Analysis

Six More Stories That Don’t Understand Power and Privilege

Disappointed looking reporters from My Hero Academia
There are lots of things that stories can get wrong, but few are as relevant to our lives as power and privilege. Whether we like it or not, power and privilege affect every aspect of our lives, from how much we’re paid to whether we can talk to a cop without fear. When stories get these dynamics wrong, they can do real harm. I’ve written on this topic before, but it seems like a few writers missed the memo, so I still have plenty of stories to analyze.

1. Carnival Row

Vignette from Carnival Row with her wings unfurled.

This steampunk streaming show is all about oppression. Specifically, the oppression of fae by humans. The two human superpowers have colonized and conquered the fae’s home continent, forcing many to flee as refugees to the Burgue, a human city/empire that is an obvious stand-in for London and the British Empire. Refreshingly, Carnival Row mostly avoids the most common problem with this scenario: turning the fae into oppressed mages. While the fae do have magic, it can be performed by anyone, so it’s effectively a type of technology.

But notice I said it mostly avoids the problem. While most of the fae species we see don’t have any special powers, there’s one major exception: faeries.* Faeries can fly. They can fly with surprising speed for a full-size humanoid, and their maneuverability is on par with that of a hummingbird. Despite this obvious advantage, the faeries are just as poor and marginalized as all the other fae.

This is ridiculous. It’s hard to count the number of ways faeries could leverage their flight for economic gain. The military is most obvious: flying scouts would provide a crushing advantage, to say nothing of their combat potential. Beyond the military, do no rich people need messages or packages delivered quickly? We’re told that faeries are banned from flying in the Burgue, but such a law would be quickly voided once it started inconveniencing powerful people who wanted to use the faeries’ services.

You can see how overpowered the faeries are whenever the show puts them in conflict. When fighting clumsy airships, the faeries fly directly into the airships’ gunports rather than just flying a little higher where they’d have been completely safe. Later, when faeries try to flee the district they’ve been confined to, they do it in broad daylight and politely fly low enough to be shot by rifles. Why they didn’t wait until dark and easily escape, we can only imagine.

Adding insult to injury is how our half-faery protagonist is treated. He hides his fae heritage because if it were known, he’d lose his job, his home, and probably face deadly violence. That’s realistic enough, but then the show acts as if this subterfuge is an act of cowardice. The protagonist is told that if he weren’t ashamed of who he is, he’d stop hiding it. Eventually, he decides to openly announce that he’s half-fae, despite the predictable consequences. The show treats it as the completion of an arc where he’s finally stopped being ashamed.

This is super gross. While some people might stay in the closet because they’re ashamed, for most it is an act of self-preservation. They do it because coming out is physically and emotionally dangerous. It has nothing to do with shame or cowardice. You might as well have an arc about how a soldier needs to stop using battlefield cover so they can overcome their irrational fear of bullets.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

Bane's army posing with a stolen tank.

Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film is routinely lambasted for its repetitive plot, lackluster villains, and the cheap fake-out about Bruce’s death. Those are all valid criticisms, but today we’re looking at the film’s class politics. Namely, how the poors are all evil and out to get us!

This theme doesn’t rear its ugly head until fairly late in the story, when Bane decides it’s time to take over Gotham. He does this because he wants to, I dunno, break Gotham’s spirit? He’s going to blow up the city eventually, so who knows? What’s important is that the first part of his plan* is to attack the city’s biggest prison and free all the criminals, who then naturally join his army.

Except, wait, there’s nothing natural about that. In real life, revolutionaries and insurgents often do raid prisons, but that’s because those prisons are full of people who agree with them politically.* Gotham’s prisons, on the other hand, are established to be full of regular convicts. Some of those prisoners are mobsters, but even they have no reason to ally with Bane, especially not in what appears to be a doomed insurrection against the United States government.

