Like many of us, I have been watching the events of the Occupy Wall Street, and the Occupy movement in general, unfold with interest. I have my own hopes and fears about the recent developments in my country, as many of you who follow my posts on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook know, but that’s not what I want to talk about right now. Instead, I want to talk about how our narratives disclose our attitudes about the world, and the place of social and political ideas in art in general.
Throughout human history, there has been an interaction between the cultural products we produce and our body politic. The assumptions we bring to our writing, in specific, reveal much about our culture and its values. Throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, we have seen our heroes change again and again, but one thing is clear: our narratives have become cynical. The clean-cut, all-American soldier, the undisputed and indisputable hero of the triumphant movies of WWII were challenged and became more complex as our simple faith in our own moral justification has been challenged again and again in real life. The policeman, the politician, the business-leader, the everyday worker, the parent, the child…each of these roles, and the pitfalls and triumphs implied in each, are explored through our fiction. In a sense, we can use our fiction to try out futures, philosophies, and ideas. We can imagine complex and meaningful ways for our real lives to play out through our fiction.
This is not a new idea, of course. From Aristophenes and Ayn Rand to punk rock and Sartre, people have used art to express the world as they see it, sometimes in the hopes that people would embrace it, but just as often simply as play, as a means of exploration of possibilities.
This applies nowhere more than in speculative fiction; what if we developed FTL travel? What if we could engineer people to specification? What if we sent a colony of anarchists to the moon? What if we really did blow it all up?
Now we seem to be experiencing a world our fiction predicted. On some level, we have never forgotten that hubris never goes unpunished, so much of our fiction has been about the collapse of modernity. This is a new type of fiction, in a sense. While the ancients wrote many apocalypses into their religions, the notion of a post-apocalyptic story is all ours. We have told the tale in thousands of ways, but it all comes down to the same thing: the end of the world, and what we do after.
So as I observe the Occupy movement gain strength, I note the fiction that I have seen take hold. The new Batman: Year One animated movie shows us not some caricatured super-villain, but a corrupt police commissioner and a crooked system. We find ourselves loving the Batman as he interrupts the elite dinner party and tells the wealthy and privileged of Gotham that no one is safe.
There’s been a lot of that over the last 10 years or so. Firefly/Serenity showed gave us ragtag heroes oppressed by a benevolent dictatorship that through well-meaning legislation created a race of monsters. Sanctuary, Warehouse 13, and Eureka all present heroes that are geeks and freaks fighting the good fight, often against a government that is not only basically incompetent and needlessly aggressive, but downright malevolent and dangerous. Torchwood’s recent big bad was a combination of all the governments in the world, hand in hand with a group of wealthy conspirators who want not only eternal life, but to profit from the whole world’s misery and oppression.
And now, in the midst of this world crisis, there is a new tale being written, and it follows this model. Around the country, across the world, people come together to stand against those that would destroy everything for their own gain. They are occupying public spaces and marching in the streets in an attempt to write a new story, to give us a new way to live, and an alternative to the path we are on. Their use of symbol and narrative is self-aware…these are people who know they are on TV. They know they are living in a story, and they’re trying to be the heroes.
But there is peril in this…so much of this story is angry. So much of it is hopeless. I know that I often feel that way reading these accounts of the protests and the arrests. We need another new tale, a sequel to Occupy Wall Street, because we need a better story than just fighting back. We need a story about what we do once we win, how we live in such a way that our grandchildren aren’t right back here in a few decades. We need a tale worthy of a new America, perhaps a whole new world. A tale that doesn’t just indict what we are, but praises what we could become.
I don’t know if I have it in me to write such a tale, but hope that others out there are scribbling right now, dreaming us a new American Dream…
But until then, games and my own writing must keep me amused, while advertisers like PartyPoker Portugal must keep my wife and I eating. If any of you have some new tales that you’re working on, leave me a comment…I would love to hear about it!
- Superheroes Occupy Wall Street of the Day (geeks.thedailywh.at)