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August 13, 2005


Shakes' post on female gamers has gotten much deserved attention, from men and women alike. Earlier today, she e-mailed to ask me why, saying that she knew the secretly violent femmes would respond, but not the stereotypically violent mens. I couldn't quite answer then, but I can now. And it was her other post, on Cindy Sheehan, that clarified it.

What struck me about her piece was her articulation of what's always attracted me to games; the desire to be a hero. If you read her blog, it's the same thing, there's a subtext that says one girl and her keyboard can change the country, one girl and her keyboard can light enough fires on enough mountains that, Lord of the Rings style, the other bloggers will see the flames and wave the torches in front of their audiences, the audiences will light flares before their politicians, the politicians will set fireworks in front of the media, and all of us will finally snap out of our stupor, strap on our swords, and march on her political Mordor. And, with the Downing Street Memos, it almost came true. Half a thousand blogs sparked tinder and demanded attention and, for a few days, Bush and Rove and all the rest were singed by a fire she helped light.

That is, to an extent, what the blogs are. They're attempts to be more than people with opinions. We call the right the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, but we're doing the same thing. They want to pretend they're fighting a war, we want to believe we're stopping one. In a Campbellian sense, the two are archetypically equivalent: we all want to be heroes. It informs our writing. Not every piece, certainly, but those few where righteousness flares up and our opinion becomes a call to action, one that rattles at the cage of our websites and spills out across the internet, sometimes into the media, sometimes into the political structure. It happens rarely, sure, but the promise of it is one reason so many do this, or at least why they start.

But read Shakes' post on Cindy Sheehan. This is no Leia, no Samus, no Buffy. This is a woman whose heroism is grief-fueled, whose strength comes from the visual of being humiliated, being hurt, being ignored. Her most powerful moment was when the President played the plutocrat and sped by her in his limousine. It could hardly have been more perfect had the heavens opened to wet the ground, letting the President's limo spray the grieving woman with mud.

We don't have heroes anymore, not strong ones. Not the ones that Shakes and I and so many of us pretended to be on Nintendo systems and Sega consoles. When Gary Hart asks where the leaders are, that's what he's scanning for. Larger-than-life figures whose voices rumble with the power to take down an Administration, whose fists strike tables and whose fury leaves Tim Russert, truth be told, a little scared, a little awed. None of this is to diminish Cindy Sheehan who is, without doubt, a compelling and courageous figure. But Cindy, archetypically, is the sort of truth-to-power everyman who the hero steps in to save. She's the brave reporter who the mob boss kidnaps, the fearless DA who gets a hit put out on her. She's the one whose plight makes Buffy or Batman dash in at the last moment. She's hero bait.

But we're overfished. As a culture, we seem to have left heroism, at least the traditional sort, behind. Not in every case, but consider it: Our Star Wars trilogy features the antihero, not the hero. Our comic books have descended into shades of gray, waves of complexity. We don't have heroes, we have tortured souls, traumatized crimefighters. We don't have Superman, we have Batman. Spiderman is quaint, it's Wolverine's day now. Zelda is for kids (most recently, Link was a kid), we play Grand Theft Auto.

What struck me about Shakespeare's Sister's post wasn't that she was a girl playing video games, but that she'd articulated what I miss in video games, what I miss in culture, what I miss in politics. I miss heroes, and the sort of society that wants to see them. I want an RFK* to stand up and fight injustice, I want Sin City and GTA to leave people upset, I want Link to grow up and do what Hyrule needs done. And I want those desires to sound, not childish, but natural. Because they are and they should be. The games that sell now let us be the villains, the Germans, the carjackers. And Cindy Sheehan lets us feel like the underdog, the oppressed, the downtrodden. But Shakes, and I, and I think many others here, want to be heroes, or at least stand with them. That's why we played video games as kids. That's why we play politics as adults. And that's why I loved her post.

* A tortured soul if there ever was one, but not publicly.

August 13, 2005 | Permalink


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» I NEED A HERO from The Heretik
SOME ASK “WHERE ARE THE HEROES?” The heroes and the heroines are all around us. If people cannot agree on who the courageous are, that means a battle remains to be won. In war, hero is a princely title awarded by the victors more often than the vanqu... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 14, 2005 3:41:14 PM


Every now and then the left blogosphere seems to find one of these people, causing an avalanche of ActBlue contributions and Kos diaries. You mentioned Dean in a recent post -- he's probably the ultimate example. I think people saw Obama this way for a while; Hackett was a recent, but smaller example; Clark and Feingold are regarded this way too in some quarters. There was a sense that these people embodied our hopes to change the contemporary political situation and might have the power to do so.

