My disagreement with Diaz pretty much comes down to a definitional quibble. I don’t think there’s anyway to come to an agreement on this because we aren’t really disagreeing on essentials and he seems pretty firm with the idea that even if the message wasn’t deliberate or the point of the story, it’s still message fiction:
Thus what may not have been a message in Burroughs’ time is a message in our time. Burroughs acts like a clarion call into our modern world, actually rebuking us. But he not only rebukes, but puts before us models to follow. And these are not abstract models, but, to the extent that fiction allows, fully incarnated persons. Men, be John Carter. Women, be Dejah Thoris.
I’d like to ultimately see the lexicon around these topics expanded. It may very well be that terms like “message fiction” don’t have essential meaning. It appears to be nothing more than a shaming term for literature we think goes against reality (but don’t want to admit to objective morality in the process). If we want to say a work is weak because it’s allegorical – meaning it’s moral or lesson is of greater import than the story itself – then call it that.
But I don’t think most of what we call message fiction (full of “virtue”-signaling, diversity- and equality-affirmations, political snipes) is allegory. And its problem isn’t that it portrays a message, but that it portrays the wrong message. It denies reality in favor of some individuated ideology.
I don’t think message fiction is synonymous with allegory. (It might be one of those things where all allegory is message fiction but not all message fiction is allegory or something like that.) But since we don’t agree on what message fiction means, I don’t see any point going down that road.
I do think, however, that he’s elevating message more than he ought to. Art for art’s sake isn’t the issue here. It’s more like entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Are people not allowed to occasionally, simply, enjoy themselves? I am sick of constantly being preached to. It doesn’t matter from which direction the preaching comes from. My mom persuaded me some years ago to give a couple “Christian” mysteries a try. They were actually kind of interesting and exciting qua mysteries but the Christian aspect ruined it for me. Not just that it was sappy Protestant stuff but that it was preaching to the choir, that it was unnecessarily trying to jam ideas down my throat.
It doesn’t matter if I AGREE with your message or not. If your message overrides the entertainment, if it takes me out of the story, then it’s no good. I’d like to read more stories with a Christian worldview, where characters are Christians, etc. IF it’s entertaining and not preachy. If I want preachy, I’ll pop over to New Advent and see what they’ve posted today.
The thing about the Pulp Revolution and the Appendix N and all the old forgotten stuff is that the worldview aligns with what some of us agree with but the worldview is not the story. What really makes the old stuff great is that is that they are awesome stories. In their case being full of the ideas and values that support western civilization adds to not detracts from the story. But if you believe that those values are true and thus reflect the world and how it works then what you have is not a message but reality.