This plot point only makes sense if you assume criminals are a unified political block that will act against the rest of us. This is the same mindset that views policing as a war rather than a civil service and that opposes voting rights for convicts even after they’ve served their time. The truth is that most criminals have political views as varied and individual as anyone else. Claiming otherwise is a form of dehumanization, and that’s before we even get into sentencing disparities or wrongful convictions.

Don’t worry; it gets worse. Once the takeover is complete, Gotham’s rich and powerful are apparently dragged from their homes and put on trial. What they’re on trial for is unclear. Class crimes, I guess? Likewise, it’s hard to say if this is something Bane did, or if it’s just supposed to be what happens when poor people take over a city. Regardless, we’re treated to crowds of people cheering as Gotham’s elite are sentenced to cruel deaths. Also, with all their hoodies and bandanas, Bane’s goons seem intentionally designed to look like an Occupy protest.

Not only does this make a mockery of leftist politics, but it further feeds into the idea that without a massive, heavily armed police force, regular people would immediately rise up and destroy anyone above them on the sociopolitical ladder. It encourages us to view entire classes of people as the enemy, whether because they’ve committed some crime or just because they don’t have a strong bank account. This is especially disappointing after the previous Batman film spent a whole sequence confirming the humanity of a convicted criminal over that of his guards.

3. The City in the Middle of the Night

This Hugo-nominated scifi novel set on a tidally locked alien world has a lot of silly politics. The city of Xiosphant has a system of oppression based on circadian rhythms, while the supposedly anarchist city of Argelo is actually run by crime families. It’s been a while since my last political science class, but I don’t think that’s what anarchism means. However, neither of those cities or their governments are actually that important to the story, so we won’t dwell on them.

Instead, the real weirdness comes in the relationship between humans and the planet’s homegrown sapient species, creatures called the Gelet. For most of the story, humans are portrayed as destructive colonizers. Humans think the Gelet are non-sapient monsters and, as such, kill them on sight. Worse, humans have unknowingly damaged the Gelet’s climate stabilizing technology, putting the entire planetary ecosystem at risk.

Later, we’re told that the only way for humans to survive on this planet is if they recognize the Gelet’s superior way of life. The reverence our heroes show for the Gelet is so fawning that it already comes off as pretty creepy, but it gets worse when you realize something else: the Gelet are way more powerful than the humans. We are both told and shown that the Gelet could wipe out humans any time they chose, and it wouldn’t even be a contest.

This raises several questions, the most important of which is why the Gelet let humans kill them so often. Communication between the two species is supposed to be difficult, but it shouldn’t be hard for the Gelet to demonstrate their sapience and make it clear that violence against them won’t be tolerated. All they’d have to do is show off some of their incredibly advanced technology, and humans would get the message pretty quick.

Why don’t they do this? I don’t know. The book never explains it. It seems like an artifact from an earlier draft, before the author decided that the Gelet were sapient. Even worse, we eventually find out that while the Gelet won’t raise a finger in self-defense, they wiped out an entire culture of human nomads who accidentally damaged their climate stabilization system. The Gelet are apparently sad about this and claim they had no choice, but they didn’t try anything else. Murder was their first resort.

Between their advanced technology and murder-first approach to solving problems, the Gelet seem less like victims of colonization and more like a powerful country that doesn’t want to accept immigrants. Their plan to make humans practically worship them also feeds this image. The only acceptable way for humans to live on this planet is in total subservience. This still doesn’t explain why the Gelet are so happy to let humans kill them, but I don’t think anything can.

4. Merlin

Gaius and Merlin from BBC's Merlin

At first glance, BBC’s Merlin show appears to be a standard oppressed mages story. It’s got all the problems you’d expect: King Uther has declared war on magic, but both his motivation and his ability to do so are extremely suspect. Supposedly, he does this because his wife died in a magic ritual, but when was the last time you heard of a leader banning combustion because a loved one died in a fire? If we can get past the motivation, the mages in this setting are way too powerful for Uther to credibly defeat them. He should have been turned into a toad long ago.

