A Relational Framework for Analyzing Action-Oriented Entertainment Narratives: Chinese Fantasy Webnovels’ Framing of Conflicts in Terms of ‘the Oppressed Versus Oppressors’ Instead of ‘Good Versus Evil’

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Abstract

This study develops a theoretical framework for analyzing action-oriented entertainment narratives, including most notably popular literature, films, television dramas, comics, and animation. It also uses this framework to analyze an empirical dataset composed of over 200 ‘Chinese fantasy webnovels.’ (Chinese fantasy webnovels are one of few domestically successful and globally disseminated genres of popular culture in China). Action-oriented narratives attract audiences mainly through action scenes, which inevitably contain conflicts and violence. These narratives are compelled to non-negatively frame these conflicts and normatively justify this violence in some ways. In contemporary popular entertainment around the globe, most narratives adopt the ‘good versus evil’ frame to justify the protagonist’s violence against villains. Examples include Western fantasy literature, superhero films, and Japanese young boys’ comics and animation. This study demonstrates that the vast majority of commercially successful Chinese fantasy webnovels adopt the frame of ‘the oppressed versus oppressors’ instead.
This study borrows from several fields to explicate the sociopolitical implications of the alternative frame. Cultural theories of social movement—especially framing and storytelling—find that (non-fictional) movement-relevant stories significantly impact whether individuals support (or oppose) a movement. The new sociology of literature reinterprets fictional narratives in actor-network terms. Audiences experience fictional worlds (and are influenced by them) in similar ways that they experience the real world. Cognitive cultural sociology helps identify how fictional worlds influence audiences: non-declarative culture and unconscious learning. Relational sociology helps pinpoint the key non-declarative cultural aspect of fictional worlds that influences audiences: social relations. For action-oriented narratives, relations between the protagonist and the villains are the most impactful. (For romance narratives, love relations are more important.) Based on this framework, I argue that the frame of ‘the oppressed versus oppressors’ non-declaratively encourages audiences to support progressive social movements, whereas the ‘good versus evil’ frame discourages this support.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2023
EventXX ISA World Congress of Sociology - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 25 Jun 20231 Jul 2023
https://www.isa-sociology.org/en/conferences/world-congress/melbourne-2023 (Conference website)
https://isaconf.confex.com/isaconf/wc2023/meetingapp.cgi/Home/0 (Conference programme)

Conference

ConferenceXX ISA World Congress of Sociology
Country/TerritoryAustralia
CityMelbourne
Period25/06/231/07/23
Internet address

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