The Real Power of Fiction

This week I was watching Todos Somos Técnicos, my favourite TV show on Chilean football, and while they were talking about the regulatory limitations to hire coaches, Johnny Herrera gave an example, according to him hypothetical, that would explain the reasoning behind this rule. He said “let’s imagine that U and Huachipato have the same owner…” and expanded about the inevitable conflicts of interest resulting from that situation. The rest of the panel agreed to what Herrera said and almost in chorus they added “truly a hypothetical case huh”.

This attitude is related to the rumor that currently exists in the Chilean football circuit that indicates that Universidad de Chile and Huachipato actually have the same owner, the powerful agent of multiple players Fernando Felicevich, who has publicly denied the accusation. Still, despite of Felicevich’s statements, information about the ownership of these clubs remains a mystery.

Also this week I’ve been reading Hamlet by William Shakespeare, it is such a well-known story that I don’t think it is a spoiler to tell that it is about the troubled prince Hamlet, to whom the spirit of his father, the former king, shows up to denounce that the person responsible for his death is Hamlet’s own uncle, who also married his mother just days after she became a widow. The prince decides then to solve things by organizing a play that recreates the assassination and in this way detect the uncle’s guilt by assessing his reaction to the show.

In recent years I have been participating in many instances that promote the idea of ​​fiction and speculation as activators of social transformation. Several people have approached science fiction stories as examples that anticipate upcoming dystopias, others have adopted the method of speculative design to delineate hopeful futures, this adds to the avalanche of literature and movies that attempt to function as allegories of current social problems. And even though I understand the good intentions behind these exercises, few practitioners have reflected about their downsides: from the intellectually unsophisticated nature of this figurative approach resembling pre-school learning devices, to the ineffectiveness of the alleged activism behind it. Karl Marx himself, in one of his letters to the Dutch socialist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, is explicitly critical of speculating about the challenges of the future, considering them problematizations that exist in the clouds and with little materialist connection:

“The doctrinaire and necessarily fantastic anticipations of the programme of action for a revolution of the future only divert us from the struggle of the present”

Marx to Domela Nieuwenhuis
In The Hague. London, February 22, 1881

Still, the deficiencies of speculative design do not deny the potential of fiction to transform real-life scenarios, as in the case of the two examples mentioned at the beginning of this text. This potential would be achieved through a use that is explicitly oriented towards material disruption, closer to military strategy than to art produced in self-indulgent bubbles, and inevitably, it should involve the presence of a clear antagonist to be unmasked in public.