Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Conflicted roles

There is an ironic heroism in the character who remains flawed until the day he dies. In literature there is the inevitable desire to see a conflicted being; one he recognizes his flaws and wants to change. As Faulkner once said “the only subject worth writing about is “the human heart in conflict with itself.”

But sometimes that conflict does not exist within itself. Sometimes narcissists and sexists remain that way right up until they take their last breath. Their sexism; their self-absorption, never dies. Their negativity is exhaled back into the universe to infect another living soul.

This is a truth we sometimes struggled to accept. A truth of reality. Literature is about so much more than the prose or a particular message. In  away, by allowing the flawed character to remain so, we see inside ourselves. Isn’t that what good literature should do? Make us reflect on ourselves? We cannot always be heroes; sometimes we struggle with our own heart in conflict with itself.

While we may be struggling with that very dilemma, what better way than to see the struggle by seeing someone devoid of such humanity? I think we recognize our own humanity a little better when we see a person who we think we identify with unable to grow. It gives us a little sense of what we can to better than the anti-hero. If he cannot see past the superfluous of sex, money and power, maybe we can recognize it better.

If we allow ourselves to identify too closely with literary figures, then we also take away our own ability to grow. That does not mean all such characters should be devoid of humanity; the opposite is true. We need to see all ends of the spectrum. There needs to be that character who struggles with his own internal conflict. But by the same nature, we also need to see that despicable being who remains despicable. It shows us how to resolve the conflict a little more. After all, we have a choice with our own heart in conflict; grow and become a better version of ourselves, or continue spiraling into a self-absorbed monster whose only goal is his own satisfaction.

I think that this is the flaw in the concept of Hedonism and, to some extent classic utilitarianism. Too many people think that maximizing benefits is a reflection on self benefits, not benefit to society mankind. The golden rule sounds great, unless you’re one of those who is okay with the fact that other people might do horrible things to you, which make sit okay for you to go on the attack.

For the character I am developing, this is exactly what he is working through. He has serious conflict; a conflict that emanates from his knowledge that what he is doing, his sexual obsession, his inability to be truly intimate with women; his focus on money and “things” makes him not what he wants to be, but in a world where money and power are lauded, how does he become what he wants to be when that is the antithesis of what is celebrated in American Culture?

No one celebrates the man who works hard, makes just enough to cover the bills, saves little, loves his wife, comes home from work every night to be a family man; no one celebrates this. When a man gives up career opportunities to stay close to his children, what becomes of him in the eyes of others? He is looked at as a failure; or less of a man.  It is real. It is out there. Compare the single father who makes $30,000 per year and the single non-father who makes $75,000. There is a difference in how is treated.
There has been a confusion of roles. In the 1960’s, it was expected that men, if divorced, would send that check and keep doing their thing; then, a new generation began to develop. Men were suddenly supposed to be more caring; more compassionate. We changed; but the perceptions of success went though no such change.

The definition of a successful man did not change to meet the new expectations. It has created more internal conflict in the American male than ever. What are we supposed to be?

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