The OF Blog: The so-called "Third World" and SF

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The so-called "Third World" and SF

Over at The World in the Satin Bag, Shaun Duke recently posted about a question that a professor of his asked him, which was:

Why do you think science fiction and other "fantastic" literary forms are important in the third world?
 When I read his post, my first response was pretty much "is the term 'Third World' even applicable today when it comes to fiction, much less SF fiction?"  You can see the discussion to date in the link there.  Shaun was curious, after my own bit of curiosity what writers from countries like Brazil, an emerging economic power that used to have that 'Third World' label stuck to them, would make of such a question.  The responses on Twitter were interesting and apparently later there will be posted comments on Shaun's blog.

So, with this background provided (and knowing that how I worded it may have prejudiced some), what do you make of the professor's question?  How useful, if at all, are labels such as 'Third World' in trying to discuss trends outside of a few European, North American, and East Asian markets?  Responses both here and at Shaun's blog would be greatly appreciated.


Jason Erik Lundberg said...

The term "third world" has always been problematic for me; at the very least, it is a form of Othering that puts down an entire nation or culture because their annual GDP doesn't match up to an arbitrary number decided by a bunch of wealthy white guys in the 1960s. It's also a way for capitalist exploitation to be explained away as "helping up the heathen masses."

I'm not sure about Shaun's idea that SF is a "safe" genre, because in my reading history, it has been anything but safe. SF is perhaps the most challenging and confrontational literary genre I know, but that may say more about my reading choices than anything else (I don't typically go in for consolatory fiction).

Jason said...

Also not sure about Shaun's idea of SF being "safe"; I certainly disagree with his key point "But what is different, in my opinion, between SF and general literature is that SF doesn't demand that you read it in a certain way." That's a really strong statement, and we could debate whether any kind of literature "demands" that it be read in a certain way, but, whatever the answer to that, I don't see SF as being critically different.

Anyway, is the hypothesis in the professor's question even true? Is SF important to the so-called "Third World"? Does he mean more important than to the other Worlds, or more important than one might think, or something like that? Otherwise the question is like "Why do you think oxygen is important to the Third World?".

Guillermo Andrade said...

As Jason correctly put it, the question posed by the cited teacher (professor?) is inherently incoherent: it presuposes a cultural disposition that is, presumably, proportional to the GDP values of south american countries and many other factors that create a notion as complex as "third world".

That being said, however, brings me to the fact that Jason is not correct in assuming that the term "third world" is "problematic" as a form of demeanor or insult to the peoples of latin america. I do find it justified and explained without using or even referencing any sort of racist or class-based contractions. The same arguments apply to the fact that most americans tend to think of a black-skinned person as "black" and, automatically, say something other than that (african-american or whatever is fashionable in the season), for the fear (historically explained) that they will be marked as racists.
But the fact remains. White, black, yellow, etc. they are what they are and no matter how you expressed it, the issue is nothing more than a simple politically-corectedness exercise which brings nothing new to human understanding or problem-solving in any scale.
So yes, third world is also a viewpoint, a set of culture traits and many other things that have a very real identity, so they should not be named with a stupid politically-correct label as "less developed countries, or societies or whatever".
And Larry: South americans LOVE anything that has to do with sex, betrayal, gossip, and typical murder. The vast majority of population does not read literature, or even the newspapers (which are really bad). So SF is really NOT into third-world countries.
So the answer for that screwed up professor (an ignorant is many ways I presume because of how he posed his question) is that SF is not really important to at lease two thirds of the current third-world population, lest you count the ones that live in first and second world countries... :-)

Unknown said...

I find it curious that people are assuming the professor in question was a man...because she isn't. I wonder why that is. I tried looking over the post to see if I accidentally threw in the wrong pronoun, but I'm not seeing it. Maybe it's just a default? Hopefully that doesn't sound like I'm being confrontational, because that isn't my intent. I'm just legitimately curious about this particular point.

That said, some of the points raised here might make me write a second post, because there's so much going on here and in the comments for my post that I find it very difficult to keep it all organized...

I appreciate the comments, folks. I had no idea that certain terms I used or the phrasing of the question would spark discussion like this.

Larry Nolen said...

Well, I never used a gender-specific term either, but it should also be pointed out that in non-specific situations, since English doesn't use a neuter for human groups, "he" is often accepted in such places, even if things have begun to change in recent years.

I'll respond to the specific comments of others later, as I do plan on reading shortly before I crash early.

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