Yeah, yeah, you have a good guy who has had a hard life but does everything as best he can, but especially fighting the demons of his past, principally represented by some evil guy who had the good guy over the barrel at some point and wants to control Good Guy’s life once more, ultimately, forever, a perfect slave. Or perhaps Evil Guy is taking revenge upon Good Guy for striving for good now, rejecting the Dark Side once and for all.
Really, how many people do you know who lead lives of unmitigated evil? Or even frequent deliberate evil? Or even occasional deliberate evil? Books and movies painting characters with no redeeming qualities are completely unrealistic to me. Honestly, I’m sick of those kinds of stories because they don’t represent the majority of people. In other words, they don’t teach me anything of value that I don’t already know. Know a bad guy? Sure, screw him up whenever you can, get him thrown in jail if possible, all the cop stories end that way, handcuffing the bad guy and leading him away from the firefight he caused. We’re lucky if they wrote one or two lines with the Evil Guy explaining some ‘good’ reason he performed his evil acts, stealing all the money to pay for his kid’s cancer treatment or some such.
I don’t care what you call good and evil, but this is the truth: most people are mostly good and want to be known as good. They strive for goodness because it’s simply a nice way to live, thinking you’ve done all the right things. They want to feed their children, get recognized for their work, have time and reasons to party on occasion, and follow their hobbies and dreams. The average man doesn’t want to have to fight anyone; he wants to live in peace, watch a good movie, read a good book.
But the entertainment industry, including the publishing industry, throws every Good vs. Evil scenario into our faces as if that is the only triumph of spirit there is. So what does everyone learn to do as a result? Demonize each other. Seriously. Everyone thinks it’s “Me vs. Them” now, and “Them” can be a pretty extensive group. People live lives of pure paranoia nowadays, for who can we trust? Can’t trust the government, can’t trust the police, can’t trust businesses, can’t trust banks, can’t trust our employers.
And the same goes for them. How many people in ANY government position scorn the thought of trusting regular citizens? How many police trust the average citizen? How many banks and businesses can’t trust their clients, or even their own workers? It’s a wonder people trust anyone else at all anymore!
I am not certain I ‘blame’ it on religion, yet they have been the biggest hype-sters of the ‘Good-vs.-Evil’ dichotomy for thousands of years, just as governments have been the biggest hype-sters of ‘Might-is-Right’. These institutions have made these formulas into archetypes so strong that it is taken for the only way to live. If you come out on top, yours must have been The Righteous Cause, and history is written by the winners.
I am not saying it is not desirable to be good and strong. I want people to be good, strong, defenders of the downtrodden, charitable, and all those good things. What I want is more literature to reflect that most triumphs of spirit are achieved by coming to an understanding and a solution with people with whom we have issues!
Trope: recurring literary device or theme; motif or cliché.
Why am I writing this article? Am I saying the ‘Good-vs-Evil’ trope is BAD? Would that not be some kind of paradoxical argument? Perhaps, but my purpose is to convince everyone that the trope is TIRED. It needs no further promotion. We all try to be good, so let’s take that as the assumption of regular, everyday people, and get to the questions that matter, such as when you can see the other person’s point of view as equally valid. If literature is to enrich our lives, it should teach us more than what we already know, like how to deal with situations we have yet to master. In other words, how to adapt.
How many Democrats think Republicans are evil, and vice versa? The truth is, both Republicans and Democrats think they are good and act in ways they consider good. Yet look at the ‘Good-vs-Evil’ trope; it basically says, ‘We are good, so if they are not like us, they are evil’. It keeps us from trying to understand the perspective of Other, it keeps us from trying to work for solutions, it keeps us constantly on the battlefield. So we have perfectly good, necessary laws proposed that one political party in Congress will vote against, just to thwart the other political party. It’s a sickening way to rule a country, and it’s a sickening way to run our lives.
The Other is not, by definition, bad. The Other is simply unique. I was a teacher for many years, and the definitions of ‘Other’ amongst children can vary in the blink of an eye. Girls vs. boys, smart vs. dumb, rich vs. poor, sexually active vs. celibate, nerds vs. jocks, stoners vs. non-stoners. If you can be identified with a group, name it, there’s a counter-group, and if you are outside someone’s group, you can figure they will judge you for it. Poor nerd boy can earn everyone’s respect with a sarcastic rejoinder against rich jock boy, and within one second, all the girls will look at each other and say in disgust, “Boys!”
If I had my druthers, I would eliminate the idea of ‘versus’ completely. Life is not a spectrum; life is +7 billion perspectives, individual ideas on how to improve the human condition. 'Versus' is binary, zero and one, zero no value, one with value. 'Versus' implies extremism, judgment, static inability to change. For that is the real issue, change.
People are resistant to change, for we have been taught and shown that it hurts. Yet everyone wants their lives to improve, correct? To improve, THERE MUST BE CHANGE. How do you resolve that conundrum?
By popularizing growth. The people addicted to growth are those who tend to succeed, those whose achievements make them stand out, those who find creative ways to adapt, perpetual students. Unfortunately, most people think the only kind of growth that matters once you are an adult is the growth of your bank account, which leads to hosts of people committing ‘evil’ acts in the first place. So what we need is literature and entertainment that popularize HEALTHY growth. That takes the old idea of ‘achievement’ away from ‘collecting items and money’, and emphasizes ‘achievement’ as things that matter, such as acquiring friends, trust, greater skills or education, and experiences that make life worth living.
Instead of the ‘welfare mom who earns supplemental income as a stripper/whore/drug dealer just so she can feed her kids, getting revenge on the men who use her’, why can’t we find literature in which that same woman makes friends with an old man growing veggies on his porch or windowsill, teaching her how to feed her kids that way, ending up with a community garden? Is that not a richer triumph of spirit, to learn how your own efforts can be turned from violent clashes into constructive behaviors that pay off better, in healthier and more productive lives?
What if every government involved in every conflict in the world could use the exact same amount of energy used to produce weapons and force, and turn that energy into ways to resolve situations by means of graceful, sustainable, humane, and truly beneficial growth? What if every corporation that pays CEO’s hundreds of millions of dollars were to reinvest that money into making sure the corporation’s employees had actual, living wages, increasing their productivity since they won’t need to work two jobs in exhaustion, and increasing employee trust and goodwill along the way? Sure, I’m a dreamer, but by God, if someone doesn’t dream it, it will never come into existence!
In one writer’s workshop, it was pounded into us that there are only three real stories: escape, acquisition, and revenge. Why can there not be a fourth theme, that of growth? If you consider growth an ‘acquisition of knowledge’, there have been a few successful movies and books along those lines, but to me, growth represents an acquisition beyond your wildest dreams. All stories really entail growth, anyway – the protagonist ends up knowing, learning, growing through great lessons during the story. Yet I believe we dreamers, authors, playwrights, producers of stories should focus more on the miracle of life, that we can and do and should pursue growth. Evolution at its finest, adaptation, deliberate construction of bigger and better ways of doing things. Achievement beyond our wildest dreams.
Good vs. Evil. Which quality is associated with growth, and which is associated with destruction, by the way? Given that destruction is so interesting to most moviegoers, I suppose my next blog should be on how to train the masses of humanity into realizing how degrading red, orange, yellow, and black special effects explosions are to their soul, for that is how we must really reach people: via symbols and imagination. I wonder if my next personal growth-spurt will be researching colors and sounds as stimuli? I wonder where it will lead me after that?