Monthly Archives: January 2012
Part 1 (of 2)
“Hi, my name’s Gary. Look, I was just an ordinary Joe Schmoe working as a wage-slave, just like you. My wife Mary-Sue and I never went out, I drove a ten year-old shit-mobile and my kids dressed in hand-me-downs. And I worked damned hard, I can tell you, until the day I got fired. Looking back, it was the best thing my boss ever did for me; although at the time I didn’t think so. Because back then I hadn’t even heard of the amazing ACME SYSTEM. Today I’m my own boss, I usually work less than an hour a day, and I make over $100 000 a year. Now, I can tell you’re skeptical, just like I would be in your shoes…”
And so it begins. That paragraph, or something like it, is the entry point to an entirely ignored subset of fantasy literature. Unlike the stuff with dwarves and dragons in, dream-lit rakes in the cash. And (the best bit) it’s all done through self-publishing! People at the top of the tree in this particular genre do make a lot of money. And you don’t have to be Shakespeare to do it, either. Like all fantasy subgenres, the Literature of Dreams has a very specific audience. It is by tapping in to what that audience wants and expects that you make your money. A certain type of reader would want to read on, would want to partake in the dream being sold. So, where’s Gary going with this?
“… And before I heard of the ACME SYSTEM I would have been the world’s greatest skeptic, in fact I still am. A man with my kind of wealth gets all kinds of proposals to invest their money by all kinds of folks. Believe me, I can tell a get-rich-quick fraudster, a pyramid selling scam and a Ponzi scheme within seconds. And the ACME SYSTEM would be just the same to me – if it wasn’t for one thing: IT WORKS!!!!”
Now, Gary’s audience don’t usually consider themselves fantasy readers. Although, in reality, these are people who have swallowed a whopping one hook, line and sinker. The fantasy they cling onto is that they can find fabulous riches by buying something or doing what they’re told; that there is a system out there for acquiring vast sums of money with little effort (in fact there is, it’s called Free Market Economics and it ensures that the people with vast amounts of unearned/stolen wealth get to keep it). So, after a few paragraphs like the one above, they might be willing to take a punt on the ACME SYSTEM. Look at the paragraph above and you’ll see that it’s doing two things. First, it reassures the reader that the system isn’t a con. Second, it shows the benefits of the system to its user (he is wealthy, people are trying to scam him). Time for a bit of back-story, get some tension into the narrative.
“I learned the hard way that real wealth don’t come from work and dedication. I used to work in a tool-shop making drill-bits. I did as much overtime as I could get my hands on and I still couldn’t make the bills at the end of the month. One day the boss came over. I had finished for the day and was cleaning up the machine. It wasn’t my job to do it, but I like to keep things clean and orderly to help out the night-shift guys. I guess that’s the kind of guy I am. The boss came up to me and called me into his office.
“How long have you worked for us Gary?”
The question surprised me, “Eleven years,” I said.
The boss sat back and laughed at me, the son of a bitch. “Eleven years working the machines! How can you stand it?”
And I couldn’t. That was the truth of it, Right there and then I quit. As I walked out I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders. But almost immediately, another thought entered my head. What was I going to tell Mary-Sue? And more importantly, how were we going to live without my salary?”
So that’s Gary goose cooked: poor, jobless, down in the dumps. How does he get out of that? Read on, dear readers, read on, for Gary finds his Aladdin’s lamp in the next post in this exciting series: The Literature of Dreams!
As a treat for you in a new year, let me put forward a humble suggestion for a fresh neologism to add to the pile. Relax, it isn’t anything vile like the substitution of ‘yum’ with ‘nom’ or similar outrages, it is meant as a way to help you through arguments, flame-wars, political debates and religious conflict. Won’t that be useful? The term, as you’ve probably guessed, is Competitive Umbrage (CU).
CU refers to the practice of manufacturing victimhood. This is done most commonly by groups who wish to gain social cachet or importance by giving the impression that they are hard done by and receive unfair treatment and/or criticism from society at large. For example: religion A wants to give the impression that it is getting a rough deal, particularly in relation with the treatment of religion B. Proponents of A will therefore look for any instances of unfavourable treatment to themselves and positive stories about that pesky B religion as ‘evidence’ for their griping.
So, a Christian finds out their local council is letting the local Hindus organise a celebration for the Diwali festival, in fact they might even make a contribution towards such a festivity. CU thus kicks in: ‘why are they allowed to celebrate when we are not?’, says the shit-stirring Christian, ‘why is the council spending MILLIONS on Diwali lights and NOTHING on Christmas lights?’ etc. You get the picture. None of the questions posed have to have a factual basis, CU can operate quite independently of facts. The trick is to make the accusations time and time again, a constant drip of propaganda snippets to give the more gullible the impression that your particular group is under attack. Over time, it is a very effective technique.
CU is therefore a powerful tool in creating divisions between people and communities, fostering distrust and souring relations between people who hold different views. Atheists are offended when Cee-Lo reinterprets a song by John Lennon, Euro-skeptics roar that attempts by the German government to shore up the Euro is the harbinger of a Nazi fourth Reich, Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed are interpreted by a number of troublemakers as ‘evidence’ that the West hates Islam. I could go on, but I think you see what I mean.
This creation of victimhood is a great way to exploit people, to get them to focus on external enemies and maintain loyalty within members of the group. It is easy then to manufacture a narrative that paints your particular tribe as plucky underdogs struggling against injustice; if your football team have a player sent off, it’s a conspiracy by referees and FIFA, if you get fined for speeding, its because the government hates motorists, if Science Fiction and Fantasy novels never make it onto the Booker longlist… (actually, that last one may be true!).
One of the worse things that happens when Competitive Umbrage takes hold is that perspective is lost. Yes, many people in this world suffer unfair and discriminatory treatment: the poor, many ethnic minorities, people under dictatorships, women in many societies around the world. So be careful when making comparisons of your own circumstances with groups that have a genuine case. We at Floppybootstomp chalets may moan about a lot of things, particularly our government, economic system, the lousy thieving bankers, etc, but are aware that we’re not facing the Apartheid regime or Syrian tanks. Our problems, thankfully, remain far more mundane and unremarkable.
So that’s Competitive Umbrage, another entry for your thesaurus. Part of me hopes that the term takes off, a saner part that it disappears altogether so that people who compare their own petty problems and insecurities to the horrors of Nazi Germany will someday grow a cerebral cortex and a sense of shame.
Happy New Year.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 26,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.