Tag Archives: politics

No More Heroes, All The Heroes

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

After it became obvious Biden would indeed fairly win the 2020 election, I saw praise for the “heroes” of the election. This activist may be lauded one day, the next a bureaucrat doing their job, and later an elected official showing a shocking amount of integrity. The heroes changed from day to day, but in all cases the praise felt the same – “this lone person/persons was all that stood between us and Dictatorship!”

Which is bullshit and I wish to discuss the bullshit. In fact, after the 2020 election we need less bullshit and consider this my small contribution to reducing the amount of bovine feces in political discourse.

Too many times I witness Americans seek the hero or heroes, the single person or small group that changes the world. There is doubtlessly a great deal of psychology and cultural analysis to be done here, though for me that may be for another time. I suspect it’s a combination of national myth, remnants of the Great Man theory of history, our media, and a large amount of parental issues. I would also add there’s plenty of ego as well – if there is a Great Hero Astride History you can be that person – or pretend to be online!

But the Lone Hero or Lone Small Group of Heroes really doesn’t stand up to reality and is cruel to those doing good things.

A functioning world depends on many people, as we have learned during the COVID-19 crisis when we suddenly discovered “Essential Workers” (and have in many cases unforgivably forgotten them). Our election saw activists texting and phone banking and protesting and their names are rarely in the news or even known. Legions of people processed votes, provided security, monitored for discrepancies, and no one is interviewing them or writing books about them. Even elected and appointed officials doing their jobs are legion, even if we’re surprised they show anything close to actual principles.

This is a terrifying reality for us to accept. In some ways there are no heroes, no one person is coming to save us, there’s no one to look at and say “they have it under control.” If there are no real heroes, then there is no chance for us to be praised and lauded. If there are no real heroes then all we have is each other, and that’s messy and complicated.

It also means we better get to work because life is all hands on deck.

But also this is a wonderful reality to accept. There is an army of people out there ensuring things work, often unappreciated – but we can appreciate them. There are legions out there doing the right thing – and these are people we can help and amplify our own power. This also means the world doesn’t have to hinge on one hero – or one villain – if we only remember that there are a lot of us out there who frankly don’t need them – or can prevent them.

Heroes give the world shape as we can understand the laudable. Heroes give us role models, and we certainly need all we can get. But we need to recognize that pathological ideas about heroes only harms us, makes us seek perfect parental figures. Instead let heroes be humble so we too can be humble, and let them be swappable so we can find the hero we need as opposed to clinging to one.

Besides, it is is cruel in the end to rely on others to save us. Now in the age of COVID-19 we try to ignore the exhausted doctors, the working people in masks and goggles hoping not to get ill, the scientists operating on no sleep. But because they are legion, because it’s hard to find that Special Standout Person among so many, they are oft ignored. If we didn’t seek heroes so much, maybe we’d roll up our sleeves and help all the people doing important things.

Hard work sounds better to me.

Steven Savage

Consuming Creativity

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Tyrants and those that would control us fear creativity. They can be out-imagined, out-thought, and thrown down often by means they didn’t foresee. Tyrants fear creativity.

Though tyrants may try to ape it, or own it, or redirect it, tyrants also try to hold people in their iron grip. Those they cannot deceive or bring over to their cause, they gladly terrorize. Indeed, such people revel in power anyway, and will do so until overthrown and thoroughly broken.

That terror can consume creativity.

When you are afraid, your resources rally to survive. In the terror produced by tyrants, your creative abilities easily focus on simply getting through the day. This can sap your creative powers, as you are spending so much effort surviving, you can’t imagine what is needed to overthrow a tyrant and give them the fate they deserve.

I don’t think tyrants entirely do this by design – terror is the coin of their realm. But they certainly are glad to have you so worried you can’t scheme against them.

Therefore it is the duty of a creative person to maintain that creative spark at all costs, because losing it costs all.

The simplest way is to make space for creative work – to draw, to write, to speak, to joke. To keep that area of your life where creativity is more than survival doesn’t just keep the flame of imagination going, it powers it. As long as you can see new vistas and make new songs, you can find new ways to survive the tyrant’s rein, and do your part to end it.

A creative should also remember that by keeping their creativity going, they help others. A song can soothe those terrorized by would-be rulers. A joke can lead to laughter and release, giving people a moment to see how small the tyrant is. A game can inspire and lead people to new ideas to resist and defeat a dictator. Remembering what your creativity does for others aids you.

But there is one other path – to use survival to inspire you.

Turning your creative energies to survive and prosper under a tyrant, to work towards their just reward, can be a great motivator. To dream of ways to communicate to others, to undermine evil, to free the imprisoned harnesses your creativity. It also gives you a sense of power – you have gone from surviving to finding the potential of triumph.

We should take joy in the ways we creatively battle the evils of the world.

But one should always cultivate a diversity of creativity – we should sing while we scheme against the king, the acid words of a good joke can be turned to the clever worlds of a good polemic. We should always keep that raw fire of creativity burning, not only taking pleasure in the eventual defeat of a dictator. Keeping that primal creativity keeps the infinite potential at the ready.