My favorite song to sing is "Oro se do bheatha bhaile", and when I sing it these days, I can't help but think of contemporary American politics. It expresses the hope that Gráinne Mhaol, an Irish pirate queen from Elizabethan times, will return with a huge host of warriors to drive the English from her homeland.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 13, 2005 9:09:05 PM

In the spirit of the above-invoked Joseph Campbell, the Jungian Collective Unconscious strikes again. There must be a Campbellian vibe in the air today....

Posted by: Michael Hawkins | Aug 13, 2005 9:12:41 PM

Neil -- I think that's right. It's just that we keep getting disappointed. Dean flamed out. Clark didn't live up to the hype. Obama, in political years, is pre-pubescent. Edwards barely took Cheney to a draw. Hackett lost the election. These guys aren't gone and their potential isn't dashed, but we've not yet found our leader.

Michael -- That's an awesome post. A few weeks ago, I picked up Hero With a Thousand Faces. Haven't started it yet, but now I definitely will.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | Aug 13, 2005 9:24:56 PM

Wow! What a post and what an imagination as well. Yes, Cindy has garnered the attention of the press and those who hate Bush are jumping for joy the same way the Muslims jump for joy when a bomb goes off in London.
However, Cindy has two stories. One she told earlier and one she told recently. Of course, the only one the left wishes to consider is the latter. Cindy has little credibility with the public. There is no huge outcry from those in Tennesee, Texas or even Nevada or Utah in support of Cindy. She is not changing the landscape in any way. Only those who already were hard left Bush haters rally. So what? And now it is learned that
those who know her best believe
"She now appears to be promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety at the expense of her son's good name and reputation."
Botttom line is I think the hard left is wishing upon hope that this will go somewhere when the public is really not behind Cindy at all.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 13, 2005 9:56:56 PM

We call the right the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, but we're doing the same thing. They want to pretend they're fighting a war, we want to believe we're stopping one

I know I'm nitpicking on an otherwise good post, but is this actually true? Are a lot of lefty bloggers under the illusion that they/we are having any real, measurable influence on ending the war?

The war is going to run its course, regardless. I thought we were more concerned with helping to make sure that those who are responsible are held accountable.

Posted by: PapaJIjo | Aug 13, 2005 10:45:02 PM

To follow up on PapaJIjo’s point, I don’t really want to stop this war so much as I want it to be fought sanely, with an eye towards ultimate victory. What I see in Bush is the exact opposite...

Posted by: Andrew Cory | Aug 13, 2005 11:01:08 PM

Yeah, I rarely have the illusion that I'm stopping a war. Most likely, troops are going to stay there as long as Bush wants them to, and he's not the type to change his mind. Mostly, I see myself as someone who's trying to point out various facts about a complex and important situation in the world. Reversing the Democrats' national security gap and wrecking GOP credibility on foreign policy by making people aware of Bush's utter incompetence also gives some spice to things.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 13, 2005 11:18:02 PM

I do not think I am stopping a war.

i am trying to change opinion and hopefully that will stop the war.I am also trying to keep perfidy in the news, given that the MSM isn't interested in keeping corruption in the light of day

then again, I did not call for one.

I firmly believe that of you are of fighting age, you should not have the right to call for a war unless you are willing to fight in it.

I think that any war hawk should be fair game for mantadorty military service.

in the cases where we all agree to go to war, this won't be a problem.

Posted by: Maccabee | Aug 14, 2005 12:56:10 AM

You geeks need to look to the world of sports, no, not the steroid fueled wife beating sports folks, but the guys like Tom Brady, and Derek Jeter, guys that lead by example, guys that go that extra mile when the game is on the line, guys that just step up and say "fuck yeah!" I'm going to lead this fight, and then they do it and win.

What we have on the left are a bunch of passive aggressive people willing to point out the faults of the current crop of faux heroes, what we don't have are coaches and players willing to put the time and effort into a game plan to win the game.

