UNDERDOG

It seems a strange thing that the underdog in any situation should be so readily supported.

This weekend saw the FA Cup on the telly box and all of the promo pieces seemed to focus on the examples of the little guy standing up and giving the big guy a bloody nose. And these aren’t the only examples of the phenomenon.

Think of every book or film which deals with a valiant protagonist taking on, and ultimately overcoming, an oppressive regime and the underdog is front and centre. Luke Skywalker, Winston Smith, Offred, Tron. These are all people who are mere cogs in the great machine that is the society they exist within yet they strike out against that society, against the clear injustice they see all around them, and in their different stories, are able to at the very least slap out at the oppressors, through to the complete overthrow of a regime.

This isn’t a new idea either.

The rebel uprising of Spartacus and his band of freed slaves has been told over and over again including being immortalised as both film and TV show and that, not only took place, but happened over two thousand years ago and most have heard about the story of David versus Goliath.

So why do we all seem to want to cheer on the little guy?

Are we all just a contrary lot who want to see the favourite get tripped up? Is it that we can’t accept the truth, like Jim Carrey? Or is it something else?

Now in sporting terms, fans will back their team when all the analysis shows they have no chance because it’s their team. It’s a tribal identity which goes far beyond big ‘un v little ‘un, but for the neutrals, our heads understand that on side is the heavy favourites but we just cling to the ‘what if’. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, the result will end up going the way you’d expect but on the very rare occasion, that one time, the system is turned on it’s head and the giant killing action is completed.

In storytelling, we love the idea that just a single voice, from the bottom of the power pyramid, can wield enough power to topple the mightiest dictator because, maybe, just maybe, should we have to, we could do the same. We want to see ourselves as the principled hero who’s going to stand up for what they believe in despite the overwhelming odds stacked against us. This doesn’t have to mean that we all want to be lightsaber twirling Jedi or that we all harbour desires to grow up to be an almost messianic saviour character in a broken world of the future, rather it can signify that deep down, we all recognise the need for that level of principle in a world which often punishes those ideals.

Who’s seen actions at school or work which have seen the relative bad guy win?

We all face choices to speak out or stay quiet every day and we all know what we should be saying on every occasion. But looking around the world and through history, it’s far too easy to pinpoint examples where speaking out would result in a swift and brutal response. There have been regimes which have stamped on even the slightest hint of dissent and ‘wrongthink’ could be punishable by death yet in these environments there are still the few who are willing to stand up for what they believe.

It’s our collective desires to be the good guy, the one doing the right thing that is so important. We see characters standing up for what’s right and that’s what we all want to see in ourselves, despite the risks. The bravery to stand up against a much stronger foe despite the imbalance of power.

Long live the underdog.

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ROUTINE

Did you miss me?

Yesterday was Monday and Monday night is blog night. Yet yesterday it wasn’t. Nothing happened. There was just a blank space where the blog post would usually be and there was no explanation as to why.

Now I understand that it’s more than likely that the delay of a single night for the publication of the latest blog post went completely unnoticed but there are so many things in our world that if they get delayed, will have a slightly larger impact.

I’d planned to be blogging on a specific topic and was all set to get the piece written when I got home from work but as is so often the way, I just couldn’t get away at the time that I originally thought and all of a sudden, my plans were out the window. Now rather than trying to play catch up and probably not doing the piece justice just so I could get it finished, I considered the effects of the bump in the road.

How important is routine to you?

Do you react better when you have a complete plan of everything that’s going to happen for that day or would you rather just wing it and see what unfolds?

Order is so often used in story telling as something which must be fought against. The world of George Orwell’s 1984 is one where the systems of order impose such a restrictive routine on everyone that even inside your own head, there could be a risk of falling foul of the rules and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale shines a bright light on the suffering of the human race, following the life of a woman who has found herself reduced to the role of baby factory.

These examples hold up routine as a stifling rigidity which carries threats to any and all who dare to step outside of the prescribed pattern. Routine has become the thing that is the oppression.

But routine is vitally needed? You can’t just cast it off and to hell with the outcome, can you?

Being able to maintain routines can allow all of us to do what we want.

Having routines allows us to stick to patterns for the good of the whole but also for the ability to make the best use of our free time. We may not want to deal with routine on any given day off but the routines that everyone else stick to is what gives us the chance not to do it ourselves. Our whole society is a house of cards which leans on itself, relying that routines are maintained all of the time to keep things propped up.

