The problems with relatability

Relatability is a word I see a lot when people talk about writing fiction – specifically, how to create relatable characters with relatable goals, personalities, motives, wants, needs, etc.

I don’t think this is the right thing to focus on. I care much more about if a character’s motivations or whatever are realistic with regards to that character’s personality & background. Relatability is simply not something that crosses my mind.

I think a large part of the problem is that relatability isn’t a universal thing like it’s talked about being. There is no set standard of things that everyone will identify with. Different people care about different things.

It sounds obvious when I put it like that, but I’m not sure it’s acknowledged and understood all that well.

What is and isn’t considered relatable is largely manufactured by majority populations. I’ve seen plenty of media with minority characters criticized solely for not propping up the majority 100% of the time. Apparently, whites can’t “relate” to Asians, Christians can’t “relate” to Muslims, heterosexuals & cisgenders can’t “relate” to queer people, men can’t “relate” to women – as if whites, Christians, heterosexuals, and men were all universal and special enough that everyone could simply find them relatable.

Being a majority is an excuse for a lot of people to act like they’re the center of the universe, I guess.

I think the concept of relatability is used largely to create and prop up media that is fundamentally unchallenging in most aspects. It encourages majority populations to not to look beyond the (typically fairly narrow) worldviews they grew up with, and instead bolsters and enables their own sense of self-importance. A change to the status quo – like adding a woman or queer person or ethnic minority to a long-running media franchise – is a threat to that self-importance. It’s why minority characters get hit with the “unrelatable” label, while majorities don’t.

I write science fiction. Speculative fiction. Fantasy. Why would I want to create something that isn’t challenging? Why would I want to write majoritarian propaganda?

Writers. Artists. Creators. Reject relatability and all the nonsense that comes with it, please.

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