Fiction for Protection?

Once upon a time...

Fiction reflects our familiar realities and opens windows into new worlds. It connects us to the everyday in new ways, or at deeper levels. It takes us beyond ourselves, directly into the minds and hearts of other people–something we can never actually do in reality but which is normal in fiction, where we get to to listen in on characters’ private thoughts and feelings.

Fiction has all kinds of super-powers: it entertains, beguiles, educates, connects, transports, challenges, and inspires us. 

Plus… fiction can protect us.

Detective Drunella

Really? How?

granny gus protect our activists

First, let’s look at how fiction can harm us.

Ruling classes throughout the ages manipulate and control populations through emotionally compelling stories,  heroic narratives that play on people’s universal need for belonging and validation. Unfortunately, these narratives often couple the feeling of being included in ways that are excluding and stereotyping of others.

Activists and activist scholars have raised our consciousness about the harmful effects of distorted stories–stereotypes. We have seen how important it is for novels, films, television shows, and other forms of fiction, to portray oppressed groups in humanizing, accessible ways, and to ensure that their members have the central voice in ensuring the completeness, truth and dignity of the portrayals. We’ve learned a lot about how dominant narratives projected through Hollywood and other mainstream producers of fiction marginalize and stereotype women, working class people, people of African, Latinx, Asian and Native heritage, and people who don’t conform to norms of gender, appearance, ability, beliefs or behavior. To a lesser extent, consciousness has been raised about the pervasive class-based stereotypes that marginalize, disrespect and inaccurately portray poor people and workers.

But what of dominant narrative fiction’s depictions of activists and activist culture? Of people who are building societies that reject capitalism? How does the nearly universal invisibilizing, minimizing, stereotyping and otherizing of activists in mainstream fiction–books, movies, TV, theater–affect our activist community? As we fight stereotyping of all oppressed groups we also need to raise consciousness about how we ourselves are targeted in media and the dominant culture in general. 

And, of course, we need to take action. Activists need to create truth-filled fiction about our reality, to make our experience and inner landscape accessible, and to share the excitement, urgency, complexity and tenderness of our work, as well as its risks.

Fiction Protects Activists?

Detective Drunella

What does fiction have to do with protecting activists and activist culture?

granny gus protect our activists

Plenty! Our minds–everybody’s minds–are filled with false stories about all oppressed people, including activists. We may not even notice them, but they color the way people see activists, and the way activists see themselves.


If someone calling for justice or condemning interventionism or denouncing corporate greed is portrayed as extremist, crazy, or any of the many stereotypes activists are labeled with, it’s that much easier to dismiss what they say and do. And it’s frighteningly easy not to care if they are mistreated, and even to believe that they deserve it.

Detective Drunella

So truthful stories about activists help protect them?


granny gus protect our activists

Yes, by showing our humanity, helping folks to identify with us, and opening windows into our lives. When you feel sympathy and personal connection for a character…

sour puss protect our activists

…such as a relatable, decent, if a bit clawed–I mean flawed–activist s/hero in a good story…

Juliana Barnet

…you’re much less likely to ignore or hurt them, or to believe that it’s okay for others to do so. 

Time to unmask stereotypes against activists! We're especially after the stealth ones nobody notices.

Activist Unmasked

Inspired by the Bechdel Test, here at POA  Laboratories we’re developing a Fiction Featuring Activists Test to help assess how activists are treated in fiction.

To unmask stereotypes?

Definitely! However, the best way to fight stereotypes is to create works of fiction with truth-filled stories that contain full and fair portrayals of activists, countering simplistic distortions by showing activists’ complex, multifaceted reality.

That’s where fiction can be proactive protection for activists. Crafting interesting, fun, stories grounded in real activist experience–adventures, trials, triumphs, terrors and ordinary days–can help people see what the diverse and fascinating worldwide community of folks devoted to social change is really like, inspiring empathy and countering stereotypes that cause alienation, confusion and rejection of people they would normally welcome.

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Stories of Our People (SOOP)

Sample filled-out FFA Test:
JB tests the movie Billie Elliot

Sample filled-out SOOP Questionnaire:
A few stories and burning questions from JB