Thursday, October 11, 2012

Do the media reflect the world around us?


Photo of Surrey, BC Marathon courtesy Indo-Canadian Voice
The world presented is the world that advertisers feel they can sell to easily: white people with lots of disposable income for designer cars, clothes and computers.

Best-selling indie author Martin Crosbie has invited some Canadian writers, including me, to answer the question: is the Canada he knows, that we all know, represented in the mass media?

He doesn’t see the country he knows in the major newspapers or magazines of the country. Another writer, Karen Magill of Vancouver, added that Canadian writers, like Canadians generally, feel an inferiority complex compared to the media dominance of the US, and as a result aren’t as eager to write about their own country. She writes that she as advised to set her novel, Missing Flowers, in a US city, rather than in Vancouver, British Columbia — her home town.

In my guest post, I wrote that neither the news media nor entertainment media reflect the country that I see around me. I touched on the types of professions in fiction, the settings, and about how closed commercial publishers are to new voices.

But indie authors are also missing something important. It seems that, in chasing that big audience, many indie authors are aping the conventions followed by mass publishers. As a result, indie fiction does not reflect the world that I see around me.


What’s missing? Diversity.

I know that many of my readers are writers themselves. I’ve been reading a lot of indie fiction lately, and unfortunately, many writers fall into some stereotyping traps. Most of the characters’ names are English, or occasionally Irish or Scottish. Cops are sometimes Italian or Polish. I’ve come across a smattering of Hispanic women TV reporters, for some reason, but almost no African-American characters.

Why is that? Whom do indie writers think they’re writing for?

I live in a major, modern North American city in the 21st century. The people that I live and work among come from, literally, around the world. Almost half the people I grew up with were immigrants, or their parents were. When I taught in college, my students came from China, Taiwan, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Iraq, Bolivia, Mexico, the US; in my neighbourhood, people come from India, Norway, Jamaica, Finland and China. And some were First Nations, Metis or Inuit.

If you’re reading this on the bus, subway, metro, train or ferry, look around: how many of your fellow commuters are white, of British extraction? Or are there people you can see are Asian, South Asian, African or Hispanic?

Think about your neighbours. How many of them have English last names? How many more are non-English? Sure, English may be the largest single ethnic group, but they’re not more than half anymore — I don’t even think that you’ll find a majority of English last names in most neighbourhoods in England, anymore.

Write what you know

Open your eyes, and write stories that reflect the world you live in. It’s not what’s in the mass media. And the only way we’re going to have an impact on this warped reflection is if we start to write about what is really in front of our eyes.

What do you think? How can writers start to reflect the country, the world, the reality that’s right around us, right now? Leave a comment.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I don't think it is the media's job to reflect the lives we live. Ordinary Canadians don't commit crimes, play for professional sports teams, run for political offices, or lead corporations employing hundreds or thousands of people. I doubt most people would want to be in the news. And reading about the boring, routine lives most of us live would soon grow tiresome. The media's job is to report the news and provide information that is useful or of interest to their target audience.

    I do agree with you that it is the job of "serious" fiction to reflect the culture the writer lives in, their zeitgeist. Your view of Canadian culture is, perhaps, overly urban-centric. The demographics of small towns and small and medium cities is not the same as the large pluralistic cities, and I have lived in all of them.

  3. If you're writing what you know, then perhaps the indie authors you have read are doing just that. Perhaps they are of English descent and don't feel they know enough about those other cultures to write authentically. Perhaps the real issue is that there are not enough authors out there from diverse backgrounds or perhaps you haven't found those ethnically diverse authors, who presumably would be writing about their own cultures.

  4. Scott: Intriguing thesis. However, I know of writers who have gotten lambasted writing about/for other ethnic groups because they are outside that group. Writing what you know also means, to me, not writing about a lifestyle I do not experience daily. There are many groups that need to represent themselves in writing far more than they do. I think that aspect should be left up to them.