As much as I despise the right wingers, they have coaches(Norquist, Rove), and they have players(Bush, Cheney) and the coaches came up with the game plan(Tax cuts, war with Iraq and so on) and the players have executed the game plan, they've made their mistakes but they are still winning the game, hell, the coaches thought that they could get away with a Hail Mary(SS reform), but they failed, but why not try it,they were coming off a big win in the 04 election. The ground game for the republicans is still strong, they have been passing plenty of bills that they want into law(Bush still hasn't used his veto power yet), we are losing the game, and till we can get some coaches on our side to draw up a winning game plan the opportunity for the players to be heroes is just not there.

I should note that I played football at Syracuse, and was never into gaming so I tend to look at things through the eye of sports.

Posted by: jbou | Aug 14, 2005 1:15:54 AM

Hey Michael, I like "Rubin & Ed" as well. And I also found the Campbell reference apt, as I just posted the text of Campbell's essay "The Impact of Science on Myth".

RE: the whole hero thing, it reminded me of an old post by Chris Andersen, comparing the Clark & Dean campaigns. Chris realized that Dean as a candidate had certain flaws, yet still stuck with the Dean campaign because he thought that the Clark people somehow expected Clark's sheer perfection as a candidate to bail them out. While the Dean people knew that Dean was no White Knight, and they couldn't expect Dean to save them; they would have to save themselves.

Not sure politics is the right place to look for heroes, exactly, though it is the right place to look for people of integrity doing their duty and serving a cause larger than self-interest. It seems that the decline of heroism, or perhaps integrity is a better word, in politics might be the pervasive feeling that it is necessary for liberals to lie to the American people in order to get themselves elected. For example, I bet most liberals believe that gays and lesbians should have the right to get married, and I bet that most liberals believe in increased foreign aid. But many liberals feel that if they were to "admit" these facts to the American people, it would be curtains for the Democratic party.

A few months ago, the LA Times had a story (no longer available) which had this quote:

". . .The clinic's hygienists are starting to call other patients who have been waiting for dentures, to break the news. Their list runs seven pages long. `It breaks your heart,' Redman said, in tears. `They've been waiting so long to get teeth.'"

What do Democrats have to say to those Missouri Medicaid patients who are waiting for new teeth?

Likewise, in the opening chapter of his book, "The End of Poverty", Jeffrey Sachs tells of going to a hospital in Malawi where 450 people with AIDS lie crowded in a 150-bed ward, dying for want of anti-HIV drugs which, in their generic form, cost a dollar per person per day. What do Democrats have to say to the people of Malawi?

Now it may be true that foreign aid is politically out of bounds, though I've seen no real evidence of that. But even if that's the case, it should still be possible for Democrats & liberal/progressive organizations, through private contributions & grassroots action, to offer hope & help for people who are hurting.

That's why I think liberals need to establish two different but complementary strategies: a pragmatic, outside-in strategy, focused on winning elections even at the temporary cost of principles, and an idealistic, inside-out strategy, focused on solving problems & helping people, whether in or out of power.

Somehow, liberals need to find a way out of the trap of "we can't help people unless we win, and we'll never win if we admit that we have all these expensive do-gooder plans to help people"

But I wouldn't call that sort of progressive collective action heroism. Just chipping in a bit and being apart of something larger than self-interest. Two people who are heroes to me are Marla Ruzicka and Paul R. Smith. I'm not sure why you said the culture is turning away from heroes. It seems to me that we're surrounded by 'em. Seriously, can't bung a brick without hitting a hero;)

And it goes without saying, but perhaps is worth saying anyway, that you can't expect moral merit for the opinions you hold, as opposed to the values you live by.

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Aug 14, 2005 4:28:16 AM

Somehow, liberals need to find a way out of the trap of "we can't help people unless we win, and we'll never win if we admit that we have all these expensive do-gooder plans to help people"

Good call roublen.
I think it goes to the deep underlying philosophy of collectivism that the Democrats hold so dear. They cannot fathom doing these "do-gooder" plans on their own without the federal government and look to government as the shining path. Another theory is that the reason Democrats don't do this is helping people is secondary to holding power.
In any case, an interesting observation.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 14, 2005 8:43:19 AM

ezra's steppin to David Bowie nowadays?

Posted by: almostinfamous | Aug 14, 2005 9:22:01 AM

You geeks need to look to the world of sports, no, not the steroid fueled wife beating sports folks, but the guys like Tom Brady, and Derek Jeter, guys that lead by example, guys that go that extra mile when the game is on the line, guys that just step up and say "fuck yeah!" I'm going to lead this fight, and then they do it and win.

