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May 5th, 2015


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03:11 am - Musings On TV & Lone Individuals vs Complex Problems
amberite encountered this excellent article talking about problems with the TV show The Wire and looking at the recent troubles in Baltimore, and I highly recommend it.

I only watched half a season of The Wire before the violence and brutality were too much for me, but this article is worth reading even if you never saw the show. The part that struck me most though was this bit:
Everyone on The Wire seeks individual solutions for social problems: the lone cop, the lone criminal, the lone teacher, the lone newspaper reporter. Yes, it is certainly true that when entrenched bureaucracies battle individuals, individuals lose. But when bureaucracies battle social movements, the results can be quite different.
This is not a new or a unique viewpoint, but it is a terribly corrosive one, and one that I think has been deliberately foisted on the American public as the right-and-proper-truth-of-the-world ever since the mid 1970s, when people with money and political power saw what large organized groups could do about the Vietnam War, and segregation, and attempted to find a way to make certain that this never happened again.

I'm not saying that David Simon (who created The Wire) is one of these people or that he deliberately did this, he's clearly not and I doubt he did. Instead, US discourse was changed in the late 70s and throughout the 1980s, and I'm fairly certain it was changed on purpose. I talk about this issue more in this post about that particular topic.

amberite mentioned the article about The Wire after we watched the first part of the 2 part Deep Space Nine episode Past Tense, where Sisko, Dax, and Bashir travel back to 2024. None of us had ever seen this episode before, and I'd heard good things about it. I didn't mind the pontificating, but teaotter did, but she pointed out that what we saw was a complete lack of internal organizing in the Sanctuary Districts. People would be creating the various sorts of mutual aid groupings they always do, and the intake office we see Sisko & Bashir in would have polite protestors coming in to ask for medicines, schools, jobs and etc. Instead, this is a story about one lone courageous man (points to DS:9 making this man black) changing the nation for the better. It's not terrible, but it's also quite far from awesome.

In any case, once again we have lone individuals taking action against "the system", but in Star Trek (unlike The Wire) lone individuals can triumph, but once again collective action remains invisible. Dear gods we need more stories about collective action defeating entrenched corruption and greed.

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Comments:


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From:mythicfox
Date:May 5th, 2015 11:38 am (UTC)
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I'm reminded of a horror novel I read a while back that suggests that the assorted forces of darkness that toy with humanity go out of their way to encourage 'lone savior against impossible odds' stories as a form of cultural sabotage. To encourage people to either go out alone and fail because they're alone, or do nothing and wait for the savior to turn up.
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From:mrteufel
Date:May 5th, 2015 11:55 am (UTC)
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I'm in total agreement. Not sure how to set up an opposing myth or story. Can you think of an example?
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From:mindstalk
Date:May 5th, 2015 08:44 pm (UTC)
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It's been five years so I'm unclear on the ratio of Individual Action, but Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders had a fair bit of (democratic) social change.

Graydon Saunders' _March North_ has a setting of collective action by relatively ordinary people in a world of Black Company-level mages.

Parks and Recreation, maybe? Don't know much about it.

B-5's "By Any Means Necessary" had an honest to god labor strike, and was sympathetic to the union. OTOH the problem got solved by Sinclair being clever with legalism.

Stories like Nanoha or City of Reality aren't about setting up a bureaucracy to fight social problems, but there is a bureaucracy and it's nice and effective. (Of course, Nanoha is Japanese.) CoR might be more on the "people helping each other" side. Astro City has had a story or two along those lines too -- superheroes trash the city in fighting villains, and both city public services and neighbors rally to repairs.
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From:mrteufel
Date:May 5th, 2015 10:35 pm (UTC)
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Huh. I haven't read or seen any of these (except perhaps the B5 episode? It was a long time ago.)
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From:heron61
Date:May 6th, 2015 04:35 am (UTC)
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Graydon Saunders' The March North is available as an ebook and is quite good and pretty much the only piece of remotely military focused fantasy that I've read in the past 20 years that I've managed to finish. I discuss it a bit in this post and here is an excellent review that I agree with.
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From:benlehman
Date:May 6th, 2015 08:25 am (UTC)
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Wait, John, you didn't finish Ancillary Justice?
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From:heron61
Date:May 6th, 2015 09:11 am (UTC)
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Yes, of course I did, what in the above made you think I hadn't? Ancillary Justice is both definitely not fantasy and also not what I'd call military focused, despite some of the characters having been in the military.

It's also worth noting that my standard for reading fantasy are somewhat stricter than for for SF, simply because (both being of roughly similar quality) I generally prefer SF to fantasy.
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From:benlehman
Date:May 6th, 2015 04:47 pm (UTC)
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And my reading comprehension is terrible. I read "SF" where you wrote "fantasy." Sorry.

yrs--
--Ben
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