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Fact and Fiction: Writing, Predictions and Neda

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2009", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

Fiction is like a lamp. It shines a light illuminating truths about the world. Most commonly, fiction describes the nature of the human condition. Moby Dick deals with obsession, The Corrections deals with family dysfunction, and Catch-22 deals with paranoia.

More uncommonly, fiction illuminates the nature of abstract ideas and principles. Like how Einstein's Dreams describes time, Gravity's Rainbow describes entropy, and Syriana describes international relations. (It should be noted these stories still deal with human emotions as well as abstract concepts. This isn't an accident.)

I tried to do something similar about a year ago, when I wrote a story about the internet and how it spreads information. Titled “Revolution at my Fingertips” or “Echo Chamber,” (I hadn't decided which) I probably won't ever try to publish it, for reasons I will soon explain.

The story has two plots. The first is of Mehta, an unemployed liberal looking for work in the city, but really spending all day on the internet supporting a revolution against an oppressive government.

Now the second plot is where things get interesting. In it, a young woman dies at a protest. The story describes how her image, name and face spread virally around the internet and how she becomes the symbol of the revolutionary movement.

“The young girls photograph became a rallying call.” And later. “She had become symbol of everything you were fighting for. And people needed her, needed her to exist and be concrete. Details emerged, then unemerged [sic], then were shaded. She went to college, she didn’t go to college...she wrote this, this matters, she matters, we matter." (This was a rough draft.)

Of course, all of this actually happened. Neda Agha-Soltan died last June after being shot at a protest in Tehran, and she then became a symbol both in her home country and around the world of the "Green Revolution" in Iran. I didn’t predict the death of Neda Agha-Soltan in the Iranian election protests, but I predicted how the deaths of people like Neda would matter in the Internet age.

Unfortunately I can't write the story now because it would seem like a parody, or too clearly an allegory.

The question is, does this make her death more or less meaningless? Does this match up with my larger theory of how trite all of this Iran media coverage became?

I stand by the original story; people desire images to rally behind. Neda became that symbol for her revolution. Symbols like these can be used for ill (the Swastika, the burning cross) or it can be used for good (the V-sign, the red cross). But they are still only symbols.

four comments

Why else have flags and national anthems and national birds and so on if not to act as symbols of unity for a common cause or way of life or ideology? That’s how we are and what we need. It reminds me of 1984 where the great super powers that remained fought meaningless battles in unspecified locations just to remind the people that they were winning. Just to give the people an enemy to hate and a victory to rally behind.

There is nothing wrong with having a smybol for people to rally around, as long as that symbol is an idea people can believe in with a reasonable basis in reality and not a hollow empty symbol that represents a grossly distorted view of reality.

The over-exposure of the protests in Iran were ridiculous. Tibet, Burma, Thailand, Zimbabwe, and dozens of things in Central and South America didn´t get such prolonged press coverage as Iran, and I think it was obvious to all that it wasn´t because the dictatorship was any worse to its people than some of those aforementioned countries but rather because it was a protest in a dictatorship currently playing a game of chicken with the US. The press had no problem showing cell phone videos of Iranian authorities beating people at a protest, so why don´t they show that when it happens in the US?

Chris, I so so agree with that second paragraph, and I think that was what bugged me, and what I tried to write about all last week, how hollow and over blown the whole thing felt.

The enthusiasm felt out of place.

@ Matty P – I guess I just hate symbols, because a love of a group almost always means a hate of someone else.

It’s strange that the function of a symbol like a flag is to promote unity and yet it often means unity in attempts to exclude another group. The US unites under a flag but that unity excludes other countries. This gives us a unique identity as a people and a shared existence but also acts to symbolize that we are not a part of other similar groups. For instance, US citizens are not Canadian.