Funny thing about a game of football(or whatever)- there's always a winner, and always a loser. To think that the captain of the loosing team isn't in the locker room before the game saying the same thing as the captain of the winning team is silly. And, in the arena of world politics, there is the other option: Loose/Loose. This time around, I think that the whole world looses, no matter what happens over there in Iraq and Afganistan.

This is the biggest problem with our politicians, these days. Because most of them are chickenhawks, and they DO look at the "war on terror" as a big game!(also the "war on drugs" and the "war on crime") One that they think can actually be WON by armies. They have NO respect for our soldiers, and they have even less for the innocent Iraqui citizens that they have sentenced to hell on earth.

The reality is that the british have gotten alot more done, in less than a month, with their recent bombings (they've actually found and arrested the perps), when they treated it as an unlawful act that was covered by the laws of the land.

What we had on 9/11 was an unlawful act that was covered under international law. It would have been alot cheaper to have treated it as what it was. Why wasn't interpol called in? The superpatriots in power don't want any fancy-pants europeans' help. The superpatriots in power don't want to find the perps, they let bin laudin get away! They've made a cesspool in Iraq, and Afganistan. They are sparking an international religious war. They are morons.

Instead of stimulating our economy by pouring all that money into new energy solutions, and leading the world into the post oil economy, they are chasing the dregs of a dying industry - and one that is super polluting and better gone anyway.

So, welcome to the new century: US is fast becoming a third world country, and it's our own fault for listening to "Mr intelligent design".

Posted by: SB_Gypsy | Aug 14, 2005 9:45:06 AM

Great comment, roublen. I need to hang out here way, way more often....

And Rubin and Ed is one of my alltime favorite movies. That damned frozen cat cadaver -- what's the archetypal meaning there? Perhaps I'll write a post over at my place on it one day....

Posted by: Michael Hawkins | Aug 14, 2005 11:49:13 AM

US is fast becoming a third world country, and it's our own fault for listening to "Mr intelligent design".

i'd say the US is becoming more like a Banana Republic. that's what you get for letting CIA hawks and neocons run domestic policy like they ran foreign policy in the big bad 80s.

Posted by: almostinfamous | Aug 14, 2005 12:11:43 PM

Yeah, I'm not looking forward to the upcoming Argentina-style meltdown.

Posted by: Kimmitt | Aug 14, 2005 2:38:36 PM

However, Cindy has two stories. One she told earlier and one she told recently.

Give it up Fred, Bush had two stories about "nation building" You know he was against it before he was for it. Since you obviously don't care about this flip-flop I find it hard to believe that you really care about Cindy's "conflicting" stories.

Posted by: Fledermaus | Aug 14, 2005 8:59:08 PM

Hey, I thought we were talking about Cindy Sheehan.
She does, indeed, have two stories and she has already met with Bush.

Facts is facts.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 15, 2005 12:26:00 PM

Cindy doesn't just have 2 stories. She has thousands.

She's got stories about first steps and stories about little league and she's got stories about picking out a suit for prom.

And she's got every right as a mother to demand answers from the politician who sent her child off to his death. Furthermore, she's got a more fundamental right as a citizen to challenge the President, to peaceably assemble and demand redress of her grievances.

Democracy 101 here, but soldiers don't get to choose why and where they fight. That's up to us. The citizens. The soldiers didn't choose this war--we did. If we were lied to, then we deserve the truth. Because it's their blood on all our hands.

So stop trying to slime and silence Cindy Sheehan becase you're afraid of what you might learn. Take some responsibility for the consequences of your decisions. The woman has every right to say her piece. She has every right to demand to know the facts, to know exactly what cause her son died for and WHY this President sent him to his death. If you believe that the President told the truth, you have nothing to fear from Cindy Sheehan. Of course, if he wasn't telling the truth...

Facts is facts.

Posted by: theorajones | Aug 15, 2005 4:20:22 PM

The woman has every right to say her piece.

Sure she does....and so do I. However, it seems that only *YOU* are calling for suppression.

Now, Cindy has decided that she can set policy for Israel as well by callling for them to pull out of "Palistine". What an idiot....a *useful* idiot.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 16, 2005 10:52:59 AM

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