Believe it or not, that’s not actually the worst part of Merlin. Instead, the main problem is that the writers want Uther to stay king, even though protagonist Merlin has every reason to either kill him or let one of Uther’s many enemies do the deed instead. The writers’ solution is Merlin’s mentor, the supposedly wise physician Gaius. For the first three seasons or so, Gaius’s main purpose on the show is to convince Merlin that Uther needs to remain king, never mind all the horrors Uther committed. This includes the cold-blooded murder of children, just so we’re all on the same page.

As you’ve probably guessed, this tactic backfires in spectacular fashion. There is no way to justify keeping Uther as king. Morally, he’s a genocidal dictator. Practically, he’s a very bad king, quick to lose his temper and unable to solve any problems without Merlin helping him. Despite Giaus’s protests to the contrary, it’s obvious that Uther’s son, Arthur, would make a much better ruler, even if he is inexperienced.

By having Gaius defend Uther, the writers change him from wise mentor to sniveling collaborator. Gaius doesn’t seem to care what happens to anyone else, so long as his precious Uther can hold on to power. The show’s backstory makes this worse. Back when Uther first started his war on magic, Gaius was a sorcerer himself. Instead of fighting or fleeing, Gaius gave up his magic to stay on Uther’s good side. Gaius did help spare a few people, but from the information we’re given, it’s mostly those he personally liked. The writers couldn’t have made him more of a collaborator if they tried.

It’s not fun to watch a show where the loveable mentor collaborates with a genocidal dictator. It’s even less fun to watch that show in a world where fascists and their collaborators seem to be on the rise everywhere you look.* But the worst part is that Gaius eventually turns Merlin into a collaborator as well. There’s even an episode where a minor antagonist calls Merlin out for defending a genocidal dictator, and we’re supposed to think that guy is wrong.

5. Crescent City

A map of Crescent City

Sarah J. Maas’s bestselling urban fantasy novel is primarily a romance with some murder mystery thrown in to keep the plot moving. It has an innovative setting concept: urban fantasy, but not taking place on Earth. This allows Maas to use all of our favorite urban fantasy tropes without needing to explain how the masquerade works. This is a completely fictional fantasy world where everyone knows about magic and the technology just happens to be roughly equivalent to the United States in 2020. Very clever.

What’s less clever is how Maas handles the human rebellion against their magical overlords, known collectively as the Vanir.* What’s that, you didn’t expect there to be a human rebellion against their magical overlords in a romance mystery story? Neither did I, but here we are.

At first, the situation seems pretty straightforward. Humans are deeply marginalized in this setting. They are much poorer than the Vanir, have almost no political power, and are often badly abused with no legal recourse. Unsurprisingly, some humans have decided to fight back, launching a violent insurgency of bombings and hit-and-run attacks against the more powerful Vanir.

Less straightforward is half-human protagonist Bryce’s attitude toward the rebellion. While it’s reasonable to be against bombings that kill civilians, Bryce doesn’t seem to have any sympathy for her fellow humans. She might not love the Vanir government, but she saves her real venom for the rebels. Well, the human rebels anyway. Her love interest is an enslaved angel who also rebelled against the Vanir, but she has no problem with him because he had a big enough army to use conventional military tactics. Well, gee, I bet the humans would also use conventional military tactics if they had a big army.

And then we learn they do have a big army. Humans have even fought the Vanir to a standstill on the neighboring continent. This is revealed somewhere around the halfway point, and it’s so counter to what was previously established, I can only imagine Maas changed her mind halfway through the manuscript. So, how are the humans managing to fight against the magically superior Vanir?

Why, with mech suits, of course. These mech suits are apparently so powerful that they’re a match for even the strongest Vanir magic. I have so many questions. Most pressingly, how did the downtrodden and impoverished humans get the resources to build mech suits? I’ve played Battletech; they don’t just give those things out for pocket change. While we’re at it, why don’t the Vanir have mech suits too? The book clearly establishes that the Vanir use technology just as much as humans do. If anything, I’d expect the mech suits to be a Vanir weapon, since they’re the ones with all the money.

