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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TRYING TO CONNECT

Another convention weekend draws to a close and all of us fans of the show Spartacus can look back on great times meeting the cast of the show but also getting the chance to meet up with friends from all over the planet.

Each and every one of us is filled with our own passions and having the opportunity to spend time with others with the same feelings is what we’re all searching for.

In a world where divisions are highlighted and the differences we may have are the only things anyone seems to care about, recognize that everything, everywhere is better when we all come together.

This weekend saw the expected fun and games of a convention but I think, although I’m not certain, I witnessed the early stages of a new spiritual movement. Proving that these events are so much more than just the chance to meet the actors, we saw one of our number elevated towards his true rock star status. His name was chanted by all and all the differences we may have had didn’t matter a jot.

I suspect I’ll be needing the help as I battle with an iffy internet signal.

‘MAAAAANDEEEEEEP’.

LIFE

We spent a great weekend in Paris at the latest Spartacus convention.

We listened to talks by the actors, had photos taken and added to our collection of autographs all the while spending time with very cool people.

My personal highlight from the weekend was getting the chance to meet Peter Mensah, who played Oenomaus in the series but was also in the film 300, he who was on the receiving end of the classic “This is Sparta!” kick.

I’ve spoken on here previously that I see certain people in my head when I write my characters so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that when I write the character Mark, the giant, black warrior chef from The Circle of Fire, it’s Peter Mensah that I see running through the action.

During the talk he gave, I sat and took in all of the detail of what he was saying, gleaning his characters future catchphrase and I understood a great deal about what was being talked about.

All of the actors spoke about all of the processes they followed when dealing with the preparation, they all spoke about how they approached the roles in Spartacus, and in other projects, and it was shown clearly to me that in all aspects of storytelling, all of the importance that people bringing these vast tales to life, is placed on the tiny details of life. The way that all kinds of stories of all manner of genres unfold, regardless of the space ship count or the monsters crashing around, all of the importance of the story just boil down to the people.

We all just go through life fighting against our own monsters, overcoming our own barriers and doing our best to always get through. If you place every story in the crucible and burn away all of the surrounding fluff, the window dressing of settings etc. you’ll always end up confronted with the tiniest of details, the way that people are dealing with situations.

The story of Spartacus can be looked on as the struggles of life. Fighting against injustices and trying to just live. We all know that story and indeed, Star Wars could easily be seen to fit into the same box in the same way. Far away from the wider detail of the tales, the contents of the crucible reveal the same parts. It’s all about the people.

I felt energized to make some changes to what I’d already done on book two, updating what I’d said and making sure all of those people in the story have the personal stake in what’s going on and never looking beyond the vital weight that just one voice can bring to a story.

The show Spartacus is, in my opinion, a masterpiece of holding up the struggle of the little guy without it becoming just a journey of one person. I’d encourage everyone to watch the series if you haven’t already and marvel at the struggles of the people.

In conclusion, I’m adding in a tribute video from You Tube for the Peter Mensah character in the series, Oenomaus. When you see him in action, just remember that that’s how I envisage one of my characters, and when you get all the way down to it, it really is all just about the people.

MASKS

Have you ever thought about what goes on behind any facades that may or may not be on show from any and all of the faces which may be on show as we move around the world? Are we seeing any fraction of the truth from all the people who pass us by? Are we showing any fraction of our own truth to them?

I spent the last weekend in Paris at a convention for the TV show Spartacus. At first glance, it’s a violent story of war liberally peppered with all manner of sex but if you look beyond those things, it is so much more. There were stars from the show signing autographs and posing for pictures but they were also taking part in talks about the show and their work, past, present and future.

For those of you out there who haven’t been to a convention of any kind, you really should find your way to one as soon as you can. They’re great. Meeting the stars who’ve brought characters to life during the adventures of a favourite show is a real treat. Meeting up and spending time with other fans of a show is such a liberating experience. Those other people who share your passions, who don’t immediately roll their eyes or simply dismiss your enthusiasm as nothing more than just the inane wittering of that nutter at work, are a chance for everyone who is in the crowd to dare to take their protective mask off.

Each and every person there can have deeply felt and nuanced discussions, heated disagreements which have been known to lurch into arguments (but nothing of any threat of violence, we just agree to disagree then head off to the bar, talking about something else) but also the relaxed conversations which come from there being the knowledge that they’re able to say anything they want on the topics of choice and they won’t be judged for it. We keep our bizarre desire to argue the merits of Picard v Kirk (Picard), did Han shoot first (of course he did) and vitally, the question of utter depth of meaning with the gravitas akin to the meaning of life, why the hell did Fox cancel Firefly?

And it feels good to take the masks off to risk the tender flesh of our true selves being shown to the light. We can relax. We don’t have to cramp ourselves into the armoured shell of normality and for a short time we are all able to spread our wings without the fear of judgement.

But we all do the same don’t we? There are people happy to judge us when we dare to say anything about a loved book or favourite film but when they then say that they love Jersey / Geordie Shore, don’t we just roll our eyes back at them?

Each and every one of us wears a mask to keep our reality away from harm. We all keep huge swathes of ourselves out of the public eye and for me, when I write anything I always keep that in mind. It is my aim that every character I write in every story, from the five hundred word single page effort through short tale and novella and landing in novel, be aware of the layers in who they are. I want everyone to have ‘stuff’ they have to deal with beyond what is ‘normal’. The extra details of the existence and psyche of everyone on Earth is what makes everything more interesting. The glimpse of what happens behind the masks is what we all strive to explore.

The convention scene, with the wide range of subjects and genres gives the world a chance to show what they really have to hide in a safe environment. It allows everyone who attends to relax and have fun without those masks of the day to day wedged in place.

Lets us all put other masks on when we get there.