Real-World Economics

In F1: Local Cuisine Jay and his tour group eat at a restaurant owned by Michael’s family of 28. This family wields some economic clout, which makes Jay consider the cultural on-goings of the island.

When we read the red card-stock pamphlet, my commentary explained my views on world-building. I noted that if a fictional world is too far removed from feasibility the reader may be taken out of the story. On the other hand, if a fictional world borrows too much or handles borrowed topics without cultural tact, the work can come across as offensive or derivative. Today let’s talk about making a realistic society; we’ll leave cultural sensitivity for next week when Jay meets Virgil Green.

Real places have certain concerns which fictional places should address for authenticity. These concerns include basic things like food, currency, and transportation infrastructure. Including these details in fiction makes cultures seem like they continue when the reader is not present, instead of being backdrops which readers can ignore. There are lots of other things along those lines to consider (like housing. Where do people live? and sewage systems. Where do people do what bears do in the woods?) but a little bit well-conveyed goes a long way.

Think about Harry Potter. The characters interact with magic food, golden coinage, and awesome means of transport. A reader never need ask what Harry eats or how he affords his schoolbooks or how he gets to Hogwarts. These worldly details are woven into the story. These are the elements which truly capture us when we read J.K. Rowling; train station 9 3/4 and Ron’s Dad’s flying car are some of the most memorable modes of transport in any medium. It would be possible to write a story about a magic school without these details, but including living candy and a lunch hall where food mysteriously appears on tables, prepared by house-elves, conveys a broad and interconnected world behind the scenes.

In this section of Akayama DanJay, Jay photographed a crescent-shaped Sheridanian pastry with lettuce, carrots, grains, coconut, and goat meat. This serves many purposes: it tells the reader what kinds of food are available on the islands; it reemphasizes Jay’s journalistic goals; and the pastry’s crescent shape kicks off a series of moon images which will signify increasing religious importance. Multilayered meaning is invaluable for making every scene count. Now readers understand this is an island culture with goats rather than pigs or cows. They are primed for Jay to take more pictures. Those looking for symbolism are ready to find more moons.

Currencies morph to suit their context. Native Sheridanians use sand-dollars while accepting foreign currencies. This combines real-world seashell currencies (like cowry and bead-necklaces) with a foreigner-friendly system of exchange, perfect for a tourist trap. The airport, restaurant, and bazaar expertly separate travelers from their money; when shoppers receive change, they can only spend that change in Sheridan, like theme-park fun-money. It’s a sad fact that many tropical paradises are packaged and commodified for tourists; on Sheridan even the religion is auctioned off bird by bird, feather by feather. The first island is a glorified gift-shop.

Michael’s family seems to lead the charge against unspent cash. While Michael and six of his brothers make a killing running continuous tours, his other seven brothers are chefs. Their fourteen wives are waitresses and landlords, catering not just to tourists but also to airline workers, pilots, and bazaar merchants. The island economy’s gears mesh tooth-to-tooth with the arrival of airplanes, and Michael’s family of 28 is at its head. I hope this provides an acceptable explanation for the island’s economic workings, and conveys a cynical but practical view of nepotism.

But where do all these people live? Some live in Michael’s restaurant’s apartment, but it couldn’t hold a whole bustling bazaar. We’ll see that most of them live on the main island. Merchants arrive by ferry to work in the bazaar, then return the same way. Some merchants might commute every day to peddle their wares to tourists arriving and departing. Some merchants might come only once a week to sell the goods they’d made in the intervening time. I won’t spell out the whole ordeal; I’ll let the reader follow Jay on one of these ferries and the rest of the island’s transport infrastructure will be implied.

In this way, Sheridan insulates itself from the tourism which turns its economy. The commercialization is minimized by outsourcing it to the smallest island, so the embarrassing bazaar of prepackaged culture does not spread. The tourists themselves will visit the other islands, but Sheridan has clearly pushed its false face up to the airport to practice genuinely in relative privacy.

I hope the world-building so far seems realistic. We know what Sheridanians eat, what money they use, and how they get from island to island; that’s a good starting point for understanding any anthropological group. Moreover, the operation of the first island’s economy reinforces some of Akayama DanJay’s religious themes.

Thanks for reading! Next week we’ll see how I try to mix cultures to make something original. Keep eating your worms!

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