Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Evil is a 4 letter word

Let’s stop and think about genre conventions for a little bit. As I’ve gotten older, things about fantasy have started to really bug me. The biggest sticking point might seem a bit odd, but stick with me.

I think violence, as a solution to problems, is starting to look pretty stupid.

As I’ve slowly grown into my adult sized pants, I’ve also grown to realize that the most important things in life have very little to do with crushing my enemies. I don’t think I’m going to rock anyone’s world by saying this but cooperation and compassion is more important than killing. And while we do love to admire Conan the barbarian for his beautifully elegant appreciate of a woman’s lamentation, it’s growing less relatable. I mean really, it’s insane. Murder has become the defacto standard for problem solving in most genre stories and we’re just kind of nodding our heads along with it.


Re-watching Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away reminded me of how unbelievably compelling it could be to watch a compassionate person at work. I never really thought about it before this last viewing, but the story’s hero, Chihiro is really unique. It’s not just that she is a 10 year old girl who possesses no exceptional tools or traits but also that she is almost universally reviled by the world around her. The denizens of the spirit world treat her like a talking pig with constant comments about her bad smell and possible use as a food source. Regardless, she treats everyone she meets with respect. It’s a level of humanity that borders on superhuman and it makes for a wonderful story.

The fact that a celebrated director like Miyazaki has been able to repeatedly and successfully tell stories about people overcoming adversity through love and cooperation makes me wonder why more people haven’t done it. Perhaps it’s just too damn hard. Perhaps there are superstitions that say these sorts of stories don’t make financial sense. It’s hard to say. But maybe it has to do with our obsession with people being ‘evil’.

So much of fantasy is about good people killing evil people. But what Miyazaki does, and he’s pretty vocal about this, is to simply eliminate the concepts of good and evil from his stories. People have benevolent or malicious traits but they are never Good or Evil. Characters find themselves in conflicts that may lead them to violence, but there is nothing evil about either side. The truth that so many stories fail to tell, is that everyone is a hero in their own story. It seems almost as though the inclusion of purely evil characters is an instant dismissal of any victory through compassion. You cannot love evil without being evil, so you must destroy it. This also makes it impossible to tell stories about a two believable people at odds with each other. When one side is good and one side is evil, the conflict is reducible to a paper thin veneer of story. Not stooping to make anyone Evil with a capital ‘E’ is challenging, but it really makes for a way better story.

So while I still like some action in my stories and I don’t really get overly affected by seeing violence, I really want to see more fantasy that does something more with their characters. I want to see heroes that aren’t defined by their weapons or the way they kill. What I really want is to see heroes that inspire me to want to be a better person.

Photo via Instagram by me - Painting by Omar Rayyan

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