Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on Guest post: Narrative in literature is about explaining something.
Narrative is a particularly engaging form of explaining.
Engaging… and dangerous. I can tell a story about how a woman saves herself from an attacker in the park by shooting him with her concealed weapon, and influence readers to believe (a) that “normal” attacks against women are by strangers in parks, and (b) women would be safer if only they carried more guns.
Or I can tell a story about a concerned, caring Earl, who sticks by his servants despite their being arrested twice and charged (falsely, of course) with two different murders, and who spends himself to the brink of penury all for the welfare of his tenants.
Or about the woman plantation owner whose slaves are heartbroken by the emancipation proclamation and insist on continuing to work for her without pay because she’s such a wonderful mistress.
Or about the libertarian paradise, or the socialist paradise, or… or… or…
I’m having trouble tracking it down, but I seem to recall that Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote a popular novelization of a famous crime, in which she exonerated the counterpart of the person who was actually convicted for the crime, with the effect of convincing many people that the person was innocent after all. I’m probably misremembering that it resulted in an actual pardon. In any case, again IIRC, Rinehart’s theory of the case was deemed unsupportable.
Whether or not that’s accurate, there are enough examples in which novels and movies “based on actual events” have colored public memory of those events to the point that misconceptions of those events are more prevalent than accurate knowledge.
I don’t see a solution to the problem, but we’re suckers for a good story. To a terrifying extent.