Brave New World 7: Is an outsider needed to highlight features of a culture?


We see the Brave New World through the eyes of two outsiders: John Savage is a true outsider to the world, but Bernard Marx is an outsider in that he does not confrom to the mores of the world in which he was brought up. It's a pattern repeated in many stories that revolve around different cultures. Is this outsider viewpoint necessary to highlight what's interesting about a different culture? 


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    I don't think so. For example, we get the Star Trek Federation from its own point of view, or in most stories Iain M. Banks' Culture from its own point of view. Much historical fiction manages just fine, though outsider elements are also often used.

    But it's a common technique and can make things easier.
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    I don't think it's strictly necessary to highlight what's interesting about a different culture, but can make it easier. Thinking of the @RichardAbbott novels I've read, the ancient world novels and the Spaceports novels are both written by insiders and have no outsider character, thought I think in the case of Far from the Spaceports, the character of Slate (a PDA) partly fulfills this role. In the Lady of Shallot novel, there's an interesting twist in which a different culture (medieval England) is shown to us through a viewpoint that's even more alien than our own.

    In the case of Star Trek (and here at last I disagree with Paul), the more foreign cultures are shown to us through the lens of the crew of the ship, who represent us and our ideals in space. Those people who speak in allegory are definitely not presented from inside their persepctive - nor could they be.

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    A novel or film needs some kind of tension to move it along - as @dr_mitch says, this doesn't have to be an outsider but often is. An internal rebel or disaffected person (arguably Bernard Marx is this) is another way. I suppose it depends how far "outside" one goes... outside a clique, or a social group, or a nation, or a species?

    Avatar (to reuse an example I exploited a few days ago) has definite inside/outside themes, but quite neatly switches between them all the time, so you keep having to alter your perspective as to what or who is inside!

    Two splendid Star Trek TNG episodes which address this well (IMHO) are 1) The Inner Light (S5, E25) in which Picard wavers between seeing himself as outsider and insider, and 2) Darmok (S5, E2) where Picard (and to a lesser degree other crew members) have to grapple with outsiders for whom even language is built on radically different principles.

    And thanks for the perceptive comments, @Apocryphal 🙂
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