Stranger than Fiction: The place of fiction in legal discourse

As part of the GikII workshop, there was a really interesting discussion centering around the representation of surveillance, privacy and fears for technology in fiction. Presentations by:

  • Judith Rauhofer, “Defence against the Dark Arts: How the British Response to the Terrorist Threat Is Parodied in J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”
  • Andrew Adams, “From 1984 to V for Vendetta via Minority Report”
  • Andres Guadamuz, “Killer Robots, Evil Scientists and Other Tales of Woe: How Technophobia in Culture Affects the Law”

Judith spoke about how the Harry Potter novels are a subtle parody and a criticism of the Blair government's response to terrorism. Andrew discussed examples of surveillance in Fiction (1984, Minority Report, V for Vendetta, Demolition Man, Gattaca, etc), and the current and future state of surveillance in fact. Andres noted that throughout fiction, technology has largely been regarded negatively (Prometheus, Icaraus, Vulcan, Babel, Frankenstein, etc) – humans are punished when they try to become like gods. Andres' conclusion was that fiction is highly technophobic, and that as a society, we tend to swing between technophilia and technophobia, and our fear of the new often ignores the advances of the past.

What I'd like to know is to what extent fiction is descriptive, and how much it potentially shapes the public view. In an age where the mainstream media is not providing a strong criticism of privacy, security trade-offs, or scientific research (to name but a few areas), is fiction going to be increasingly important in introducing counter-values? The readership of Harry Potter is quite large – do the subtle criticisms contained within breed a healthy cynicism amongst its readership? What about images of killer robots and all pervasive surveillance? Are we scared enough by these tales of woe that we are cautious in our own development, or do we dismiss them as either (a) mere fiction, or (b) stylised and removed from reality?