Also, we’re told that the Vanir army has a large number of human conscripts. If the human rebellion can hold their own on the battlefield, how are the Vanir not suffering from mass desertion? Their only sales pitch is “fight your fellow humans so we can keep treating you like garbage.” Because there’s no end to my questions, I also have to ask how Bryce’s home city can be seemingly unaffected with such a huge war going on. It would be like setting a story in London at the height of WWI and not seeing so much as a draft. And where did these mech suits come from when the tech level is equivalent to that of the modern US?

But perhaps more importantly, why is all this happening in the background of a romance where the lovebirds are investigating a murder? Occasional mentions of the war make all of Bryce’s problems seem completely unimportant. Who cares if she’ll crack this case or hook up with angel boy, there’s a revolution to be fought!

6. My Hero Academia

A reporter from My Hero Academia

In this superhero school anime, our heroes must fight an ever more powerful list of supervillains. In seasons two and three, they run into their most difficult opponent yet: bad press. Superheroes are being raked over the coals of public discourse, and drama-hungry reporters are only too eager to press them with embarrassing questions. If this continues… something bad will happen! It’s not really clear what, but the characters seem to think it’s a problem, so we’ll take their word for it.

The bad press has two main sources, the first being UA High’s complete inability to keep its students safe from supervillain attacks. That’s just silly. Such high-profile safety failures might convince parents to send their kids to a different superhero school, but it certainly wouldn’t discredit superheroes as a whole. Also, after the second villain attack, UA High deserves every bit of flack it gets. Their solution to failed security was to send the kids somewhere with even less security and hope that secrecy would protect them. Because high schools are so well known for being bastions of information security.

The second source of bad press is a supervillain who goes by Stain. He kills heroes for sport, and he’s very open about why: he thinks most heroes have been corrupted by fame, money, and presumably corporate sponsorships. Pretty soon, this view starts to catch on, and Stain attracts a growing fanbase. Again, it’s not entirely clear what the end result of this might be, but the adult heroes think it’ll be bad.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and we’ll start with how utterly absurd this scenario is. In the My Hero setting, superheroes are effectively a branch of law enforcement. In real life, law enforcement is incredibly popular by default. There’s some variance by country, but the results are remarkably consistent. This makes total sense: law enforcement’s official job is to protect us from bad guys. You couldn’t ask for a better PR starting position. For law enforcement to lose popularity, they have to do something really bad. In the United States, for example, police have a long history of brutally mistreating people of color, especially Black people and Native Americans. In 2020, that brutality was highlighted when departments across the country reacted to peaceful protests with escalation and violence.

Even then, police are still remarkably popular among white Americans, for whom encounters with police are generally friendly and rare. The police are even more popular in Japan. Super-powered law enforcement wouldn’t see a dent in their popularity from such comparatively minor issues as making too much money, not when they’re literally saving people from supervillains every week. Maybe if the heroes were doing something truly heinous, Stain’s message could catch on, but then the audience would have to ask if superheroes are actually a good idea.

Beyond being unrealistic, the idea that regular people are always set to turn against law enforcement has deadly consequences in real life. In American policing at least, a disturbing number of officers adopt a kind of siege mentality, believing the entire world is out to get them, so they have to get it first. That’s a big part of why American cops are so likely to lead or react with extreme force, no matter the situation. Racism, naturally, makes the problem much worse.

Intentionally or not, My Hero Academia is perpetuating a myth that gets real people killed. It portrays a world where the general public is just a hair’s breadth away from turning on law enforcement, something far too many police officers already believe. Combined with how badly My Hero portrays the press, it’s hard not to see these aspects of the show as authoritarian propaganda.


Portraying power and privilege might seem confusing at times, but it’s actually quite simple. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask who has the power in a given situation. Whoever does is the one you need to be critical of. Superheroes have immense power, so they should be the ones under scrutiny, not the general public. In Carnival Row, flight should give the faeries power, but it doesn’t, so that requires extra attention. The list goes on. Keep that rule in mind, and you should be able to avoid the worst excesses we’ve seen on this list.

