Friday, October 15, 2010

"The Left Hand of Darkness" raises gender issues and predicts the future of media

When written works from the past remain as applicable as they were at their date of publication, it's a sign of two things.

First, it's a sign of good writing. A well-told story in language that remains accessible is timeless.

And yet, it can illustrate that some social issues remain perpetually open, perhaps to never be fully examined or resolved.

Gender is one of these issues.

In her book, "The Left Hand of Darkness," science fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin explores a world where gender -- meaning the typical roles men and women play in society -- is fluid.

Although the story presumably takes place in the future, it was published in 1969. A new 40th anniversary edition has just been released.

As I wade further into the society of the planet called Winter, I reflect upon gender conditioning in our 21st century Earth society. So much depends on men and women continuing to play their traditional roles. The power of gender drives everything from politics, to conflict, to business, to personal relationships.

But what if roles could be chosen or transposed -- how would it change the scene of our world?

That question remains as intriguing as it was in 1969.

On a different point, I found this description of the people of Winter:

"(They) do not read much as a rule, and prefer their news and literature heard not seen; books and televising devices are less common than radio, and newspapers don't exist."

The novel was written long before the Internet was widely used. Yet, considering the state of the media and journalism today -- in a world where technology makes attention spans ever shorter -- I find this to be strangely prophetic.

Who would have ever thought that a vision of the future written in the past could so aptly reflect our society today?

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