This will be a rant about the state of my country/world. Feel free to walk away.
According to Nielsen, the average US citizen watches 34 hours of television a week. I have read that most Americans aren't readers, but all of my friends are obsessive readers. Yet, within that crowd, I'm the odd man out because I read almost exclusively non-fiction. The obsessive readers I know are reading fiction.
Subtract sleep, commute time, dead time... some people have more interaction with imaginary worlds than they do with the real world. Almost everyone has more intense interactions with imaginary worlds than with their daily grind. And as such, consciously or not, people are influenced to believe in how the world works by imaginary, scripted drama.
So three tropes, brought to you by Hollywood and popular fiction, that I see becoming accepted wisdom in the real world. Perilously.
The Cult of the Passionate Amateur. The new rookie comes on the team and he's just so much better and smarter than the grizzled veterans that they become resentful. Or Castle hires a mercenary to find his daughter and says, "I'm coming with you." Or the plot line of "True Grit." In entertainment, being a passionate amateur is a superpower. In real life...we'll get to that.
Arguably, there are good reasons for it in Hollywood. Working with professionals is high-speed and there are a lot of communication shortcuts. It is a good idea to have a naive character. For plot logic, it gives the experienced people an excuse to explain things to the audience by pretending to explain to the amateur. But, since the amateur is the one the audience identifies with, if you want the audience to give you or your advertisers money, you are probably going to wind up making the amateur the star. The hero.
It probably doesn't hurt that most of the writers, themselves, are passionate amateurs with no direct experience and damn little skill in what they are writing about.
How does it work in the real world? Let me ask you this. You're going in for back surgery. Do you want the surgeon who has done seven thousand similar surgeries or the kid fresh out of school who has never actually done a surgery but is really into it? You tell me.
Amateurs helping with hostage rescue are about as successful as amateur surgeons.
Even worse-- passion. People do not think clearly under emotional stress. How smart are you when you're in love? Or angry? Passion is worse (look at marriages destroyed for momentary passion.) "Chief, he killed my brother! You can't take me off this case!" Are you out of your friggin' mind? Not only could any good defense attorney destroy the prosecution on that relationship alone, but people obsessed with revenge are not thinking rationally. And rational thinking solves problems. Not passion.
Effect in the world? Emotion seems to be considered to have validity equal to rationality. Feelings equal or trump facts. Irrational fears trump science. And, the people doing it, fear-mongeriong by spreading bullshit, thinks it's okay. If the cause is worthy, it is worth lying about. And they are spreading the lies to people who react to the emotion and don't fact check.
The Virtue of the Unprepared. I blame MacGyver for this one (and a hat tip to Kathy Jackson of the Cornered Cat for pointing this out.) MacGyver was an eighties TV character who did dangerous jobs but didn't like guns so with his trusty swiss army knife would do some kind of field-expedient explosion or something in every show to save the day using household chemicals and bits of trash...
Get this. He had a dangerous job. Where people would try to kill him and blow him up. And because he didn't like guns he purposely denied himself the right tools. This is not genius, this is blatant stupidity. And somehow it became a virtue. I'm all for thinking out of the box, and creativity, and having a basic knowledge of simple chemistry and engineering in case you need to get rid of a stain or pull a car out of a mudhole and you don't have the right equipment...
But to deliberately deny yourself the right equipment? In the real world, that's just stupid. And, through MacGyver (he's the most obvious, but in every episode of the A-team I saw they got captured or trapped without their toys and had to make things) stupidity has become a virtue.
Let me put it in surgical terms again. Who do you want to operate on your back? The guy with the right equipment, or the one who says, "I don't like knives. What we'll do, see, is I'll improvise a scalpel from a tin can..."
Dreamers. This really contributed to me tossing fiction many years back. The trope runs like this (it was endemic in fantasy fiction, I hope that has changed):
The sweet, gentle dreamer child is always running off to read books and be alone and daydream about making the world a better place. Her mean, narrow-minded, rough and calloused family are always trying to stop her from day dreaming. If the family isn't out fishing or farming, they are trying to force her to become just like them. Then, one day, a magical creature comes by and recognizes the deep wonderfulness of the dreaming child and takes her away to be trained as a special person, elevated well above her parents where she can become a hero...
Leaving aside all the family issues in this, WTF? You have a family living a hard life-- and if you've ever subsistence farmed, it's a metricfuckton of manual labor. I can only imagine that fishing from small boats would be worse--hard, cold, wet and dangerous. And they have one kid who is just pure lazy. Living off the labor of others, contributing nothing unless forced to, ranting that being forced to contribute to keeping herself and her family fed is a horrible injustice and beneath her. Crap, am I talking about the fictional trope or modern protesters?
If humanity is a body, the dreamers are the fat cells. They are the soft underbelly of society. The ones the shark can eat first before it tears into something useful. Maybe good for emergency food supply.
This is not a rant against dreaming. Dream big, go for it. But dreaming without sweating is worthless. Dreams and sweat combined? Cool. The Dream is damned and dreamer too if dreaming's all that dreamers do. To quote myself.
But, somewhere, somehow, the people raised with this trope not only believe that fantasy is just as effective as labor in making people's lives better. They honestly believe it is morally superior. That doing nothing works. That making unexecuted plans is just as much a contribution (and without the possibility of error, that's a nice bonus) as doing something. "Visualize World Peace" How's that working for you?
Surgery again. Do you want the lady who has put in the years and hours of medical school and residency? Or the one who has been daydreaming about how cool it would be to do the exact same thing without pain? Especially if some magical animal told her she's special?
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