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Comments

  1. Jeppsson

    I’m a big Philip K Dick fan (despite the sexism, but largely because he so often manages to capture the feeling of trying to navigate the world while sliding into psychosis). I just re-read the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, one of my favourites, and it struck me that you would like its depiction of superpowered people.

    Some people are born with precognitive abilities. They can see glimpses of possible futures, which can change depending on the actions we take. Some precogs are more reliable than others. Good ones can make loads of money in various industries; the main character works as a fashion consultant for a mega corporation, telling them what’s gonna catch on or not in advance. Strong precogs often suffer a bit of memory loss from time to time, which is impractical, but possible to handle with electronic devices keeping track of what you’ve done. Still, they’re rich and admired.

    Upper class people born without powers often go through a kind of very expensive treatment to increase their mental powers as well as heat resistance (the Earth is so hot in this book that Antarctica is a cosy vacation resort; in most places you’ll simply die if you go outside unprotected). Whereas natural-born precogs look normal, rich people who’ve gone through the treatment develop a kind of shell over their skin, and their heads swell up, so they’re sometimes called “bubbleheads”. A lot of people do think they look somewhat grotesque after the treatment, but since it’s the upper class doing this, and they’re all over fancy magazines and shows with this new look, it’s clear that it’s quickly becoming fashionable to look like that.

    • E. H.

      Yeah PKD seemed to understand how special new powers would alter society.

  2. Petar

    Everyone! Please help me to keep the Netflix movie “Freaks: You’re One of Us!” secret from Oren. If he finds it, he’ll write a post and use his muggle-privilege to oppress the superpowered badasses in it!

    Jokes aside, I watched that movie recently and I have to rant about it in a public forum. It’s basically a German X-man imitation that uses superpowers as an analogy for ADHD.
    Our main character Wendy is a working-class mother. As a kid, her powers (super-strength) went out of control and she destroyed her school. Now, she has to deal with an abusive psychiatrist who prescribes her pills to suppress her powers without telling her what these pills are really for.
    As we learn, said psychiatrist works for The Man (could be the government or some company, no idea; it doesn’t even have a name, so I’ll just say “The Man”). The Man keeps superpowered people locked up inside some secret facility when they refuse to take the pills voluntarily (or when they know too much) and keeps them secret from the general population for unclear reasons. While it’s never explicitly stated, it’s implied that superpowered people are unusually prone to violence for some reason.
    Our main characters wonder if it’s true that they are freaks like everyone else says and begin hating themselves for their uncontrollable powers (probably part of the clumsy ADHD analogy). They feel scared of telling their loved ones about their true nature and one character even tells Wendy she should abandon her family and help him take over humanity instead.

    The movie is atrocious in too many ways to count. First, there’s the obvious problem of the main characters being too powerful. Wendy can basically kick a soccer ball into low-Earth orbit. Another character is literally invulnerable. Another one is capable of shooting lightning with his hands and at some point takes out a dozen security guards working for The Man at once.
    Then there’s the other obvious problem of money. Literally every main character struggles with money in some way or another. Wendy has no idea what to use her powers for in the absence of a supervillain, so she just uses them to get money by breaking into a bank vault. At no point does she consider working as a security guard like, I don’t know, her husband does (so connections likely won’t be a problem).

    None of this is my biggest gripe, however.

    What infuriates me most is just how anachronistic this movie is. Any story set in the present day that tries to turn superheroes into a marginalized group inevitably has to deal with the fact that we’re living in the MCU era. Superheroes would be worshipped.
    Wendy acknowledges that superhero movies are everywhere these days, but from her tone, it’s clear that everyone sees them as little more than an annoying fad that will hopefully soon be over.
    The movie tries to sell the idea that all superhero fans are either small boys or weirdos. Only two characters find the prevalence of powers in real life cool. One is Wendy’s tiny son, a hardcore Batman fan. The other is a stereotypical “loser man” with creepy views on women who masturbates to comics in his mother’s basement (he also later becomes the electricity guy). At some point, the invulnerability guy even tells Loser Man “this isn’t some stupid comic book, this is reality!”.

