When I was in college (or university, depending on your location), I minored in Humanities. Mostly because I love art, but also because I had the opportunity to take a couple of classes with a great associate professor. He was one of those teachers who didn’t just go through the same motions class after class. No, he dug deep, showing us context, the things that motivated the artists, and the repercussions when their art was seen or experienced by the masses. It was enlightening.
One of the things he repeatedly touched on was what he called “Fear of The Other”, which sounds like a great name for a goth band. Unfortunately, it’s not that cool. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to people being afraid of anything that’s different or out of the norm. Many people are comfortable living in a bubble where everything they know and experience is safe and secure, it never changes and that gives them a sense of security and possibly a sense of superiority. It can also indicate a dislike of change. Things need to be just-so and should remain that way indefinitely.
This fear has its tentacles in all sorts of dark areas of the psyche. It can be seen as the basis for racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and general hatred. At the root is fear, fear of change, fear of things that aren’t understood, that seem strange or weird. When these things are encountered, the mind is closed off and the person feeling this fear usually reacts in an aggressive manner.
While fear of The Other is both sad and frightening in real life, it’s a perfect catalyst for fiction. Of course, fiction is the best way to explore the different facets of fear and the way it affects us. Once you’re aware of it, you can see it in all sorts of fiction, from short stories and novels to movies and television. It’s prevalent in sci-fi…encounters with aliens and alien societies explore the fear, but you can find it in other genres, as well.
Personally, I think that fiction can be used as a tool to combat this fear. Sure, the unknown and unfamiliar can be uncomfortable and scary, but at it’s most basic level I think it’s just a fear of change. Well, fear of change and a refusal to accept change. The thing is, the world is constantly changing. Nothing stays the same. Entropy and all that jazz. The problem arises when people refuse to accept that. Here in the U.S. we can think back to the advent of the civil rights movement. On one side you had people – both black and white – who felt that change was needed to level the playing field. On the other side you had people who resisted the change. “That’s the way things have always been” was the mentality.
Change is inevitable but no one needs to fear it. When I’m in a situation where I encounter something new or strange – like a new ethnic restaurant or a type of music I’ve never heard before – I don’t run from it. I look at it as a chance to learn, to expand my horizons.
I use my fiction to explore the strange and weird. I don’t expect to change the world, but I do hope that I can make a reader think differently. Maybe even change their perception of The Other. It might not be much, but every little bit helps when it comes to making things better for everyone.