Stephen King: ‘People who aren’t the standard, white American, are being marginalized’

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Stephen King has a new novel out right now called The Institute. It’s about a group of children with supernatural abilities, and the kids are abducted by a mysterious organization. Like, the kids are taken from their parents and put in some kind of secretive child-prison. Minus the supernatural abilities, this sounds like sh-t that’s already happened (and is still happening) during the Trump administration. The government has abducted children, separated them from their parents and thrown them in detention centers which are fundamentally concentration camps. Well, Stephen King would like us to know that he started working on The Institute long before the Trump administration made child-abduction a reality and an official policy of the United States. From King’s NYT interview (via Esquire):

As King neared completion of the book last summer, things got weird. The broad strokes of “The Institute” began to parallel what was happening in real life: Children, seeking asylum at the border, were being removed from their parents under the administration’s family separation policy. “All I can say is that I wrote it in the Trump era. I’ve felt more and more a sense that people who are weak, and people who are disenfranchised and people who aren’t the standard, white American, are being marginalized,” King says. “And at some point in the course of working on the book, Trump actually started to lock kids up.” At least seven children have died while in immigration custody since the policy was enacted. “That was creepy to me because it was really like what I was writing about,” King says. “But I don’t want you to say that was in my mind when I wrote the book, because I’m not a person who wants to write allegory like ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984.’”

[From Esquire]

King is obviously quite a progressive/liberal person and he’s been critical of Donald Trump from the beginning. But this whole thing brings up something I’ve been thinking about for a while, which is the artist community’s struggle to effectively make political art about the Trump era. Even a horror writer like King struggles with it – he so clearly had the fictional horror story in his mind years ago, and the horror show and depravity came to reality and now it looks like he’s making political art. But for so many artists, it’s just like… how do you even deal with it IN art? Writers still haven’t figured it out. Filmmakers really haven’t figured it out either. TV producers have not figured it out. So the real reality show/horror movie is the collapse of the American republic.

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11 Responses to “Stephen King: ‘People who aren’t the standard, white American, are being marginalized’”

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  1. Annabel says:

    That’s an interesting point re: the difficulty of making art that reflects the Trump era. Some writers have figured it out: I recommend Ali Smith’s Seasons quartet. (I loved Autumn the best, but Spring is also really good.) She comes at our current nightmare era from a British perspective, so there’s more Brexit than Trump, but both are in there and I think she does a brilliant job of capturing this nightmarish era of rising nationalism.

  2. Veronica S. says:

    Satire is often the most effective way to force us to interrogate difficult truths, but that can easily backfire if it’s not done with the kind of vicious, biting tone it requires (see SNL’s portrayal of Trump). Additionally, your audience has to be receptive to that kind of self-reflection, and many Americans are very much trying to drown out the warning sirens with bread and circuses still.

    For all of his missteps with race in King’s books, I always appreciated that he acknowledged those issues of social marginalization and did the best he could to examine it from his privileged position. He may not have always succeeded, but he certainly put a hell of a lot more effort than a lot of his peers.

  3. Jess says:

    I think it’s common for artists. I mean the lost generation also didn’t know how to express the effects of world war two with traditional art so they made a new one and expressed that through a new form of artistic expression: cubism. I think they just need time to figure out how to direct that pent up energy to create something different.

  4. Mo says:

    I am waiting for William Gibson’s next novel, Agency, which is coming out in January. It is a followup to The Peripheral, which came out in 2014, and seemed very sci fi then, but terrifyingly true today. Read The Peripheral if you want a novel about what we are living through. It won’t seem like it is, but keep reading.

    Apparently, he had to go back and restart this new book after the 2016 election. He also had to scrap a novel after 9/11, but went on to write the Blue Ant trilogy. Again, those are book that help you to understand today, branding, influencers, augmented reality, shit turning out to be all about the Russian oligarchs, etc.

  5. schmootc says:

    One of the most disheartening things about the current era is how previous works imagined horrible situations that the creators probably never thought would happen in real life and now many of them have.

  6. Ann says:

    “…I’m not a person who wants to write allegory like ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984.’” I kind of read that as shade because Stephen King is a catty bitch but I doubt he’s shading George Orwell, he’s just pointing out another writing style. Still, gave me a chuckle.

  7. VirgiliaCoriolanus says:

    It depends, I guess. I’m a writer. Half of the readers in my genre are white, conservative and/or Christians who enjoy the genre because they want to go back to that era (regency, I write basically PG-rated books)….my plan is to write the filthiest novellas/novels and donate the proceeds to lawyers for the border. Right now I’m trying to come up with a few plot ideas to include immigrants and the racism they undergo when coming to a new country. Same deal.

  8. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    There’s really nothing to figure out because eventually, artists do what they do. Just like the 60s and 70s, music had political messages. Today’s culture will be inspiration and artists will release works which will be everything from haunting to comedic. In music, the blues genre signify histories I couldn’t possibly imagine AND it’s beautiful. The Great Depression and WWII saw great growth in music, film, etc. It’s what we do. And it’s necessary.

    Artists bring to life the dichotomies of life and culture, freedom and democracy, growth and repression. It’s the one thing we can all cling to in troubled times…artistic expression. Bring it on Stephen King. And I’m so excited my favorite King book is coming to film. The Talisman!

    • ChristineM65 says:

      WWWHHHAAATTTTT??? OMG, The Talisman is my fave book too. There is no way it could be just ONE movie either….Now I’m off to find more about this….

  9. Lila says:

    I understand the sentiment. I like writing as a hobby, and a lot of what is going through my head (and going on in the world) crops up in my writing. But it isn’t me trying to make any specific statement, it’s just my unconscious sorting through and trying to figure out how I feel about things. Given the speed and consistency with which King writes, I would wager he might have a similar experience.