Bill Maher might upset or delight you, but I’d like to use a distinction he made concerning a cultural divide in North America that I feel is bang on.
Granted, there is profanity and he doesn’t lean to the left (rather runs past the left and into new, liberal territories) and he stands against his country’s current President. He might, therefore, upset; let me than summarize his argument.
There are two types of camps when viewing culture: those who thought the 1950’s were cool and those that thought the 1960’s were necessary.
The 1950’s people viewed America as stable, everything worked, everyone was in their right place, no one was on depression medication, a man and a woman could make a family, if you worked hard and did your part the system worked, church was important because it provided the control a central story, and things would get better and better. The 1950’s was about status quo.
On the B side, the 1960’s people saw a need for change with a deep belief that not everyone was included. This is the age of Free Love, Martin Luther King Jr., and ERA. It is a re-examination of how systems, language, religion, and art sought to exploit the majority and elevate an established minority. The 1960’s was about upheaval.
Scattered through Canada and the US is a line:
do you think the 1950’s was the height of America’s problems and the 1960’s the solution to that problem
was the 1950’s the height of North America being the best and the 1960’s is when everything good came crashing down?
Which brings us to the stories we tell and watch and write and read: who are our baddies, the ones who need to be stopped.
For those who love the 1950’s, they read Harry Potterand find comfort: here’s a poor boy, through hard work and determination, fights against such Death Eaters as Political Correctness, liberal bullies, and elitism. And for those who love the 1960’s, Harry Potter is the one who befriends Mudbloods, questions crooked authorities, and raises his wand in protest when injustice takes place.
For those who love the 1950’s, Star Wars is about rebels trying to bring back the Old Republic and democracy. For those who love the 1960’s, it’s about fighting against the old, established Empire who seems to ONLY hire humans.
For those who love the 1950’s, Lord of the Rings is the last stand against the encroaching evil who seeks to do away with their culture and religion and morality. For those who love the 1960’s, Orcs are the machine heads who seeks to exploit the environment and all of the people who do not fit the monolithic standard of Sauron.
Trump or Hillaryis Voledmort. Or Palpatine. Or Sauron.
In these stories, evil is very Evil. I mean, Orcs are pretty much are monsters.
If you are an Imperial Officer in Star Wars, you have to surrender yourself to living in monochromatic colors, black metal, and only hues of gray. As an officer, one couldn’t wonder if one of them asked, “Are we on the wrong side of history? I mean, everything about us- from fashion to interior design- it’s just really, really evil looking.”
Or Death Eaters. None of them ever looked neutral. In the Battle of Hogwarts, I would have liked to see one of them wear a light blue or orange hood…just by mistake, not getting the e-mail that everyone was to wear solid black while destroying a school for children.
This is why Snape is always being fingered as evil no matter how innocent he might be. You’d think Dumbledore would pull him aside and encourage, “Just add some color. A splash of red or purple. You’d be surprised how this could cut down on all of the kids convinced you’re a servant of absolute darkness.”
My point is that evil is in primary colors; good is equally obvious. Just by looking at someone, you can tell which camp they belong to. This, of course, spill over into the lines drawn by culture between the lovers of the 1950’s or the 1960’s.
An example of this can be found on the Christian satire website Babylon Bee. At first, I didn’t get the humor it didn’t seem all that Christian. I then realized that it is not a Christian satire about politics, but a political view about the Christian church (Republican)….then things made more sense.
Here is an example of what of this kind of thinking:
Us Vs. them. And before those who are pro-1960’s are absolved from this kind of thinking, the Babylon Bee was shaped by The Onion only with a more Humanist, Liberal perspective.
And if you’re that rare group of people who have been labelled Generation X, you might want to escape this binary polarization by simply stating, “Well, I don’t like either the 1950’s or the 1960’s.” If so, please round up and pick a side: North America has suddenly turned binary unless one actively fights against such a tide.
Right now, there is an impulse to see the world of your friends against all of the Death Eaters. It effects our posture, our language, and our engagement.
The Bad Word Test
Let’s pretend there’s someone in your church or on your block or in your coffee group or will be attending a Christmas meal with you and they, you know, will say a malediction.
Depending on if you’re a 1950’s person or a 1960’s person, there are bad words. Let’s say your friend uses the bad word(s): “White Male”, “Patriarchy”, “Equal Opportunity”, “New Canadian (American)”, “Alternative Lifestyle”, “Victims of the Immigration System”, “Black Lives Matter”, and so forth. The other side has a list as well: Any ethnic slur, anything seen as exploitative, any phrase that reinforces patriarchy or class distinction or gender inequality or stereotypes or any other harm.
Let’s pretend this word or words are used right in front of you. What do you do?
