I have a particular inspiration for today’s post, namely, the lovely images commissioned from Mr. Leo Black, which have been added to the gallery. They are another artist’s representation of the grisly trio of schemers from Feast of Fates: Gloriatrix, Sorren and the Broker. I really like these pieces, as much as I enjoy Mr. Garabrant’s take on the villains. Now in both sets of works, the villains come across as suitably imposing and gruesome. That’s the intended effect. Beyond simply projecting evil, however, if we look a little deeper into what emotions each artist imbued into their art, we can see a clear expression of personality in each picture. In Gloriatrix: austerity and self-control. In Sorren: a mad scientist’s twisted thirst for knowledge that supersedes morality. In the Broker: a desire to wallow in dark places and torment—possibly from self-loathing, since he is so physically monstrous. Dig deeper on any half decent villain and there should be layers, just as rich and interesting as those of any protagonist. Every person, no matter how abhorrent on the surface, has layers; sadness, joy, and aspects to pity or respect. In the end, they should be human. As a writer, I try to record as many layers of that personality-strata and entombed humanity as I can. It is important to tell the whole tale.
Anyway, after looking at these images, it prompted me to think about the monsters in our world. We have them, all around us, lurking, hunting. People who prey on weakness, who prey on our society through terror, murder, abuse or hate. Most recently, it has been quite easy to spot the villains: ISIS/ ISIL, Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi. Prime time news really has its pick of the litter with what inflammatory “new facts” to run for the day. In one way, it’s great that issues of extremism, sexual abuse, and pretty much any act of criminality is immediately broadcasted via Twitter, Instagram and very shortly thereafter on the 24 hour news channels. I take issue, however, with what is often the tone and intent of the message: to shock and appal. The ‘layers’ to the villains, their stories, and most importantly the stories of their survivors are missing. Generally speaking, broadcasters are terrible story-tellers. They’re the R.L. Stine of narrators. You get the barest bones, the most salacious, campy and horrifying bits, and the rest is tossed into the bin. Rather than rhyming off a laundry list of charges, and recoiling over each new horror that the accused has committed, show me the reasons for this behavior. Will it be unpleasant? To see the man behind the monster? To realize that nearly anyone can submit to darkness and depravity with the right environmental and social stimuli? Of course. We generally prefer voyeurism to introspection. Introspection is hard work. For myself, I want to understand why this human, who was once generally innocent and free of sin, decided—and it is often a decision/ series of decisions—to prey on their fellow man. Though we should not dwell in the land of monsters for too long, lest we become one ourselves. So beyond that, show me the survivors. And not in that deplorable weepy, broken way that broadcasters love to capture these folk. Show me the survivors being strong, being inspirational, being functional. Yes, I’m sure that even the bravest survivor of trauma might have moments where they crack and sob. But we’ve seen plenty of that. We as a society are glutted on the misery and misfortune of others. Change the diet, change the message.
If you want to divest something of power, you first need to strip away the fear of examining it. Fear is power. Fear empowers something—a man, a concept, an army—to be greater than what it is. We cannot defeat the boogeyman if we are afraid to look under the bed. We cannot change social, sexual or criminal injustice until we are willing to openly, intelligently discuss these problems at the dinner table. I utterly detest (and yes, that’s a very strong word) the power of the mainstream media and how often it is misused for political, religious and marketing messaging. Some of the best stories that you’ll find are on the web, where they have not been run through various “appropriateness filters”, boards of gizzard-necked executives, or committees for Neilson rankings and engagement potential. What the shit does any of that have to do with telling a story? Nothing. The story isn’t always pretty, the truth is usually quite ugly. Tell that ugly truth, and let people surprise you with how well they can deal with the consequences. Instead, we predominantly stare into our feeding-screens and are given a steady diet of fear and delusion that keeps us in an infantile, pliable and constantly agitated state. Now we have exceptions in the media and in the messages conveyed, and we have at last reached a tipping point where no topic seems to be off bounds, even if said discussions still cause great discomfort in much of the population. Too bad. We’ve maintained this queer sense of propriety while horrible things are happening, and ignored, all around us for centuries. Times are changing and I welcome the new wave of whistle-blowers and folk stepping from the shadows to speak up.
Take away her mortal sway, her iron crown and her obscene wealth, and Gloratrix is nothing more than a traumatized, abused woman, a disenfranchised sibling, and mother who has lost her children. Everything she does is born out of loneliness and despair. We could understand that dear Gloria, possibly even empathize with and heal her of her spiritual illness. Nonetheless, if she proved irredeemable, or beyond reform—because let’s face it, not all evils are equal or redeemable—then we could at least figure out how not to create more monsters like her in the future. But first we need to confront her.
On second thought, let’s leave the Iron Queen to Morigan and deal with our own monsters for now.