Sometimes, when we talk about fiction reflecting the world we actually live in, we refer to the characters. We show a character in a comic who is terrified when a villain shows up. Maybe that movie superhero freezes instead of stepping up to save the day. Maybe a mother yells at her kid instead of being understanding when they make a thoughtless mistake. Maybe that stressed out co-worker in your rom-com spits in the boss’s coffee. We, as creators, try to make our characters as much like real people as possible so the audience can relate to them.
Perhaps, we reflect real world events or locations in our fiction. We can write a fiction story that takes place during World War II. A real event, with a made-up situation added in. We can write a science fiction screenplay where a mysterious new virus has everyone afraid to go outside because the mortality rate is so high. A love story that takes place aboard the famous sinking ship, The Titanic. Proper research, and a sprinkle of your own fun storytelling, can take a real life event that many know about and use it to create an entertaining story.
But reflecting real life in fiction can also have horrifying and eye-opening results. Let’s use the television show The Boys as an example. I have seen all the seasons available so far and I have to say, this show is disgusting in how accurately it portrays the modern U.S.. Let me be clear, I enjoy the show, but the portrayal of the country I live in rings too true for comfort. You can’t watch this show and not feel disturbed. (Spoiler Alert!)
We are shown how much control religious fanatics have over their congregation. A certain church leader is a closeted gay man who publically speaks out against other gay people. He talks about the evils of being gay and condemns premarital sex, all the while having relations with multiple men in secret. The church takes his word as law. Reminds me of a certain Baptist pastor who recently admitted to “having an affair” with a sixteen year old girl that he groomed and raped on his office floor. How did the real-life, actual people in his church react? No comfort for the woman, the victim. No, they laid hands on the pastor and chanted “God bless you” over and over. Meanwhile, we also have a certain religion trying to change actual laws, laws that will affect thousands of people, based on their own belief system.
The Boys also shows how politicians and public leaders brainwash the masses. Superheroes are killing people, calling it collateral damage, and everyone just looks the other way and thanks them for their service. Stormfront has convinced the American people that immigrant “super villains” are attacking them. She and Homelander give speeches, riling people up. We are actually shown how their speech affects one individual when he shoots a ‘non-white’ shop owner to death because he thought he might be a super villain. They are using fear as a tool to get support for their actions. So they can kill anyone they choose with no real consequences, as long as they aren’t white. They are creating their own cult following. Come to find out Stormfront used to be an actual Nazi. This doesn’t sound at all familiar, does it? We didn’t have a former president do the exact same thing or anything, did we?
This show also portrays how corporations have their fingers in politics and control politicians for their own gain. How they spin a story to lay blame on others. How money buys their way out of anything they have done wrong, including lying to the public for decades. Vought is an obviously evil company. Yeah, we don’t have a certain corporation that is making absolutely sure that anyone can get their hands on a gun. We don’t have a few corporations making sure there are no laws governing price gouging on oil.
One thing about this show that I realized that many may have not caught deals with the character Butcher and his relation to superheroes. Butcher hates all superheroes. He has never had a positive experience with one. After his wife was raped and, he thought, killed by a superhero, he starts working underground with a team, getting dirt on superheroes and even taking some out. He harbors an intense hatred for them. After he meets Hughie and they start working together, Hughie tries to show him that not all superheroes are evil. Butcher is not convinced. Does he ever really trust Hughie’s girlfriend, the superhero Starlight? A few times, I found myself wondering why he couldn’t just let down his walls and trust her.
Then it clicked.
Hughie was basically saying “not all men” and Butcher was saying “really, though?” That hit home for me. Because as women, we can’t trust men. We can never assume that any random man is not out to hurt us in some way. Saying “I’m a nice guy” is not enough. Starlight couldn’t just show up to help and expect him to automatically trust her. She had to earn that trust. And isn’t that sad? Isn’t it sad that Butcher couldn’t just believe that she had good intentions because she said so? But that is the truth of the world. Men have to earn our trust because they have only proven to us time and time again that they can’t be trusted not to have ulterior motives.
To conclude, reflecting real life in fiction can make a story much more believable. It can help your audience relate to the characters and situations. It can also, unfortunately, show us how terrifying our real world is to live in.