    You see, this movie isn’t just some harmless attempt to cash in on the MCU hype through a familiar cliche. It actually wants to be taken seriously.

    Puh, that was a long rant. Hope you guys enjoyed it!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yeah the MCU is pretty inconvenient to the idea that anyone would hate superheroes. It’s like how so many authors try to tell us that “oh, humanity has rejected magic!” even as the number of people who love fantasy stories continues to grow.

    • Alverant

      Ugh, I hate the trope of the “evil organization doing evil for evil’s sake”. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason why The Man is doing it. It reminds me of a conspiracy nut who, rather than accept their own faults and failings, decided they are special and would succeed if only THEY hadn’t ruined things for them.

      • Petar

        That’s indeed one of the biggest complaints German reviewers had about the movie (Americans were probably too used to cartoon villain conspiracy tropes to care). Especially given how many people in real life believe that The Powers That Be fabricated the Covid-19 virus just for kicks and giggles. The fact that the most prominent conspirator in the movie is a doctor doesn’t help matters.

        I think the reason they needed The Man was to have a reason why Wendy doesn’t know about superpowers when the movie starts. They needed a masquerade. It must have been tempting to link the reason why superheroes are oppressed to why no-one knows about their existence (the fact that they’re too scared of the general population to reveal themselves apparently wasn’t enough).

        Unfortuantely, it makes parallels to real-life oppression even more absurd. Bigotry isn’t an invention of Big Pharma. It just isn’t.

        • Petar

          BTW, I believe a Mythcreants article on believable conspiracies would be cool, considering how often fiction gets them wrong (and how many misconceptions are floating around in real life). The masquerade articles already noted how hard it is to keep something secret for long.

          • Cay Reet

            I second that. For me as a writer of espionage and pulp stories, conspiracies are very important. I’d like to see a Mythcreants approach to those.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Hmm. I’ll have a think on it.

          • Jeppsson

            Yeah, this is a good suggestion.

            Just looking at “Big Pharma”, they do get up to some shady stuff. In an area I know quite well, anti-psychotics, there have been a large number of industry-funded studies that made newer anti-psychotic meds look waaaaay superior to older ones; they would compare the effects of really high doses of old meds with the effects of moderate doses of new meds, and then conclude that the newer meds gave fewer negative side effects. When independently funded studies have compared similar doses, it turns out the side effects are somewhat different for newer and older meds, but (unsurprisingly) the really dramatic difference disappears.
            The company that produces Zyprexa also tried to cover up some pretty serious side effects associated with this drug in particular.

            This is the kind of shady shit that big pharmaceutical companies ACTUALLY get involved in. It’s serious enough, but far from intentionally causing a pandemic, or witholding an amazing cure for cancer from the public.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            The main difficulty is that I simply don’t know that much about conspiracy theories other than to avoid them, so it would require a lot of research that I may not have time to do. I agree it would be a very useful article though.

          • SunlessNick

            One common misconception I saw brought up was that real informants don’t speak in cryptic clues. They’re putting their careers, freedom – and at least in fiction, and sometimes in reality too, their lives – on the line. If they have information to give, they give it.

          • Cay Reet

            Another thing to keep in mind is that the more people know about a secret, be it a conspiracy or something else, the less likely it is to stay secret. There’s always the danger that someone says too much or someone keeps a bit of information somewhere it can be found. As soon as a conspiracy grows, the chances that it will be exposed will grow right along with it.

          • Alverant

            I’d like to see it too, but it would be hard to do so. Conspiracies are fundamentally political which can make portraying them realistically difficult. As I understand it, conspiracy theories come from a desire to assert some kind of control over one’s life, even if that control is knowing about the conspiracy itself. That leads to a lot of motivated reasoning. The very lack of proof supporting a conspiracy itself becomes proof. Like someone who insists that thousands of votes for Trump were destroyed and the proof of it is that he lost in a battleground state they think he should have won. The fact he didn’t win is proof the other side cheated.

