Villains, Podcasting, and Elections

    Podcasting has been on my radar for awhile. When I first learned of the medium, I instantly knew that I would one day start my own. I have a background in audio, from years of being a unsuccessful punk and hard core drummer, I love to write, and I love the sound of my own voice. Doing a podcast seemed like the natural culmination of my previous creative endeavors. It wasn't until I met Laurel, when I realized that making a podcast was do-able. In Laurel, I met my ultimate partner, someone who's intelligence and talent challenged me while simultaneously being the most supportive partner, friend, and lover any man has ever had. Together, we both love stories, and believe that stories have to power to influence, mold, and change our lives. Life often feels like one is a log floating down a vast and rock laden river, with no guarantee that the current will avoid smashing us into oblivion. To me, a good story is the lifeline that helps me steer through the rocky current of life. It keeps me from hitting the rocks, and when I inevitably falter and find myself off course, it's stories that get me back on track. I'm also a student of history and everything I'll talk about in this podcast will have that filter on it. A great work of history blends finding the fundamental causal veracity of human events with a narrative prose that delights the imagination as much as it feeds the intellect. A historian is equal parts philosopher, detective, and story teller. Each part of a story is tied to it's other parts-- there is no beginning without a middle and an end-- in the same way human events are linked to our history. In this respect, I believe understanding stories, who tells them, how they tell them, and when they tell them, gives us a unique insight into ourselves. To the best of my knowledge, all human societies have had storytellers to impart wisdom, delight and inspire imagination, cathartically help cope with loss, and help us remember why we are the way we are.
    So this first episode is about villains, and Laurel and I were inspired by the 2016 US presidential elections. As we watched Democrats and Republicans make the case to the American people to vote for their candidate, one thing became increasingly clear: no matter who won, one side believed the other was villainous. President Elect Trump made the case that Clinton's life was one of exploitation and self-aggrandizement at the expense of the American people. Meanwhile, Clinton made the case that Trump was a womanizing narcissistic businessman who could not be trusted with the power of office. This left me asking, who was the villain in the story of the 2016 election? I started doing some reading on how a villain is constructed in melodramatic story telling. The melodramatic villain is signaled to the audience by a visual or audio cue, such as a man in black twirling his mustache to dark music. But it isn't enough to look or sound evil, a villain has to have some type of action that hurts someone or something. In other words, the audience only knows who the villain is when they have a victim, a person or persons caught in the villains path. The victim's suffering makes way for a hero to avenge and right the wrong done by the villain. The hero can sometimes also be the victim, who in the face of suffering takes matter's into their own hands and restores balance by defeating the villain. But in all cases, it's the villain's actions of hurting another that calls the hero into action. Think of it like a triangle, with the hero at the top of the triangle, connected to both the villain and the victim. Every story doesn't follow this exactly; sometimes there are anti-heroes (like Tony Soprano from HBO's the Soprano's or Alex, from A Clockwork Orange). But most stories adhere to this basic principle on some core level. Looking back at 2016, it became clear to me that Donald Trump was able to create this kind of a narrative. Trump argued that Clinton was a villain, a selfish establishment political force, and the victim was the American people. Trump argued that Clinton, as the ultimate face of Washington elites, had allowed American jobs to disappear. Trump time and again reiterated that America was losing because of Clinton and those like her, making him the hero that could avenge the victimized American people. He did this so effectively, that his base of supporters stuck with him despite many political gaffs, allegations of misconduct, and evidence of avoiding taxes (to name just a few). It was precisely this rhetoric of melodramatic villainy that helped him carve a path to the White House.
    One final thought: elections are complex and I'm not an expert on politics. Sometimes villains look the part, other times it isn't clear who the bad guy really is. All of us get it wrong from time to time. I'm not trying to argue that Trump was right or that Clinton was right (just to be transparent with those of you reading my blog, I voted for Clinton). I think what matters is that understanding stories can help with navigating the complexity of political rhetoric. Thinking critically takes practice, and it's important in all aspects of life.