Sunday, April 17, 2011

Choose your own Adventure - Welcome to Electoral Politics

So, we're all disengaged from the current election. Expectations are that the voter turnout will be the lowest to date. The voters complain of a lack excitement, vision and alternatives.

We complain because we're addicted to being the audience. To watching the story, not being part of it. We're afraid of drama's that are bigger than us, the will always exceed our grasp, because they are about our world. But let's start small. Let's look at each of these complaints.

Well we lack the excitement of the last election in the US. But really, was that excitement a good thing. That country just came out of surviving the worst president the country had ever seen and in came a fabulous orator capable of inspiring hope. About a new beginning with real policy.
Then the rubber hit the road and his popularity drops like a stone – because policy is never about the quick and easy fix. If it was, policy would be easy. So politicians are cautions, because voters are.

This is a bullshit complaint – there's plenty of visions. It's just that true vision usually involves two things, risk and sacrifice. Now the fact that the electorate doesn't really yearn for these things from government is fine – I have no complaint with this (actually I do, but not wanting these things is a perfectly reason position to take).
So what we want is adventure without inconvenience. A video game. Not life. Sorry kids – there's plenty of visions – from the Greens to the Family Coalition. You want Vision, then bloody well take a chance.

Not quite the same as the above – though often related. There actually are alternatives. Politicians are not all crooks. But if you want a safe bet, but with some specific direction, then you have to pay attention. Now sometimes this is easy – in Canada we've had elections with very clear outcomes – FTA, NAFTA, Charlottetown, Deficit reduction (the Manning/Martin dynamic) and classically, the origins of Medicare.

So, assuming I'm correct in my evaluations above (a stretch I'm sure) why don't we just suck it up and vote?

For a couple of reasons. One is that very few people work to make politics accessible. Note that I'm not saying interesting, but accessible. Dave Meslin has a few great examples around this here:

It's a very short, very good talk, please take a look at it.
Also, if we do care, if we do engage, we are made to feel like patsies. Silly fucking romantics who can't face the ugly truth. Apathy is the only real alternative. When, of course, the reverse is true.

And finally, because we are addicted to the STORY. The beginning, middle and end.

Politics is always about now, and we never know the outcome and that frustrates the shit out of us. Leaves us guessing and worried and fearful. So we avoid it, concentrate on what we need to survive, rather than engage in the endless possible, but never guaranteed.

C'mon folks, be IN the story. Take a chance. The hero never really knows the outcome. And in electoral politics, you are the hero. Even now, whether you know it or not.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Big Man

So there's an election going on here in the great white north. Our esteemed PM has called it after being found in contempt of parliament and while I could be mistaken in this, I think a goodly portion of his core constituency will admire rather than disparage this. They will look at him as a man that will not bow to the fussing of a dysfunctional house - someone who will stand tall.
They will argue that he is a strong leader, who will do what it takes.

This is of course a gross simplification of what government does. People want a strong man, they want the person who will take charge, make all the idiots in the world stop fussing and get down to the brass tacks and make stuff happen.

Of course, the real world is rarely so simple. It requires negotiation. Accommodating awkward things like physics (as per the AECL debacle). But people don't want that - they want a nice neat story. I think it's one of the reasons we're drawn to stories - the nice neat tie up. The simple plot line where someone comes along and fixes things.

This is especially true of genre fiction - from mystery, romance, sci fi, action, fantasy. Especially fantasy. But it sneaks into our collective unconscious.  We look to heroes and kings. For someone to fix all our problems. And it never works, not for long. Not unless there is one very big problem. Like a war. Which is why Churchill was such a legend. He was the quintessential wartime primeminister but he had trouble presiding over Britain's decline as an imperial power.

So I say that we need to negotiate a new relationship with our heroes. Not to see them as the path to happy ever after, but rather as champions of a time. We need to appreciate and celebrate the fundamental ephemeral nature of the true hero. Let them find another path after the crisis and heroics so that their lives, and ours, are not always lost in the shadow of that flash of glory. to realize that building, while not glamorous, is as important as the great deed.

But this is hard. We are trapped by our sense of narrative - we want the hero trapped in that moment of glory. To reiterate the moment again and again and then fade when we get bored. How can any one live up to that. I'd hate to be Neil Armstrong. To have that perfect iconic moment define nearly everyone' s view of you. How hard is that?

But we keep doing this in our fiction - never giving the hero time beyond the heroics except as sepia toned epilogues. I think this has to change, though I don't know how to do this without turning fantasy into Munroe-like Can-Lit