By MacConnell, Michael
Review - Institute of Public Affairs , Vol. 61, No. 3
Even in popular fiction, political bias is a threat to plurality of views, writes Michael MacConnell.
There is a very real and very pervasive left-wing bias amongst the majority of authors busily churning out product to stock the shelves of your local bookstore. This phenomenon is most readily visible within the non-fiction political sections, with the scathing critiques of John Howard and George W. Bush only outnumbered by the Barack Obama hagiographies.
The leftward slant of popular fiction authors is less obvious. The significance is in the influence that novelists possess when compared with those producing films in Hollywood. Michael Moore can craft a movie that carefully and deceitfully mocks guns, pharmaceutical companies, or capitalism itself. How well made they are ultimately means little, as the bulk of people shuffling in and out of cinemas are not looking for a preachy, twohour polemic. Even if they were, the experience of sitting for two hours in an uncomfortable seat, their bladders slowly constricting as the person behind them repeatedly kicks their seat does not allow for a long-lasting, psychological impression. Regular novel readers, however, are making a conscious investment of considerable time; deeply focussed on the novelist's work. Therefore, the chances of making a profound intellectual impact on the reader are greatly increased.
The more rabid social and political commentators of the right often claim that this bias is the result of a conscious design; a plot by those on the left to subvert the minds of readers. The less grounded of the social and political commentators on the left claim that there is no bias, or that if there is one, it is primarily conservative in nature. The moderates on both sides tend to agree that a liberal/left bias exists, but that it has been brought about by altogether more benign circumstances. In order to find out who was closest to the truth, I decided to speak with a group of writers, representing a diverse variety of political beliefs. Surprisingly, I found for the most part a consensus.
Novelists, like any artist, tend to be creative, expressive people. Many of them only come to writing later in life, after other artistic media have fallen short of their expectations. Others, like popular Australian author Karen R. Brooks, wrote successfully from a young age, and combined it with a variety of other artistic achievements. Brooks, who describes herself as a contrarian, has been at various times a law student, checkout operator, army officer, drama teacher, radio host, motion-picture actor, academic, columnist, playwright and novelist, now divides her time mainly between lecturing on cultural and media studies, writing a regular column for the Courier Mail and crafting exotic and alluring fantasy worlds through her novels.
Brooks acknowledges that novelists tend toward the left of politics but argues strongly against the notion that the bias has resulted in an abandonment of conservative themes within popular fiction:
As far as one goes back, in terms of fictional works, from the IUiad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid, right through to the biggest-selling titles on the shelves today, little has changed in terms of how the hero is represented, the trials he endures at the hands of his enemies and the outcomes he strives for.
Brooks received little attention within the Australian media for her use of popular television programs and movies in her lectures, which led to a lengthy stint as radio host at SeaFM and guest appearances on the ABC's Einstein Factor.
Great works of fiction tend to be a response to social upheaval and disenchantment. They are a reaction to inequality or injustice. The people who tend to be attuned to those things often tend to be attracted to progressive politics than conservative. There's no grand left wing conspiracy, it's just people using the medium of fiction to write about the issues that concern them. …