Individual routines are what get tessellated together to form everything we do so have to have some kind of order in place. The problems can come when routines are placed above the reasons they were put in place to start with. Slavishly sticking to routines just because that’s what the routines are is over looking where the value should be placed.

I like sticking to my routine of blogging on a Monday, it lets me know what’s what. But I’m open to change if needed.

MEANING

And so it begins.

The world affecting circus that is the Donald Trump presidency of the USA creaked under way last week and bumbled directly into a problem driven by the facts of a situation.

After showing an almost rabid desire to have the highest numbers on almost everything you could imagine (even down to pointing out that The Apprentice viewing figures for Arnold Schwarzenegger were smaller than they’d been when he’d been the one firing people) day one saw the delight continue. The number of people who were actually in attendance to see the inauguration and those who were watching on TV.

Now on it’s own, this point is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, the number of people who attended the event is an utter irrelevance. If Donald Trump is able to oversee world peace and be the driving force behind everyone coming together for the good of humanity as we start to explore the stars, he could have had no-one turn up to begin with and there wouldn’t be anyone who’d care.

The issue came that his ‘people’, despite evidence to the contrary, steadfastly clung to the party line of there being more people there than at any other presidents inauguration. Regardless of the facts, the decided line was going to be what they wanted it to be. To compound this they defended what was said with the soon to be immortal phrase, “alternative facts.”

Alternative facts as an idea scare me.

Information can be interpreted in different ways but if there are one hundred thousand fewer people in attendance of an event, you can’t spin the fact to be anything else. Facts are facts and as such aren’t subject to the whims of people wanting to say the opposite. Indeed there was no such concern with alternative facts when the result of the election was decided.

As a writer, I deal with words all of the time and there are examples where words can be used in many different ways which can be at odds, wicked being  both good and bad depending on context. But truth is more than that. Personal opinion on any given point has to be up for scrutiny and if the facts show the complete opposite, your opinion is wrong.

Literature has many, many examples of the use of ‘alternative facts’ by systems and people trying to do something despite the truth. One of my favourite books is 1984 and the existence of doublethink within the story showed clearly how truth can become nothing more than a hindrance to what the ruling power wants, changing as is required.

I hope that Donald Trump and his team  are able to prove all of their doubters wrong and deliver for the good of the country and the world at large but even now, so very few days into the job, there are already clear examples of an almost dictatorial obsession with everyone agreeing with what he wants to be the truth. Is truth going to be lost along the way amidst alternative facts?

How many lights do you see?

DIS

During last week’s post I gave my opinion on YA books and some of the titles I mentioned had distinct similarities. The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent all have the coming of age story running through the core of them but the other thing they all have is the dystopian future where the struggle against a system built to keep people down flavours everything.

So why does the horror view of the future seem to be so enticing to us?

A Utopia is the perfect world and a dystopia is the perfect opposite yet we see so often, depictions of the dark side as our societal destination rather then the more pleasant option. Don’t we want to see the world where all of our problems have been resolved? Why is it that we seem to gravitate to the thought of there being a monster waiting for us in the future ready to enslave us rather than the relative happy ending?

Star Trek can be held up as showing the human race in a positive fashion in the far future. We’re treated to a world where money is no longer an issue and that humans work for the betterment of the whole rather than the singular accumulation of wealth. Everyone gets on with the work they have to do as a piece of the society and they all just lean on each other in terms of maintaining life. They look beyond the planet, almost as if the issues of Earth have been solved yet when we get out into the void we start having all the familiar conflicts and problems as humans meet with all the other races. Indeed, the main antagonists in each of the series are there to conquer and enslave. Now we’re back into the land of fighting against the power to maintain our humanity.

Do we thrive on the thought of overcoming conflict? Do we want to see ‘the man’ be beaten by the relative underdog as a way of reassuring us that all of those problems we experience on a day to day basis can be overcome if only we apply ourselves. If governments can fall in those tales, surely we can find a way past our nasty boss? Can we all use the images of a society corrupted by the few, as a way to look at the world we live in now and help us prevent us making those mistakes? If we see all these stories of the broken future, will we be moved to do enough to stop it becoming a reality?

