I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly. Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.” You can read previous entries in this series, which discuss the Scientist, Bad Boy, and Alpha Male stereotypes.
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We all love stories about underdogs. We like hearing tales of right and justice and the forces of good beating evil and injustice, no matter what the odds are against them. We like stories about lone wolves who find out the truth about “the system” and fight against it. We love our Rebel Alliances, our Neos, our Team Avatars. We enjoy following the stories of characters who are outgunned but still pull through with cunning, bravery, and a hefty dose of luck. We admire the vigilante characters like Batman, Zorro, and V who uncover the truth or see injustice run rampant and refuse to follow protocol in order to do what is right. We’ve all read those stories, seen those movies and TV shows, played as those video game characters. The fact that we can be outmatched and still come out on top is a heady, even addictive, feeling.
Whenever I get into a fictional universe, be it books, movies, TV shows, or video games, I dig deep. Those characters with shady or mysterious pasts are the most intriguing; we want to know how they became the person we know now. If you’ve read (and enjoyed) The Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon, you probably want to know Achmed’s full backstory more than anything else. We get tantalizing hints, but no more. Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion explores the history of the elves and Middle-Earth in almost excruciating detail. People clamored so much for more stories about Drizzt Do’Urden that R.A. Salvatore gave them the drow ranger’s backstory in the form of The Dark Elf Trilogy. Amazing RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age cover the history of their worlds, the aspects of the places explored there, and the characters you encounter. And isn’t that what a lot of modern RPGs are all about? Exploration? How was this world created? What happened before the story that we see? A good origin story is a fascinating and rewarding journey.
Of course, the key word here is “good.” Not knowing parts of a universe’s history or the origins of a character leads to all kinds of juicy speculation, head canon, and fan fiction. Sometimes the creators even deign to answer those burning questions for us. That’s fine and dandy, but there is a dark side to it. No matter how much I may want to know, “What happened?!” a part of me is always a bit wary when official works drop in to fill the gaps.
I’ll admit that I haven’t actually read the book this time. (But I do own a copy.) I did watch National Geographic’s video version that has the author, Jared Diamond, as its host covering the same material that was in the book…so I think that counts. The book, and movie, is entitled Guns, Germs, & Steel: The Fates of Human Societiesand takes an in-depth look at why there are haves and have-nots in the world. Why did European societies rise to such great technological heights while African societies, for the most part, remain under-privileged? It is not because one race is inherently superior to another…every derivation of human has its share of the talented and the talent-less, the smart and the stupid, the weak and the strong…so what caused some societies to develop rapidly while others did not? As a writer, this is a fascinating and complex question to be answered and does a lot to advance one’s world-building.