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Can we stop with the grim dark now?
Don’t forget agency as a factor of living in any world, even a grim dark one.
No, seriously. The time has come. The world itself has adopted this aesthetic to where I am tired of it. It doesn’t make your fiction more realistic. It makes it bleak, empty, and devoid of value.
I get it. I grew up in the 90s
Things were good then. Optimism naturally filled every corner of the country. The economy was good. The cold war ended. The internet changed our lives.
I know life wasn’t great for everyone. I was in the closet until 1994, and it would be over 20 years before came out as trans. My family struggled, but anything was possible, or at the least, seemed that way.
The grunge, gothic, industrial, and grim dark music, movies, and tv shows were a reaction to the plastic fantastic veneer that covered so many aspects of life. Remember Glamor Boys by Living Color or Barbie Girl by Aqua?
This isn’t the 90s.
The economy is okay, but the recovery never reached small towns like the one I live in. Hell, over the last year, things have gotten worse. Factories are shutting down. People are afraid to spend money. None one, especially here in the “heart land” has any optimism left. So many around here voted for a billionaire full of hope things would get better. It has only gotten worse.
Many locals have turned to taking pleasure in the pain and suffering of other to distract themselves from the pain of their own lives. I wish that was hyperbole, but so many people have told me that, I have literally stopped going out. I don’t want to be around that.
Life is dark.
I am not saying that all fiction has to be pure escapism. It doesn’t. What it should be is content worth the time to experience.
Grim dark is not worth the time, energy, or effort.
What I look for in my music, fiction, and games is a subversive or rebellious tone or spirit that throws off the nightmarish torture porn that is modern life. It doesn’t have to be My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but it can’t be the quiet acceptance that life is suffering and nothing can be done about it.
Only weak characters wallow in their own misery or inflict their suffering on others. I don’t like weak characters. They might make for an interesting character like the Joker in the Dark Knight, but if you watch that movie again, you will see he lost his will to act and only worked to manifest his own internal suffering on other people.
We can do better than this. My fiction takes a lot of cues from my love of gothic literature and music, but I refuse to let my characters lose their agency to the circumstances of their lives.
Fatalism is boring.
We have free will. It is not an illusion. I don’t want to go off on a tangent now, but I will write more about free will and agency. For now, let me say we have a choice in how we respond to everything, even when there are no great or wonderful options.
Reactionary attitudes are predictable. Choosing our actions rather than just reacting is the heart of our agency. I know there are many times when it feels like we don’t have a choice. That is the real illusion.
Even people who believe in biological determinism talk about the moment of fight or flight. That is still a choice. It might not be a good one, but it is one all the same.
This is a magical time to be alive, even in this nightmarish hell scape. Even when I don’t have access to a local community, I have many friends on the coast I can talk to online or through texts. That wasn’t possible when I was a kid.
We have become too familiar with the magical benefits of living in this world now and the options it opens up for us. A lot of stories don’t work anymore because we have cell phones now.
While there may not be a great solution available for every problem we or our characters face, we always have the option to act with grace and keep our dignity. Those are given away, they can’t be taken.
The darkness is everywhere, fight it.
I will not get on my soapbox and try to get you to embrace optimism. I’m not an optimist. My instinct is to see the worse in every situation. I do my best to fight against that instinct so I don’t just lay down and die.
That’s it. Grim dark is boring because it is just reactionary fiction about characters who don’t care enough to find even the briefest moments of happiness. That is just boring, and it needs to end