This week, it may feel silly, or trivial, or what have you, to focus on fiction. The U.S. has elected Donald Trump as our next president, proving a whole multitude of American stereotypes correct. Bigots countrywide now know that the new establishment stands with them. People living in fear, too, because of the color of their skin, the nature of their religion, their relationships to others, and the relative strength or ability of their bodies.
In the face of all this, it does seem trivial to focus on people and things that don’t exist.
But I want to remind everyone that stories are our birthright as human beings. Stories tell us who we are, more than any president, any fascist zeitgeist that can come together because people are afraid.
A story got Trump elected. He and his media allies spun a story for their base that aligned with that base’s existing prejudices. Trump’s story won the election, and we all will have to live in the face of that. The story of bigotry couched in terms of ‘I will save you from the Other’ and ‘I will bring back your job’ and ‘Politics is rigged and only I can change that.’
And if a story elected Trump, then I submit that stories will help us survive him.
Stories, like I said, identify us to ourselves. Stories teach us how to be human. I can name the stories that shaped my moral character, and beyond that, I can tell you exactly what each story gave me.
From the Lord of the Rings, I learned that the most important thing’s to keep fighting when all hope feels lost. Sam Gamgee taught me:
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was, when so much bad had happened?
“But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shiness it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.
“But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
“What have we got to hold on to, Sam?”
“That there’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Also from Tolkien, The Hobbit taught me that “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Star Trek taught me that progressivity is the responsibility of storytellers as much as anyone else, in any time period.
The X-Men taught me that I “shouldn’t have to” be the same as everyone else to be valid. To be heroic. The X-Men also taught me that I can feel anger at injustice, and that that anger doesn’t make me a bad person.
And the X-Men taught me something else, too: the power of seeing yourself reflected in a story. Mystique never got to be bisexual on screen. But I knew she was, and I saw myself in her, and that mattered. I saw myself reflected to clearly in Bobby Drake that it scared me to watch his ‘coming out scene’ in X2: X-Men United.
I learned there that if they can mean that much to me, then they and other characters can mean just as much to everyone else. In that fandom, I discovered my life’s work: showing people that they deserve to see themselves as heroes. That they don’t have to be monsters, or jokes, or tragedies.
Most recently, I learned from various Superman properties something best described in this line from the end of Batman v Superman:
“Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another. But we can rebuild. We can do better. We will. We have to.”
In moments like this, it can be hard to see the world through these lenses: these ideas that overall, humanity is good. That we can save ourselves. That holding these ideals and acting on them can and will save us.
And that’s why we need stories. We need the reminder than we can stay the course, and that we can win.
Storytellers will keep our fires burning. They will give us warmth and safety and home, when we need it, for just a moment. They will remind us that the world can, will, and must change.
Do not be ashamed if you need stories to make it through today, this week, this month, this presidency.
And do not be ashamed if telling stories is your contribution to the world.
We all must do what we do best.
That‘s how we save ourselves, and save the world.
As Edward R. Murrow would say:
Good night, and good luck.