LNH: Classic LNH Adventures #52: LNH Triple 10

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Fri Dec 7 17:44:56 PST 2018

Wading in here, probably against my better judgement...

I don't think that I read Golden Man's bit in the restaurant in quite the same way that Drew does. Partially that's because my own read on Golden Man is that, as a golden age hero in (at this point) the early nineties, he's an old guy whose accomplishments and fame are perhaps behind him. I don't get the sense that he feels such things are due to him, but that life has kinda passed him by, and that he misses it - by which I mean all of it, not just the adulation or noteworthiness, but being an active participant, being counted on, being respected.

And I think to want those things - and to be sad, or bitter, or even angry about the loss of them - I don't think that's necessarily toxic on any kind of systemic level, where it's a matter of some unexamined privilege, or self-destructive cycles. Mind you, I don't think it's necessarily healthy for the character as a hypothetical human being -- it's not going to make that character any happier or better adjusted.

But it's also a dude in, what, his seventies? Someone whose best days are well behind him, someone who maybe doesn't have a lot left? I totally get that guy having these sorts of feelings - feeling his losses acutely - feeling sorry for himself, feeling snubbed, feeling irritated at the up-and-comers, feeling left out, feeling isolated and alone, and wanting, wanting badly, to be on top of the world again.

And yes, I think that is tragic - not in the sense of he "deserves" to have these things, and that it's tragic that he's been denied it, but in the sense that there is an essential, universal tragedy that accompanies getting older. Your body starts to break down, your mind starts to fracture, and no one really wants you anymore - and that's tragic. It's tragic in something close to the truest meaning of the word, in that a tragedy is by definition something that's unavoidable, that cannot be fixed, cannot be altered. There's no solution there; there can't be a solution there.

And there's something sad about that - something that's worth taking seriously, and worth the solicitation of empathy.

Now, absolutely there are toxic areas in our culture, especially the way that men feel like they are owed things - success, fame, the bodies of women - and the way that art can present this tacitly and unquestioned, wallowing in and privileging male resentments. That's worth talking about and worth engaging with. And one of the things I like about Drew is that they aren't afraid to engage with it.

I'm just not sure if I've ever really seen Golden Man through that lens myself. (Master Blaster, OTOH... Master Blaster essentially *is* toxic masculinity and male entitlement writ large. And I think one of the problems I ran into with his primary writer is that he didn't necessarily agree with that assessment.)

Moving away from the specifics to some of the things Arthur is saying, about characters having flaws -- from my own experience, I have characters like Ress or Rainshade that are, to be blunt, not nice people. They're interesting, and one of the things I try to do is to generate some empathy for them, but I'd be horrified if anyone thought I saw the world the way they do. Heck, I'd be horrified if anyone thought that I agreed with what Martin and Derek in JOLT CITY got up to - they're deeply damaged characters with deeply problematic behavior.

As a writer, I'm never really concerned precisely with making someone "identify" with a character, or trying to endorse their worldview, or make someone "sympathize" with so-and-so. It's a story - a character - a world -- not an argument. I want the characters to be interesting and complicated, and to not have answers - they're people, not questions or categories.

There's a danger with this - particularly when writing in first person or indirect third - in that there are some headspaces not worth living in, some people who are undeserving of empathy. A writer can't just hide behind "this is what the character is like, just telling it like it is" to write awful and heinous things and absolve themselves of responsibility for that; a writer makes choices first and foremost, and should be aware of those choices as they're making them.

One of my most recent board games is "This Guilty Land", which is about the political struggle over slavery prior to the Civil War. And the thing about board games, particularly historical board games, is that they can be very good about creating points of identification - of letting you walk a mile in the shoes of the historical actors, to see things through their eyes as you pursue their goals. And I absolutely one hundred percent did not want to create any sense of identification between the Oppression player and any historical pro-slavery organization or individual.

Partially this was because I didn't want to create any false sense of complicity (the game tells you to do bad things, you did them, now feel bad about it), but more importantly, I made a conscious choice that that point-of-view wasn't one that's worth empathizing with. There were not two equal sides on that issue - slavery was a moral evil that needed to be abolished immediately, full stop. The opposite point of view was wrong and repugnant, and the pretense of debate only legitimizes the obscene hatred of that side - of people who owned, tortured, raped, and murdered human beings. So I very deliberately put a lot of distance and abstraction in there to prevent even the faintest hint of identification.

I felt as a creator that it was my moral responsibility to do that. And I think writers have a similar moral responsibility - to empathize with characters, and to see them as people, but not to humanize or excuse behavior or ideology that is monstrous. Like, there's a reason why Ramsay Bolton doesn't get viewpoint chapters in the George R. R. Martin books.

And so again, I think it is important and necessary to be aware of these aspects of culture as they present themselves in fiction, and as writers and readers both we should grapple with this. I'm just not sure if I read this character or this story as being lacking or problematic in that particular way.

Anyway. Just my two or three cents.

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