Tag Archives: politics

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

Why People Fight Fun

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

After my last post on fun and how we turn it into work, I had a (fun) brainstorm about many ways turning work into fun affects us and other, related cultural pathologies. Looks like this is going to be a series on fun and the elimination of fun.

I’ll try to enjoy it to avoid an overload of irony.

In fact, let me turn from discussing fun to the more sinister side of “fun control.” When we look at joylessless, and fun becoming work, it leads us to ask “who wants to live in a world like this?” Why is there so much joylessness and sadness? Why do people work to stamp out enjoyment?

There are reasons.

Controlling Fun Makes People Joyless

Fun is about joy. Pure, unadulterated being alive. In many ways, fun is a deep expression of who we are, and having it helps us feel alive.

Fun spills out, gushes out, and it’s not exactly clear or rational. It’s connective and it’s internal. A happy person, a joyful person, is themselves.

If you want to control people, you can’t have that. Joyful people don’t need you and your religion or your self-help book or to elect you. Joyful people are irritatingly independent.

So, crushing fun, getting rid of things people like makes people joyless. Some people may enjoy crushing fun as it gives them a sense of power, but also it makes people more controllable . . .

Controlling Fun Limits Imagination

Imagination is terrifying to people who are control freaks or want to sell us something we don’t need. Fun fuels imagination, it’s about connectivity and uninhibited experience. Fun is independent, and often relies on our minds and feelings rampaging into new areas or powerful and passionate experiences. Imagination of course, makes people unpredictable and gives them the power to create.

So if you’re there trying to contorl people, you want less imagination (or to co-opt it). One way to control it is to control fun things, those things that might inspire, that might cause people to think and feel differently. If you reduce fun, that enthusiasm and joyfulness and connect-the-dots experiences fade and people are less imaginative.

Ever notice how various dictators attack art and creativity? The less imagination people have the more control you have.

Controlling Fun Makes People Manipulable

To lack fun is to lack expression, and when we don’t have it, we seek it. A life without joy is a not a life, and we seek something to enjoy, to feel good about. We seek in, short, to be.

Disipirited people, joyless people, are easy yo lead and manipulate. They have little to live for, but you can give them smething to live for. This gives you power.

Of course some people just enjoy causing misery as well. Again, that sense of power.

Controlling Fun Gives You Power

So if you have a lot of joyless people then you’re in charge. You can control them by providing fun.

You can sell them a war so they feel powerful. You can sell them a fitness regimen so they think they’re attractive. you can sell them a religion and they think you’re the word of a god.

People who are joyless don’t even need real fun or freedom, just something close. Just give them some rush, some good feeling, and they’re yours. Joyless people will line up for something to live for -and if you make them miserable you can then give them something to enjoy.

Must-watch TV and must-play video games seem kind of different, don’t they?

Controlling Fun Lets You Attack Others

People want to feel joy and happiness. They will do what they have to in order to feel alive. That also means its easy to sic them on enemies.

Blame others for their lack of joy and they’ll attack. Claim your enemies are theirs and they’ll lash out. Pick some popular targets and they’ll attack them because they get a rush of power that makes them feel happy for a bit.

Joyless people are easily manipulated into attacking others. Is someone happy going to want to go get shot because of your ego, or rant angrily online defending your bad product? No, happy people are harder to rally against whoever you want to target.

Next time you see someone getting a mob together, ask how they’re playing to disatisfaction – or creating it.

Controlling Fun Serves Existing Power

An important thing to remember is that eliminating fun usually serves existing power structures. Controlling joy and good feelings is a way to stay in power or pass power on. So if you already have a population without happiness, then you can easily stay in charge or hand it off to someone.

Existing power structures will attack joyful things, fun, entertainment, imagination. Those things are always threats – and as they keep popping up, constant threats.

Always look to the current power structure to see wht they attack and who they attack. Be kind of nice if power structures focused on evolving and improving people’s lives instead . . .

Controlling Fun Allows People To Attack Criticism

Finally, and paradoxically, eliminating a sense of fun is also a way for existing power structures to avoid criticism.

Existing power structures want to sell you their fun, their entertainment, their form of satisfaction because that gives them power. Selling people fun provides money and power and control. However, powerful interests that sell you fun often sell you fun that reinforces the existing system.

So when someone critiques what they’re selling, from a religion to a TVshow, that critique is seen as a personal attack by the consumers of that source of fun. They get pleasure from it, and thus they attack and lash back, missing the validity of the critique.

If you’ve ever seen people get viciously angry over a comic book, or seen someone push a thing as a guilty (forbidden) pleasure, you see what I mean. Look how past marketing has acted as if the product is something transgressive and unique (and thus invites critique, which only interests people more)

Conclusion

There are reasons people try to control fun – and those reasons are often power. People without happiness, without fun, are easily controlled and easily sold something.

That of course doesn’t mean anyone selling you something is bad. Not everything someone wants you to buy is to control you (beyond getting your money).

But when you see unhappy people, when you feel joyless, it might help to ask if anyone benefits . . .

Steven Savage