It could be easy to look at the world that we all live in now as heading in the direction of a dystopia where our lives are more and more controlled and fear is everywhere but we need to remember that there can be so much more. In 1984, The Hunger Games and the other books that I spoke about at the start of this post, the bleakness of the world needs to fought whereas in Star Trek, where the human race has resolved those issues, we’re out exploring the galaxies. Surely that’s got to be a good enough reason to look for the positive.

DISMISS

As I close in on the release of my second book, The Circle of Duty, I’m turning my mind to the horror that is the impending reviews.

I’m not just expecting everyone to just start ripping lumps out of my work but the fear of what is going to be said is a very real thing. I’m going to be sharing a piece of art I’ve created over a period of years. I sat and worked on this story for so many hours, in so many locations, that the thought of it being crucified by public opinion is not one that fills me with glee.

But.

I had a bizarre idea last week and I’ve no idea where it came from.

I decided to dive on the Amazon website and have a look at some of the reviews on there for some other books. I knew that if I could see that everyone came in for a critical mauling at some point, at least it would take the edge off the inevitable body blows should they start coming. My first book to check? 1984.

I read 1984 when I was studying English at A-Level and found it to be an amazingly powerful story. It’s now one of my favourite books but guess what? Twenty three one star reviews. Granted some are jokes (well I think they are) talking about Michael Jackson and Culture Club but there are a healthy stack which dismiss the book as poorly written and boring.  Next up was To Kill a Mockingbird and again there was a group of jokes but again, a rather healthy chunk of ‘worst book I’ve ever read’ and ‘gave up’.

Book after book which are deemed ‘classics’ were on the receiving end of withering criticism from people who just didn’t like what they’d read. So if it can happen to them, it’s a fair chance that similar treatment will come my way at some point. All I can cling to is the fact that I’ll take on board every piece of criticism which could make things better for future work but the comments which don’t really evolve beyond ‘didn’t like it’ can be viewed through the eye of P.T. Barnum. Everyone has an opinion but that isn’t the only thing everyone has!

THE PALER THE BETTER

Now I’m not going to be talking about skin tone here. Instead, this week I’m going to be looking at the importance of fairness in a story.

I like a story where the  bad guy gets what they deserve at the end. I find it deeply satisfying when all the machinations which have been making everyone’s life a misery up to that point, are deftly untangled and the villain of the piece is unmasked as being just that. But should a story always have the classic ‘White Hat’ triumphing over the ‘Black Hat’?

A fantastic example of trying to do more than that is the work of George Orwell. I’d rate 1984 and Animal Farm as being in my Top Ten of all time. They are deeply unsettling, both with a casual undertone of brutal powerlessness and give the reader the chance to really bond with a just cause. The biggest horror in them both, though, is the way that the just cause doesn’t triumph.

In 1984, Winston Smith is left a broken husk of a man thanks to his time within the Ministry of Love, his desire for free thoughts and Julia gone completely. Animal Farm sees the downtrodden masses rise up against their brutal master and create a better life for themselves only for that life to be twisted by members of their own group until it’s a carbon copy of the original. In both instances, the good guys lose.

So should we always see the ‘White Hat’ overcome the ‘Black Hat’? Should we always have things unfold fairly?

In the real world fairness is the ideal but seems to be so often unattainable. I know that at work I regularly hear the wondrous phrase “That’s not fair.” So often we hear that someone, feeling that they are on the receiving end of rough treatment or an outcome of a situation which isn’t weighted evenly, thinks something isn’t fair. The response is always the same, “Life isn’t fair.” At every turn in our lives we can recognise the existence of the ‘unfair’ so why wouldn’t we want to have a story where no matter the struggle, no matter the trials that are taking place, everyone receives the outcome they deserve? Perceived fairness becomes an almost mythical wish fulfilment goal. Our own trials can be overlooked because at least we have some way of experiencing the ‘win’, even if it is within the pages of a book.

So should we always have the results happen in a good way for the heroes? Of course not. We all require a level of reality in our stories as a way of grounding the detail, of creating a stronger engagement from the reader and to set the boundaries to what will be playing out. That point at the end of a story where we’re expecting the triumph and it doesn’t come can always keep you on your toes. That surprise will leave a mark.

So I return to my opening point. I like a story where the bad guy gets what’s coming but you know what, should they get away with it, it doesn’t mean that everything is lost. Just that it’s happening in a different way which is arguably more real.

Is that fair?