            The problem is, this does happen in real-life cover-ups. For example, in Louisville, hours of dashboard cam footage from a police officer accused of abusing his power were “accidentally” erased during the internal investigation. So at best the investigators were incompetent in erasing it and not having copies and at worst it was deliberate to protect a cop.

            I think believable conspiracies need a believable motive like self-preservation or greed and not to make one person’s life miserable for petty reasons. Occam’s Razor comes into play. Is it more likely that professionals destroyed evidence against one of their own intentionally or it was accidentally mishandled? Is it more likely that more people voted for Biden or votes were destroyed in such a way that there’s no evidence for them apart from the result?

          • Petar

            @Oren
            If you need somewhere to start, maybe this article helps:
            https://springhole.net/writing/more-believable-coverups.htm

  3. Star of Hope

    Oh please you didn’t touched upon the worst misconception: That Violence is always wrong and everyone who uses it is an Nazi or Al-Qaeda.

    This treats every fight for injustice as a bad thing and assumes that rights and desire to punish is bad and pins the blame on the victim just because they use it to punish someone for being an criminal. Worse their solution not only forces forgiveness, but also the idea that Oppression is cool and that you can say the N-word, because BLM somehow doesn’t care for the slaves in Africa. People just don’t want to use solutions because of such comfortable Moralizing and fear-mongering. If you want Peaceful solutions, don’t trash Affirmative Action and call it Oppressive, offer real solutions.

    • E. H.

      While I’ve heard people in political agruements use this type of bad reasoning, I’m curious about where you’ve seen it in entertainment. Usually it’s the other way around; the more vengeful the characters are, the more chance for conflict.

      • Star of Hope

        Vengeance has often the reputation of achieving nothing for the person seeking it, though the whole idea of seeing the one punished for their crimes is already satisfaction. People portray Vengeance as an attempt to get back what they lost and that it’s an moral event Horizon, but statistics don’t always prove that. For instance is for the victim of abuse seeing the guy who abused this person going to jail or suffering any form of consequences more than justice enough.

        It depends on who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. No one is going to agree that avenging the loss of your comrades against an evil dictator is a bad thing, however if the target was an average joe or someone who already felt remorse for their actions then it’s less likely to seek revenge under good conscience. Katara did that and already got her closure by talking down the man who stole her Mother. However if you are Uther, then no one is going to agree with his wish for revenge.

  4. Star of Hope

    Regarding Merlin: Arthur still maintains the Legacy of Uther, which ended in Mordreds lover dead and him betraying Arthur despite having done his danmest best to prove his loyalty to Arthur.

    Arthur dies and Merlin waits for his return…which is good because I cannot fathom how Arthur is going to solve the EDL problem or Brexit. He would have to spend time to argue with Alt-right goons about how Gwen was black and not White. That would make an good sequel.

  5. Alessandro

    I’m only familiar with “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Merlin”, but, wow, what a mess they are. It’s my first time commenting on Mythcreants (love your work, by the way) and I don’t know about the policy on spoilers, so… Beware incoming spoilers for these two movies.
    Regarding the former, it’s not like I expect something better from a film whose hero has no qualms about torturing people to get the information he needs, while at the same time shielding himself behind the infamous no-kill rule. “I’m not like those other bad guys, see? I try not to kill people directly, but beating up cuffed criminals or throwing them off buildings is fair game. I’m good, see? Because I drew this totally arbitrary threshold between what is and is not acceptable.”
    And “Merlin”… Oh, “Merlin”… I really can’t believe I watched five seasons about a wizard trying his darndest to save a genocidal dictator. And why does Uther hate magic? It’s not just that his wife died during a magical ritual, but the ritual itself was something he insisted on because he was desperate for an heir (a male one possibly, I guess). So he got Arthur, got angry because of the price he had to pay and then had all the unrelated magic users slaughtered all over Camelot, children included. And this went on for years and years, because Arthur himself at some point recalls taking part in one of these mass-murders when he was younger.
    What saddens me is that Gaius and other characters (which goes back to the usual issue of endorsement from well-respected figures) keep praising the peace and order Uther has brought over his kingdom… except that he almost always refers to his neighbours as “enemies” and during dire times his priority is always taking care of the army and not the population.
    There are way too many example of awfulness going on, so it’s best if I stop here.
    Great article, as always!

