Antagonism often seems the staple of narratives in both fiction and nonfiction. You always have to have a Bad Guy to make life bad for you and all the other Nice people.
When I began A Dangerous Woman Story Studio in 2013, I thought about this constricted dynamic very carefully, and decided there would be levels instead.
Some stories were conventional in an Us versus Them dynamic where bad was bad and good was good, and the banner was Case Files and Other Mysteries.
Some stories had elements of Us and Them, but the outcome wasn't a given. Sometimes rivals or antagonists were defeated, but sometimes, they had a deeper secret that forced them to be perceived as such. They hammered things out with the protagonists, negotiated, and often made amends, and ended up being allies, with some even becoming heroes in their own stories. These could also be classified as Us versus Us. The banner was Fables and Bedtime Stories. These were less dark and violent than the Case Files banners.
Then there were two more banners:
Some stories technically had no good guy. These were anti-heroes and/or villains fighting each other. Assassins dispatched to kill murderers. These were dark and had no heroes per se. Them versus Them -- and protagonists often reneged on their word in order to get the job done -- often in the name of Goddess (who would have never condoned it). The banner for these is Dread Tales.
And then there was the fourth classification that was the sweetest, lightest, and most gentle, but also the most radical.
Stories with no antagonist. There is no Us versus Them, not even an annoying neighbour, in-law, or sibling to snark at you.
These are classified as Silliosity.
It is not as if there are no problems. It is not as if people all agree with each other. It is not as if there isn't a story, but these are tales from beyond Happily Ever After.
In the novella The Future According Hammond Hughes, the central protagonist, eccentric and endearing sentimental sop and science fiction novelist icon Hammond Hughes lives a very happy and productive life with his wife, three children, in-laws, and family in Queen's Heights. He dresses wildly in the late 1940s. He gets along with his neighbours. He is close friends with his brother-in-law. His brothers look up to him. He adores his three young sons. His wife is a feminist whom he worships and she worships him in kind.
It begins at the standard end of a story where it is Happily Ever After. Hammond Hughes is a man who has it all.
What else could there possibly be to write about? He is considered the city-state's beloved Patriarch, so what does one do for any encore?
How about getting together with his brilliant wife as both create a computer with Internet access in 1946.
That's the story. There are no fights or battles. It is Us with Us. Both learn and grow as human beings. Husband and wife have personal revelations and change -- they just don't need to be arguing with people in order to do it.
Other things happen along the way, including Hammond embarking on a new medium called television with his own program as his wife's nonfiction book takes her to places where she meets new people along the way. Progress happens because there is cooperation without one side taking all the spoils for themselves.
You can read a story from each intersecting category to see how profound the difference in balance is with each level. The Doyenne Assassin in a homicidal practical joker who kills other killers, but while Danni La Croix of Danni's Wall lacks social skills, she is a hacker who never harms people as she tracks down murderers -- and the spray paint she uses as graffiti to trigger a killer's capture eventually washes off because she doesn't want to vandalize other people's property. One is a Dread Tale heroine, the other comes from Case Files and Other Mysteries. Holly Lake is a detective of non-lethal mysteries of the heart, and her stories are filed under Fables and Bedtime Stories.
After writing for several years under this subtle, but radical system, I understood why journalism never grew and changed.
It was always Us versus Them. They never veer anywhere outside this contrived dynamic.
That can work when you are in a small bubble where outsiders are not likely to read or hear your narrative. A Toronto newspaper can villainize any foreign country, for example, because those papers once upon a time were not readily available to that demonized group who could challenge them in public.
Immigration would begin to put the world on notice that they were getting a bad reputation in other places, but it went so far.
Then came the Internet where everyone could monitor what other outlets had to say about them.
And then the Us versus Them paradigm alienated a lot of people who then questioned those outlets and many times, showed how inaccurate and even manipulative they could be.
But journalism never moved to expand their repertoire to find more than one paradigm that could actually reflect the reality of the situation.
Journalism is always on the prowl, looking for an enemy Them. It is why their Trump-bashing has long ago ceased to have any semblance of rationality: with dwindling resources, they are looking for a cheap and easy target to bash. It is a collective mental breakdown that has shackled an entire profession into a coffin.
F.R.E.E.D. is not about finding Them to demonize. It is about finding facts to show us reality to find the truth. It is not binary. it is not Us versus Them all of the time. Sometimes it is Us with Them or more sobering, Us versus Us.
But F.R.E.E.D. goes on step further than this: it is about creating a map of tangible reality, and that means more than just testing and verifying what is there: it is about giving facts that are practical, showing what is reality -- and what is mere fantasy.
And the biggest fantasy figment distorting modern thought is the belief in They.
Not Them. Them is the designated enemy, real, perceived, or misinterpreted.
They, on the other hand, is the imaginary group of hard-working, brilliant, flawless, and benevolent leader-servants who fix our messes and save the day for us so that we do not have to think or work on a big problem.
F.R.E.E.D. is a method of intellectual liberation from our own delusions and ignorance: we expect They to look out for our own interests, but F.R.E.E.D. reveals that groups is not there -- but does show us who is in charge -- if anyone -- and what is and isn't being done.
If any one country on the face of the planet is in need of F.R.E.E.D., it is Canada. They are always banking on a nanny They to make everything great. They have not made our negotiating woes with the US go away.
Premier-elect Doug Ford -- once the bane of the news media's existence -- the same media who went after his baby brother Toronto mayor Rob Ford -- making fun of his weight, substance abuse problems, and very existence, howled, labelled the family rubes, and dismiss them as intellectual lightweights...
All until Trump put his foot down at the rigs Canada has in NAFTA.
Then, all of a sudden, only the sour grapes and partisan fringe keep putting down Ford. Other outlets are hoping he is the new They who will make this terrible thing go away, so their golden boy Justin Trudeau can go back to his selfies and the press can pretend he is a capable leader, and then slag Ford again as a peasant beneath the sophisticated collapsed rubble known as Establishment media.
Journalism is always about finding Them to pin all of society's woes. F.R.E.E.D. is not propaganda: it seeks facts to see how they interlock and interact.
Journalism is Patriarchal storyselling. F.R.E.E.D. is Matriarchal fact-gathering. There are differences -- and that journalism no longer functions in modern society is proof that we need an alternative to it.
It is not about hand-holding. It is not about fear-mongering or handing scripts to the little people to prevent them from independent thought. It is about facing reality because no true solution can be found by hiding amid lies...