As a Christian minister, we have our “go to” speech: “I would correct them firmly, but with love. I would let them know they are wrong in their word choice and offer them examples of a better way to speak. My tone would be kind, warm, and positive.”
Yet if you think you’re talking to a Death Eater, this process can get derailed. You might believe you’re coming across as Dumbledore, but you’ll have the vibe of an altogether different character in Harry Potter.
This is Dolores Umbridge. Horror writer Stephen King claimed she was the greatest monster in recent fiction. Here’s his quote:
“This one’s a slam dunk. A great fantasy novel can’t exist without a great villain, and while You-Know-Who (sure we do: Lord Voldemort) is a little too far out in the supernatural ozone to qualify, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts does just fine in this regard. The gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter. One needn’t be a child to remember The Really Scary Teacher, the one who terrified us so badly that we dreaded the walk to school in the morning, and we turn the pages partly in fervent hopes that she will get her comeuppance…but also in growing fear of what she will get up to next. For surely a teacher capable of banning Harry Potter from playing Quidditch is capable of anything.”
For Umbridge, she was right and everyone else at Hogwarts was wrong. She was sent to improve things, get the school back on track. She corrected while smiling, mostly. Appearing to be sweet and kind, she is such a searing source of condescension…which makes her all the more evil.
Why? Because deep down in her heart, she believes the students and faculty are the baddies and she is the last, good, righteous one who has been sent to fix everyone.
This is the problem with living as a member of the Rebellion, the Fellowship of the Ring, and/or the Order of the Phoenix- no matter how nice you come across, the people disagree with you who live with will be seen as the problem.
The People of the 1950’s and the 1960’s both believe they are on the side of Democracy, however whenever you see an opposition to your ideals as a problem, a barrier, and a threat then you no longer function as a defender of Democracy.
Simply put, Hogwarts was not defended by a vote and the Empire was not taken down by filling out ballots. One cannot see others as the problem to the world AND allow them to be part of a Democracy.
“Okay, You’re Now My New Best Friends”
I love Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and, sometimes, Star Wars. The power of these stories is that they give us so many tangible metaphors for redemption. And we will, for a long time, use these stories to navigate our sense of morals.
However, might I propose a newer metaphor during our current, political climate:
Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who.
This is the first time in the 50+ years of this show when the main character, a Time Lord of many different lives and bodies, have turned into a woman. There has been a storm over Jodie Whitaker taking the role, labelling it as a “PC genderfication reboot”.
Although I do think Science Fiction is getting a little crazy with the rebooting of the past, tried, and true franchises, I don’t think you can apply this to Doctor Who. The show has always been about change, about doing something new: you cannot reboot something that is intrinsically dynamic.
I wasn’t sure I’d like Whitaker as the new Doctor, until there was a moment she owned the part. For me, it was during an advertisement before the premiere aired: it was her, looking at a group of strangers, and asking, “Okay, right now: can we be our new best friends?”
That worked for me. Perhaps because I’m a longtime and that my inner 10-year-old desperately wants to be the Doctor’s best friend. Primarily, though, it establishes the heroic quality of Whitaker’s Doctor: she introduces herself by friendship.
Yes, there are still baddies in the Universe. During the premiere of the new season, we meet one but what is different to the “Us/them” is that the Doctor, on several occasions, invites the baddy to stop their plans, to turn away, and to quit the harm the creature is inflicting. Of course, the villain doesn’t listen but undoes himself in the end by his own devices and by one of his would-be victims.
She is an alien, a part from the places she visits eternal “us/them”. She does take sides, but not until she first considers the issues and the morality of each new place. There is always an offer for friendship, but it must be on the terms of changing for the good and not the binary “you aren’t an enemy”.
It’s a classic Who image: the outsider who steps in the middle of two sides, defining the good that is absent from the cycles that perpetuate the conflict.
She is inclusive while maintaining a sense of good triumphing over evil. Her inclusion is not at the expense of morality, rather it is its engine.
At least, that’s as far as we can see from the pilot. However, if there’s more of this kind of message it’s why, perhaps in today’s climate, she is needed most: a figure who is able to enter as an outsider to all of our embroiled fights.
For those who are stuck in the 1950’s or the 1960’s, our new heroine is a time traveler. Correction: a time and space traveler. Someone who can investigate where is the good and rid the world of exploitation.
Now, did the other stories miss the boat on being inclusive? No. It’s there at Hogwarts and Middle Earth and the rest: but the Doctor goes out of her way to have this in her story.
I propose that this might be the new model- Whitaker’s Doctor- as we configure what our worlds and lands need. And perhaps, if we’re lucky, this new Doctor might visit Middle Earth, Hogwarts, and the Star Wars Universe.
If not, we can only imagine.
Are we still talking about her?