  6. SunlessNick

    Is there a chance you could do a post on stories that get power and privilege right?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s a much shorter list, but I’ll think on it!

      • Star of Hope

        Or make a new series: 5 signs your story is pro-LGBT.

      • Innocent Bystander

        The only story that comes to mind that does that well is Hadestown (Seriously, listen to “Why We Build the Wall” and tell me that it doesn’t make capitalism seem like a cult). Though it’s still not perfect.

  7. Tyson Adams

    David Graeber wrote a review of The Dark Knight Rises which was included in his book Utopia of Rules. His critique was that TDKR was about the dangers of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Because those pesky protesters are bad and could upset society.

    While this may not have been the case, there is certainly a truth to the argument that the movie doesn’t understand what social movements are about and how power actually works. Then again, David S Goyer came up with it.

  8. LeeEsq

    Since shows that fail to understand power and privilege seem more common place than shows that correctly understand power and privilege, have you ever thought that the fault might lie in part with academic theory? If the academic theory is correct than it shouldn’t be subject to so much frequent misunderstandings. Yet, it is. That suggests it might not be intuitive as it’s prophets propose.

    • Julia M.

      I think this is more because of the bias in our societies toward the rich and powerful. This bias stems from fear, and that fear (like the fear of the working class overthrowing the rich) shows up in our stories. It also shows up in the way people oppose expanding heathcare, welfare programs, etcetera, because then the poor will have more power.

      • Star of Hope

        That fear stems also from the education system being bad and the fear of violent riots and revolution always making things worse for everyone because of the fear of society overthrown. Often than not its the people behind the system or the privileged who expouse such fears because they don’t want to fix society and just want to be forgiven or something. In short , people have a lot of stupid believes about violence and people, hence why IQ and race realism.

      • Jeppsson

        It’s partly this, but it’s also clear that many people who are truly marginalized LOVE “oppressed mages” stories. It’s a lovely piece of escapism to imagine that you’re oppressed because you’re so amazing and special that the powers that be are jealous and/or afraid of you.

        Something can have problematic implications and reinforce problematic messages and still have a lot of allure – even for the very demographics that are ultimately hurt by these messages!

    • mourningcrow

      something doesn’t have to be intuitive to be correct. if people don’t understand social theory because they don’t learn about it, it doesn’t mean the academic theory is incorrect. people don’t understand quantum theory because they don’t learn about it

  9. Redforce

    “And where did these mech suits come from when the tech level is equivalent to that of the modern US?”

    We developed them IN SECRET. At Area 51. Using reverse-engineered alien technology. Of course.

  10. Alverant

    Christopher Nolan reminds me Terry Goodkind, Steve Ditko, and Leslie Fish in that they really overvalue what they do and see themselves as being above their peers. They don’t seem to understand that society doesn’t exist solely to serve them. Being an entitled jerk doesn’t make you special or right. It makes you a privileged elitist.

  11. Jeppsson

    We just started watching the French Netflix show “La Révolution”. It’s a fantasy take on the French revolution, set in a world where the top aristocrats are inhuman creatures who eat poor people and whose blood is literally blue. They can be killed if you chop their heads off. In the first episode, though, the main characters just begin to piece things together. The inhuman aristocrats are powerful enough to keep the police and courts in their pockets; we see in this first ep how people discover a half-eaten body of a peasant girl, but a black former slave is framed as the cannibal murderer.

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