Thursday, 1 October 2015

Thoughts on "Good and Evil" in Stories

I've been thinking about this a lot. By that I mean what it is that I like so much about stories. This wasn't spurred by anything all that new in my life, except some comments I had read on other blogs and my last trip to a book store. Both were a fair bit depressing.

Whatever you like is what you like, so I can't argue about taste. But I can't personally stomach stories where nothing happens except the protagonist living a horribly mundane life where every group in the world is evil and everyone should look out for themselves by following the same empty set of beliefs that change nothing about what the core problem is. All modern "literature" is much the same as this except sometimes its a specific political party that will save everyone. Good luck with that.

The bookstore I last walked around in had almost no one there at peak hours. The people I saw were either buying non-fiction, modern thrillers, or classic books. The shelf after shelf of modern nihilism were still as full as the last time I was there and will probably be there until the store eventually closes. That problem probably won't ever change. If you want to know why a lot of people don't read anymore, I would say that because that formula that has been fairly unchanged since Holden Caufield wasted everyone's time with half-baked philosophy and no plot has been emptied for all its worth.

No one wants to read that stuff anymore, if they ever did in the first place.

But what sells? What are the people who haven't been chased out of reading by bad Shakespeare scholarship and soul-draining book assignments in High School reading classes? Surely, they have to be buying something despite the imminent collapse of the publishing industry and bookstore chains.

Right, I already said it.

Non-fiction, modern thrillers, and classics.

Non-fiction is easy. People want truth. Non-fiction is supposed to be nothing but truths. It isn't always, of course, but that's what it is supposed to be. But simply that they're being purchased it means, despite how much falsehood might be in the book, they are at least willing to search. You won't find a lot of that in modern literature.

Modern thrillers and their absurd popularity is the most obvious of the three. Read a Bourne novel, or a Dean Koontz. What are they about? A good guy fighting bad guys. It isn't baffling why these sell. It is baffling as to why "literary" types look down on stories with actual worth to them. People buy what they want.

The last one might be controversial, depending on your definition, but "Classics" is a lot more straightforward than college-lit types will have you believe. People do not buy Ulysses no matter how much they are told it is great. They buy The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, The Odyssey, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, The Stand, Dune, and Lord of the Rings. What do all eight of those have in common that Ulysses doesn't have? A story people want to read. A story of grand ideas, with people who strive to meet goals despite incredible odds and eventually achieve them even if not in ways they expected. They are classics despite the long time in which they first came out and first entertained people so long ago. People still want to read them. They have the same appeal of the first two categories of stories I mentioned before of truth, good and evil, and the aim for something greater.

The popularity of superhero movies says much the same. While comic sales die every year as they are continually coated in stories of moral relativism, bland edginess, and the inability to shake the influence of a subversive work over thirty years old that his been milked dry, comic book movies continue to do really well. Stories of heroes facing incredible odds and conquering them sell more than pessimistic stories whining about how there are no heroes and anyone who thinks differently from the writer is an idiot.

Gasp and surprise.

My post last week about Ushio & Tora menttioned much the same thing about the anime and manga industry. This isn't just a North American trend. It's a modern one that has long worn out its welcome.

Now, if that's what you enjoy, then more power to you. The problem is that the majority of people do not enjoy it, yet that is what continues to be what is mainly offered to them. Shelf after shelf of nihilism and nobody buying any of it.

I hope my stories, should I ever find an editor for them, would manage to entertain and uplift a little while telling a good story along the way. I bathed myself in nihilistic works for so long as a teenager and young adult that I can hardly stomach them at all any more. If anything, I hope more stories of life begin to come forward and wash the taste out of our hollow, and getting emptier by the day, culture. I'm a more than a bit tired of it.

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