Besides, if one focuses only on the overthrow of a tyrant richly deserving defeat, then one may loose touch with all the creative things they can do. If you do that, you might become a tyrant yourself as you loose that vital, human, imagination.

Steven Savage

You Ain’t Getting Rid Of Politics In Media: Part 1

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Raise your hand if you ever had someone tell you that they want people to “keep their politics out of books/comics/games/tv” and so on. Now, put it down. I can’t see it, so it didn’t help.

But despite the fact that I can’t see if you raised your hand, I’m pretty sure you did, if only spiritually. It’s a plague of modern media (at least as I write this in 2019) that people complain about politics in their hobby media. Complaining seems to be it’s own form of media, which is quite an overload of irony, but i digress.

If you, like me, have been curious about this phenomena, you’ll notice most of the complaints are not about politics in general, but certain kinds of politics. In short, most complainers are people not against politics, but against politics about anyone not like them, and politics that might disturb their sense of the world. I could go into the various demographics of this but let’s go to the idea that politics can be left out of media.

It cannot. It is impossible.

Politics is about how humans interact, make decisions, conflict, identify, and so on. If your story involves people there will be politics, even if its of the smaller personal kind.

Politics also is about how we understand the world, from hard-edged ideologies to general assumptions. We all drag those into our works – if we’re aware, they become informed decisions from our lives. If not, well . . . you get the idea.

Politics will be in everything, even if they’re awful ill-informed politics.

Because I’m a fanatic for good worldbuilding, I feel confident in saying every work of fiction created will have politics. It’s just a question of they’re thought out, explored, extrapolated, and understood by the author. Any attempt to leave them out is a failure of creativity – because they will be there, they’ll just be unexamined.

Let’s give an example. I’m going to take a common genre/trope popular in anime and videogames. Isekai – the whole “person from our world sent to another.”

Specifically, let’s go super-tropey. We want to do a story which has the usual generic Demon Lord attacking a fantasy realm, and people from our world for some reason are yanked in to fight him. If you’re not familiar with this setup, you’ve somehow managed to avoid wide swaths of anime, manga, and some video games.

At the same time, how can this simple setup involve politics? It’s sort of escapsim/wish fullfillment slathered on top of tropey but fun fantasy.

So let’s see why it’s political.

First, let’s talk the Demon Lord. Just how does one being become a threat to this entire planet? How are his armies arranged? Why is he followed? Why is there only one? Yes, even when you’re designing a generic Demon Lord you have to ask questions that verge on the political – how is his life and armies organized to even be a threat?

Now, as this is a fantasy world, the fact there’s a Demon Lord tromping around immediately brings up supernatural politics. What are the various gods, deities, other demons, ancient wizards, and so on doing to stop this Beelzebubian Bozo? I mean, you’d think they’d get involved. In short, to design a world like this in detail you have to give some thoughts to . . . supernatural politics.

On top of all of this there’s the regular people caught trying not to get killed by the Demon Lord. Why are they threatened? Why can’t they stop him? How are their societies coping – in fact, what societies do they have? Their politics, pre-Demon Lord and current require some fleshing out to make sense of this all.

Once we figure out this world, you have to then figure out just why people from our world end up in this world fighting evil. I mean be it a goddess or some crazy wizard or the Currents of Destiny, “let’s throw an office temp at the Demon Lord” is not the soundest plan out there. If any people (or human-like gods) were involved in this decision, hopefully they had a good reason and worked it out with their fellows – in short, politics.

Before your hero or heroine even ends up in the first adventure in a story like this, you have a huge amount of political questions to ask. We might not think of them as politics because they don’t involve the various parties and politicians we know, but they are political. They’re the politics of the world you created.

Finally, once your hero(es) and heroine(s) arrive, how does the world recieve them? Are they ready for those that will save them? Have they been burning through chosen ones like someone with a big bag of chips? How did any recent heros/heroines do and are people ready to trust them?

All this doesn’t even deal with other fantasy politics. Are there non-human sentients like elves and dwarves? Do species crossbreed? How do people cope with various generic Fantasy Monsters? WHere do all these damn dungeons come from? You get the idea.

Now one could ignore these questions and the others generated by this discussion. That’s a decision – a political one to avoid the repercussions of one’s worldbuilding choices. A save-the-world fantasy Isekai that goes by the beats is a political act – the act of excluding extrapolation to hit a series of chosen beats. Those beats are . . . political, because they reflect certain tropes and assumptions. They’re just not thought of.

Politics will be in your media. If you embrace it, you get great media. And if you decide to take things in a certain direction, at least you know why you engineered it the way you did (I’m a big fan of exploring tropes by taking them to certain extremes that make sense). It’s good writing, it’s good worldbuilding.

Of course doing this may force you to face uncomfortable questions. Which may just lead to better writing . . .

Steven Savage