Saturday, October 1, 2011

Writing against type, part 2

I should've subtitled this "Does this outfit make me look Fascist?"

A few of my regular readers might recognize these two but as a refresher, they (L) Chancellor Alrich Stahl and Commissar Seraya Reichhart. Commissar Reichhart has served as a primary antagonist in my doll/action figure back story since 2006, going through several head and body combinations before finally assuming this form in 2009 after I had purchased her head (manufacturer unknown) from a Hong Kong-based seller on eBay.
 Chancellor Stahl came about as the result of a conversation I had with an online pal, Elizabeth aka the lovely Android Raptor. While I knew that there had to be some "higher up" to whom Seraya was ultimately a subordinate, I had never really considered making a figure of such a character. I had this GI Joe figure that had never really "fit" with the rest of the guys- I've heard other Joe fans/collectors refer to his head sculpt as "Boy Band Joe"- but he seemed well suited for the role of a charismatic, good-looking, smug dictator!

While I wanted these two (and possibly some other future functionaries and minions) to look sort of generic, they obviously ended up looking rather, well... Nazi. Several reason for this include the ease with which 1/6 scale WW2 German uniforms and gear can be obtained and the fact that we seem to have such an ingrained cultural response to this particular style. Yes, it's a cheap and easy ploy that has been used by all manner of people in all manner of popular entertainment for close to 3/4 of a century now. True, there was a time that various communist regimes could also be demonized but that seems to have become less popular and acceptable since the late 1960s brought about a more "tolerant" attitude towards leftism in entertainment, media and academic circles. 

Not that I'm insinuating anything about such people's personal ideologies, mind you! After all, this is just a blog about toys and models, not world social-political stuff. ;)

Anyway, in my personal life, I have a deep aversion to ANY sort of totalitarianism, no matter how benign and utopian it is promised to be. Heck, even the governments of most modern day "free" countries are way too excessive by my standards. And yeah, I've heard the stupid "you'd LOVE Somalia then" retorts until I'm ready to puke. There's a vast difference between violent lawlessness and having to name your child according to a government "approved names" list. While the latter is more benign, neither is healthy for the long term growth of humanity, IMO! But again, we're not her to discuss such things.

A big part of creating these two characters and the fictional "world" they live in is to comment on many of the absurdities of the world and popular culture as I see it. And while I want it to be enjoyable for my readers, I'm trying to be respectful of the characters' beliefs and world views. It would be easy to do ridiculous slapstick, ala The Producers... extremely easy and a constant temptation. But I'm not satirizing the historical Nazi regime, this is a commentary on TODAY'S world with some definite nods to the past. While these folks are brutal, militaristic and inhumane, they are still probably pretty benign compared to many real-world regimes. Well, so far, at least! Even so, it has proven difficult for me to create these characters with the degree empathy they deserve if they are to be anything more than cardboard maniacs. I just can't "walk a mile in their shoes" as the old admonishment goes. And if I DO manage to present them as fully formed and relatable people, I'm concerned that it opens me to attacks by the narrow-minded and those who love to play "gotcha" and search for subtext and hidden meanings that aren't there. But let's face it, a "good bay guy" isn't one who revels in how bad he is. If he even agrees that what he does is "evil",  he sees this evil as necessary and in a relativist view, ultimately a good thing. It's just those "other" people who label his actions "evil" in order to undermine his work and the ultimate utopia that will arise from it. And thus, my conundrum.... I can laugh at it, I can fear it but it's extremely difficult to feel empathy or understanding for it.

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