Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Big Man

So there's an election going on here in the great white north. Our esteemed PM has called it after being found in contempt of parliament and while I could be mistaken in this, I think a goodly portion of his core constituency will admire rather than disparage this. They will look at him as a man that will not bow to the fussing of a dysfunctional house - someone who will stand tall.
They will argue that he is a strong leader, who will do what it takes.

This is of course a gross simplification of what government does. People want a strong man, they want the person who will take charge, make all the idiots in the world stop fussing and get down to the brass tacks and make stuff happen.

Of course, the real world is rarely so simple. It requires negotiation. Accommodating awkward things like physics (as per the AECL debacle). But people don't want that - they want a nice neat story. I think it's one of the reasons we're drawn to stories - the nice neat tie up. The simple plot line where someone comes along and fixes things.

This is especially true of genre fiction - from mystery, romance, sci fi, action, fantasy. Especially fantasy. But it sneaks into our collective unconscious.  We look to heroes and kings. For someone to fix all our problems. And it never works, not for long. Not unless there is one very big problem. Like a war. Which is why Churchill was such a legend. He was the quintessential wartime primeminister but he had trouble presiding over Britain's decline as an imperial power.

So I say that we need to negotiate a new relationship with our heroes. Not to see them as the path to happy ever after, but rather as champions of a time. We need to appreciate and celebrate the fundamental ephemeral nature of the true hero. Let them find another path after the crisis and heroics so that their lives, and ours, are not always lost in the shadow of that flash of glory. to realize that building, while not glamorous, is as important as the great deed.

But this is hard. We are trapped by our sense of narrative - we want the hero trapped in that moment of glory. To reiterate the moment again and again and then fade when we get bored. How can any one live up to that. I'd hate to be Neil Armstrong. To have that perfect iconic moment define nearly everyone' s view of you. How hard is that?

But we keep doing this in our fiction - never giving the hero time beyond the heroics except as sepia toned epilogues. I think this has to change, though I don't know how to do this without turning fantasy into Munroe-like Can-Lit

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