From Star Trek addressing racism in 1967, to Twitter exposing the outrage of a Black “Little Mermaid” in 2022, science fiction, fantasy, and popular culture have always held a mirror up to society’s attitudes—for better or for worse. Some people take a long, hard look in that mirror, become inspired by how far we’ve come, and even appreciate the journey ahead. Others see through the glass darkly.
Since the earliest days of entertainment, the Far Right has never hesitated to express its limited worldviews and disconnected ideals. Anything that doesn’t fit that mold is dismissed as pushing a “liberal” agenda or, these days, erroneously labeled as “woke.” Still, pop culture has, for the most part, pushed boundaries and provided spaces for diverse perspectives to shine. Though far from perfect, sci-fi, fantasy, and pop culture deliver aspirational messages, which many in the Far Right have—perhaps willfully so—completely missed.
1. Our Differences Make Us Stronger
Notice how it’s never the faceless throng in identical armor or the generic CGI army that wins the day? Instead, it’s the plucky band of unique heroes who each bring something special to the table. There’s a reason for that.
Most of us don’t identify with stormtroopers or Cylons, and that’s a good thing. We look at the tapestry of diverse individuals in our communities. Doing so helps us create new solutions to old problems, learn from each other in unexpected ways, and improve society for everyone’s benefit.
Of course, there are some who insist on rooting for the fascist stand-ins. They’ll toss out memes that unironically state, “the Empire did nothing wrong” or “Thanos was right.” But that troll-like behavior doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In real life, plucky bands of diverse heroes are accomplishing real change every day. The world really is progressing, thanks to people brave enough to challenge authoritarianism and stand up for truth, justice, love, science, facts and essential human dignity.
2. Progress is Inevitable
We may not have spaceships or time machines, but many of the things we do have might seem miraculous to people just a few decades ago. Despite some notable and harsh backslides, we’ve achieved incredible progress on racial equity, voting rights, LGBTQ issues, environmental protections, women’s rights, and so much more. While there’s still more work to do, these victories are echoed in the stories we tell as a society.
Even in the darkest dystopian fiction, people prefer a story that ends with hope, growth, and optimism for the future. That’s why you rarely see popular books, movies, or TV shows in which the oppressive authoritarians win. People don’t want to watch it, and they don’t want to live in it.
Yet, the Far Right continues clamoring for a world that is both undesirable and unattainable. Regressive policies, restrictions on liberties, and denials of representation will never be appealing to the majority of people because they don’t benefit the majority of people. Most of us won’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.
3. People Know Oppression When They See It
Authoritarianism loves to sneak its way into the public discourse, thriving on disinformation and manipulation. Then, like the shocking betrayal in the third act, it shows its true face and attempts to seize power for itself. That plotline is cliché for a reason.
We’re in a constant struggle against authoritarians eager to impose their will on others. However, thanks in no small part to popular stories and vital lessons from real-world history, we’re all getting better at spotting attempts to overthrow democracy.
Whether it’s lizard people from outer space trying to beam us up against our will or the far-right plot to restrict reproductive freedom, we know what assaults on liberty look like. No amount of misinformation or political jargon will change that. And when we see that authoritarianism creeping in, we know exactly what to do.
4. Democracy is Worth Fighting For
The heroes of the best stories don’t give up. They don’t go home at the first sign of adversity, and they don’t break down in the face of insurmountable odds. Those on the Far Right would love the opposite to be true because they know the only way they win is if the heroes—you and I— stop fighting back.
Whether we call ourselves the resistance, the Avengers, the fellowship, or Dumbledore’s army, we’re fighting for the same thing: the right to live authentic lives free from oppression. We know the stakes are high. We know real-world freedoms are on the line. We know our democracy is under attack. Just like the heroes we cheer for on the screen and on the page, no matter the odds, we won’t give up without a fight. The Far Right would do well to learn that lesson.
Svante Myrick is one of the most dynamic young, progressive Black leaders today. As executive director of People For the American Way, he leads campaigns focused on transforming public safety, racial equity, voting rights, and empowering young elected officials.