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The power of fiction

  • Published at 12:03 am June 4th, 2019
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Photo: MEHEDI HASAN

Is Bangladesh ready to capitalize on global developments working in its favour?

Alois Schicklgruber was born in 1837, in the tiny village of Strones, in the hilly region north of Vienna. The Schicklgrubers were mere peasants, but Alois rose through the ranks in a good job in the civil service.

Later, he had a son named Adolphus, who lived for opera.

When Adolphus was just 16, he attended a performance of Richard Wagner’s opera Rienzi. After gushing over the full five hours, Adolphus couldn’t stop trembling with ecstasy and rapture.

He started talking of a mandate, which one day, he would receive from people, to lead them out of servitude to the heights of freedom.

This Adolphus later took up the name Adolf Hitler, and historians, to this day, mull if the 20th century might have taken a far gentler turn if Hitler had not attended Rienzi that night in 1906.

Richard Wagner, the creator of Rienzi, was just not a brilliant composer, he was also an extreme German nationalist, a prolific writer of inflammatory political trite, and a virulent anti-Semite who wrote of a “grand solution” to the Jewish menace long before the Nazis put one in place. 

Hitler worshipped Wagner like a god and called Wagner’s music his religion, which inspired him later to bring on the worst war in history, and the worst genocide.

History teaches us that fiction -- whether books, films, video games, music -- havs powerful influences on our moral logic, and it shapes our mental molds about the world. 

Stories mark our minds with fears, hopes, and anxieties or ambitions and positivity that alter our behaviour, and perhaps even our personalities.

The more deeply we are under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence.

The everyday TV programs that we debate about, music that we love, books that we read, video games that we play, not just host the stories, they have the power and authority to shape our thinking patterns and our moral behaviour. 

Although Grand Theft Auto has been one of the most popular games of the decade, after ruthlessly harming people in the game, studes find that adults and children behave more aggressively in lab settings.

Whereas, studies find that consuming fiction with prosocial themes makes us more cooperative, ethical, and well mannered.

William Somerset Maugham, one of history’s greatest fiction writer explains it this way, that fiction writers mix the medicine of a message with the sugary jam of storytelling. 

As a child, everything attracts us. But is what we are consuming making us a bolder, stronger, smarter, and a better person? Researchers pose a very interesting question: Might many little doses of fiction -- music, movies, games -- eventually add up to big personality changes?

Think for yourself. If you are a grown adult and a movie about serial killers can dig out your discomforting feelings about the colleague that you don’t like working with, how might it affect your children whose emotions, feelings, and worldview are just being born?

No wonder, Hasib Al Banna, CEO of Multitech Solutions, claims that Indian TV channels (ie Star Jalsha) should be banned in Bangladesh because children are familiarized with concepts like adultery, family unrest, and suicide from an early age; whereas they should be exploring and learning about the world from an optimistic view.

It is us, who are watching them and passively teaching them to our children.

The musical stories that Hitler loved did not make him a better person.

They did not humanize him, soften him, or extend his moral sympathies beyond his own in-group.

Quite the opposite.

Hitler drove the world into madness with a war that cost 60 million lives.

If you are not even thinking for yourself, think and choose for your children.

In the stories they are reading about, the music they are listening to, the movies they are watching; what messages tdo hey bear? What are they trying to promote?

Just because a TV series might help learn a foreign language, can you excuse the meaning and content behind it?

Will they inflect positive emotions in your children or negative emotions? What will they teach?

Look for the medicine underneath the sugarcoated story.

Touhid Kamal uses anthropology to learn more on micro-cultures and human behaviour and is a UX researcher and team culture builder. He can be reached at [email protected] 

Touhid Kamal uses anthropology to learn more on micro-cultures and human behaviour, and is a UX researcher and team culture builder. He can be reached at [email protected]