This summer, after publishing my article relating King Kong to the male power fantasy, I received three different emails from angry readers. Two of them seemed to be explaining that I had misunderstood the material by relating this character to the idea of toxic masculinity, while the third admonished me and others who chose to “ruin” movies by imposing a political or social commentary onto them. Acknowledging that I would never be able to please everyone, I brushed off these comments.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why social commentary on a work of fiction would be seen as trying to prevent anyone from enjoying it. If anything, wouldn’t connecting a piece of popular media to an issue that’s relevant to current society add to its value instead of detract from it? While some may beg to differ, I do feel that an analytical interpretation of fictional media can’t be avoided; furthermore, it has the potential to enrich the media that audiences consume.
Fictional works are open to interpretation, just as any form of art is. Every person who views and interacts with a work of fiction does so in a way that is biased due to their own unique perspective. Part of what makes fiction so appealing is its ability to convince a vast audience to connect with the work and consume it, and it’s highly likely that each audience member is connecting with the material in their own way. Similarly, subjective commentary is just that: subjective. Those who connect deeply with a certain piece of media may be more inclined to have strong opinions about it, but each audience member is still afforded the right to consider the work of fiction from their own perspective.
No piece of media exists in a vacuum, so social commentary is inevitable. Many consumers of popular media favor escapism and therefore want to draw clear-cut lines between the fictional worlds that they indulge in and reality. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this. There isn’t one definitive way to consume fiction. If your enjoyment comes from ignoring the issues of the real world when you turn on your television, that’s entirely your choice.
Nevertheless, any barriers between fiction and reality still allow social issues and phenomena to seep into popular media. Take the popular Netflix show Squid Game, for example. It’s impossible to ignore the strong critiques of capitalism and wealth inequality that are a consistent theme throughout the episodes. This commentary did not prevent the show from gaining immense popularity. I’d even argue that the reception of the show has been helped by the relevance of its themes to frustrations that many audience members feel in their own lives.
In essence, works of fiction are inseparable from the climate they emerge into, whether that be political, social, economic or any combination of these. Recognizing how popular media play into their environments doesn’t seek to limit the audience’s enjoyment of that media, but rather highlights how the feelings of the audience have been represented through different works of fiction.
We all engage with our media of interest in different ways. Although it may be difficult, we can manage to coexist with our differing opinions. Honestly, those differing opinions are part of what makes fictional media so interesting; its power to move the audiences to declare strong opinions about its content is quite impressive, showing just how much of an impact that works of fiction have on our reality.
Aditi Hukerikar is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].