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Friday, 13 July 2018

Evil is Boring, and Other Unexpected Things

Like a chipmunk crouching in a forest next to a nuclear reactor, Canada is in close proximity to the slow-motion disaster that is the United States of America. With a president who coasted into office on a wave of electoral fraud constantly compromising the safety of the country's information and people.

A part of me - perhaps unbelievably - is a little embarrassed to be excoriating Trump as thoroughly as I am, even though it's nearly a universally understood truth at this point - and even though his party's legislation has directly resulted in the caging of immigrants and their children, and their detainment in concentration camps.

That said, I think one of the hardest things to understand about Donald Trump is that, inasmuch as he's basically as evil and villainous as it gets, he's not the kind of villain I was raised to to expect.

What is evil?


That's a complex question, but for our purposes, I'm going to reference both aesthetics and intentions. My personal stance on evil is that it's more of a verb than a noun. One's actions, weighed in the balance of their impact, as well as the current historical or contemporary perspective, tend to determine whether or not one is classified as evil. For instance, Winston Churchill tested mustard gas on Kurdish villagers before deploying it during WWII, and the otherwise admirable Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who created the "New Deal" and a number of important social security measures for American citizens, also was responsible for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Canada has its own examples of leaders with similarly mixed legacies. In the context of colonialism and that resulting violence, it's hard to canonize any leaders, especially those in the "New World."

That being said, Adolf Hitler's actions and his legacy are pretty good examples - nearly archetypcal examples - of what we see as evil nowadays. (Well, those of us who are not neo-Nazis, anyway.)

But do they look evil?


Between Disney and other fantastical films, very clear portrayals of "a villain" emerged - a villain was supposed to be stylish, attractive, usually or frequently non-white, damaged, and either coded-gay or overtly homosexual (sometimes asexual). In contrast, heroes - especially in the nineties - were usually laid-back slackers, usually white, straight, and male; always heterosexual, and both mentally and physically well, often athletic or extremely nerdy, and usually lacking self-confidence and/or social skills. Frequently, said heroes were disproportionately popular, due to some inexplicable "leadership quality," and I'm sure many of my readers will be familiar with the token reward girlfriends usually accorded to such heroes as a matter of course.

The state of the present


Much hay has been made of the idea that young white men grew up seeing themselves as heroes based on their birthright, and therefore, have not had to do anything to deserve that mantle. Said young and less-than-young men are also increasingly fond of mocking marginalized people who dare set boundaries on the portrayals of their cultures, sexuality, and themselves.

Given that white men and white women voted for Trump in droves, and have continually shuffled out of the way when held accountable for inequality issues, I feel it's fair to say that both the left and right have come to see straight, white, cisgender, heterosexual, and able people as - well, the "enemy," or at least a source of antagonism - and as a "persecuted minority," respectively. That said, from what I can tell black people and other people of colour don't really hate white people, not really - but centuries and decades of persecution and marginalization and abuse have led to a lot of pain and entirely reasonable resentment.

More recently, in addition to the many nigh-endless microaggressions and larger acts of violent discrimination perpetrated against people of colour, images of the cargo shorts-clad and tiki-torch wielding racist protesters trying to "defend their white heritage and children" are inescapable. For white queers, a similar dynamic exists with "the straights" - it's not that we hate straight people, but we exist in a constant state of trepidation, wary of that moment when a friend or relative will suddenly reveal that they hate people like us, or have no interest in preserving the rights of people like us.

Because narratives cut us out of the spotlight or cast us in antagonistic roles, queers and people of colour grew up fixating on minor characters and often, on villains. When I thought about it tonight, my heart cracked to realise that the people who were supposed to be the heroes fighting injustice - ordinary white men - seem to care little about our rights and their so-called birthright - and those who were always cast as villains had ended up being, well, the ones fighting for people's rights to marry, control their own bodies, vote, and not be incarcerated or killed on fatuous or fabricated charges.

Coping with it


On the other hand, I finally had the emotional resources and the chance to watch Black Panther recently, and I think the movie - which did not disappoint - offers both hope and some potential solutions. Martin Freeman's (hilariously) American CIA agent is overtly (and rightly) called a colonizer, but he learns to listen to Nakia and Shuri rather than questioning them or assuming he knows better. The movie nods to the historical reality of American interference in other countries' governments, but unlike Andy Serkis' character, he doesn't refer to the Wakandans as "savages."

The peaceful resolution at the end of the movie brings tears to my eyes as I recollect it. Conquest and murder won't make reparations for the sins of the past (and present). But resources and nurturing might, and will save the current and future generations - as well as enriching all of us.

And personally, that's the future I want. Let me be clear - as a scary leftist, all I want is for everyone in my city, my province, my country, my continent, and this world to be housed, fed, and safe; for people to be happy, healthy, and loved. That includes the straight, white, cisgender people, not just the marginalized.

I want to see what the world can be if we work together to take care of it. I want to see what kind of art we can produce when we have the opportunity to make it, and what we can discover if we put the resources towards the sciences. And from what I've gleaned from talking to anarchists, communists, socialists, and even many people on the liberal spectrum - that's what all of us want.

But to do that, we have to figure out what we're fighting for, and maybe, who we're fighting.

As a writer...


I was never prepared for this eventuality. Will Ferguson's Happiness (TM), a book in which the end of the world is wrought by a self-help book, had some excellent points about the banality of evil. I think a lot of us still think of evil as stylish and classy, but where in that schema do we place a tasteless human vuvuzela like Trump? The bland and smiling "worst teacher you had in high school" persona of Mike Pence has something of a place in the rogue's gallery of archetypes, especially in dystopian fiction. But how do we reconcile with the fact that the people we were taught to trust and idolize - for instance, cops and parents - are only too happy to hurt us?

Honestly? I don't have an answer, so I want to know how all of you feel about this. Reblog, comment, and answer - how do you feel about this reversal? How are you going to write about villains and antagonists?


***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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