Thursday, March 5, 2015

It's dangerous to go alone! Take this

Vox explains why SF/F can be dangerous for gammas:
This is the danger posed by the Pugs, the Rand al'Thors, the Harry Potters and so forth. In many ways, they are the precise opposites of the Frodos, the Conans, and the Marcus Valeriuses. (In the middle would be the Aragorns, the Tarans, and the Luke Skywalkers.) They are Special, with a capital S, but not due to anything they have ever done. They have Special powers and are innately recognized as superior beings with a right to lead, initially by the astute, but eventually by everyone.

Most importantly, they don't have to do much more than show up in order to have leadership handed to them on a silver platter, nor do they have to do much beyond be a figurehead and occasionally make Difficult Decisions. If you think about it, they are essentially what the average millennial thinks a CEO is, and they are handed that quasi-CEO status for nothing more than being Special.
I've seen the Harry Potter movies but I never got through the books. I can understand their appeal to most people though: Harry appears to be a perfectly ordinary boy from a perfectly ordinary background when he discovers that he's Special and destined for great things. The wizarding world looks upon him with awe and wonder before he even sets foot in Hogwarts for the first time. Imagine your typical corporate drone who shuffles into the office every morning to spend eight hours sitting in a cubicle entering numbers into a computer. He or she feels vaguely discontent, wondering if that's all there is to life. Harry Potter and other stories that feature a Chosen One show us a universe where the hero is the hero due to forces beyond his control. He's been specially picked by the gods or fate or the circumstances of his birth, often before he's proven himself. The story focuses on his growing into the role with lots of awkward moments played for laughs. Sometimes we're treated to the hero delivering a lengthy soliloquy about how he's not a mindless puppet in the hands of fate and he tries to turn away from his destiny, only to inevitably return in time to defeat the villain. Us moderns who lead comparatively boring lives dream that maybe we too are chosen by God or fate or destiny to accomplish great things. Millennials raised by helicopter parents and who are products of the public education system are especially prone to thinking of themselves as Special. Even if we ourselves are not the Chosen One, then we can let ourselves off the hook because it's not our fault that we aren't destined for greatness or heroism.

In contrast, you have Frodo Baggins and Conan the Cimmerian. Who is the hero of the Lord of the Rings: Frodo or Aragorn? Frodo is just an ordinary Hobbit who gets drafted into the Fellowship. He pushes on to the end because it's the right thing to do, not because he's special or unique in any way. If Frodo had died at Cirith Ungol, Samwise would have continued on without him. Frodo is only recognized as special after he accomplishes something special. Aragorn is a legitimate warrior in his own right, but as the heir of Isildur, he's destined to wear the crown of Gondor and is recognized as special from the moment people learn his true identity.

Conan is described as a typical denizen of Cimmeria. The civilized folk he encounters usually dismiss him as just another bloodthirsty barbarian. The god of the Cimmerians, Crom, is described as aloof and uncaring toward human beings. The only thing he gives them is courage. Conan does what he does because he enjoys it. He becomes King of Aquilonia through combat, not birth. He seizes the opportunities that present themselves; he's not fated for anything. He'd undoubtedly laugh if someone told him he was a tool of the gods.

I can see where Vox is coming from when he describes Chosen Ones who are capital S special as poisonous to the gamma soul. It reinforces the gamma tendency to think too highly of yourself when you've never been tested. On the other hand, it's fantasy. A gamma male who thinks he's going to be whisked away into a magical world where he's acknowledged as being a unique snowflake has many more problems than which novels and movies he likes. All fantasy is escapism. What makes LOTR great escapism is it uses an imaginary world to point us toward the Good, True, and Beautiful.

I agree with him that all young men should be raised on a literary diet of Howard, London, L'amour, Hemingway, and other stories that feature heroes accomplishing great things.

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