many people have seen Star Wars? Know those characters? Understand its cultural impact–even if they don’t like it? That’s powerful stuff. The fact that this story is now embedded into our public consciousness means that it’s become part of our culture. And, because of the internet, we’re seeing the results of how fans feel about “mainstream” characters like these, through cross-gender/cross-cultural cosplay, fanfic, fan art, and other creations within fandom. The reason why that exists? Why fans are taking characters and making them their own? The audience seems to be crying out: please represent us! We want to see ourselves in the stories you tell! Like those who fear being erased, others no longer wish to be invisible.

For this reason, this is why I feel making art is, quite possibly, the most powerful gift we can give ourselves and each other. By using our unique voices that speaks to who we are, where we came from, and what we see around us, we can do a great many things with our prose. This is exciting to me and, I hope, it inspires you as well.

Oh, and the gentleman in question? I encouraged him to write his own story in his native language, as it turns out he used to be a writer. Next time I go back for sushi therapy, I’m hoping to hear an update!

Deep, deep thoughts. And only my second cup of coffee. Hrmm… Must fix that.

P.S. F-Bomb comma splices.

    Mood: I think I’m crazy enough to start the Couch to 5K next week.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Well…
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Stairs. Lots of F-bomb stairs.
    In My Ears: White noise. Very relaxing. Zzzzzz…
    Game Last Played: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: Work-related.
    Movie Last Viewed: Snowpiercer
    Latest Artistic Project: An origami desert rose
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

Want to Interview or Hire Me? Send Fan Mail?

Would you like to hire me? Because my projects and manuscripts are in flux, I am always open to discussing new opportunities with publishers and studios. As a full-time writer, I spend a portion of my time seeking new gigs–so don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re interested, please e-mail me via my Contact Page. I typically reply to work-related e-mails within one-to-two business days.

Want an interview? If you’d like to interview me or request a guest blog post, please connect with me via the contact page, too. Due to time constraints and other communicative concerns, I typically don’t follow up on requests via social media.

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