Good Men in a Bad Time

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Most young men are pricks. Swaggering, angry, ill-tempered, ill-mannered, rude little pricks.

As a young man (well, young-ish) I feel entitled to make this statement.

As I was leaving the locker-room of my gym yesterday I overheard two young men (younger than me by more than a few years) having a boisterous conversation about the muffins they stole from the school cafeteria, the weed they smoked that got them “dude…high as fuck!”, and what they would do to the girl at the front counter of the gym if they were able to get her alone for 5 minutes. I introduced myself, told them thievery, drug trafficking and possible sexual assault were not appropriate topics of conversation for a public venue (especially while standing in front of a cop), and left them a little pale, and a little worried.

When I was young I, too, was boisterous, filled with bravado, and walked around with my chest puffed out a little more than was wise. But if my old man had caught me talking like that in any place, public or private, he’d have waited until I was asleep (since I was bigger than him by the time I was 16), and then beat me with a pillowcase filled with bricks. I learned at a young age not to swear at people, to hold the door open for old ladies, and to stop and lend a hand when you saw someone with a flat tire. People don’t do that anymore.

I have to ask myself, where do these young men get the impression that what they are doing is acceptable? Who has taught them to act like this?

As I look around I find myself in a world where there are plenty of role models, all slapped up on billboards, television, the internet and any other medium that popular media can cram a picture onto. But all these role models are bad. The people most glorified are the ones who make the biggest asses of themselves, and win fame through behaving at their absolute worst.

I’ve ranted before about reality television, but it seems even the fictional characters are bad. There has been a lot of discussion in the literary world recently about the “Grim-dark” genre of fantasy, where the world is basically an awful place and everyone, even if they’re good, has to be just as awful to survive.

Television is filled with Grim-Dark characters; Shows like “Breaking Bad”, “The Sopranos”, “Sons of Anarchy”, “Mad Men” and several other titles make heroes of people who are often sneaks, cheats, drunks, drug dealers and ruthless killers – even if they are killing for the “Right Reasons”. As entertaining as all these shows are, and I watch them just as much as anyone, I have to ask if there is anything positive to be gained from them?

And, as I think about it, I must say yes, yes there is.

One thing we know, from sales statistics and surveys, is that the majority of books are purchased and consumed by female readers, and I’m not just talking about titles like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Twilight”, I mean everything. 

As I’ve said before, I think it is through story that our life lessons are imparted upon us. It is through our individual processing of the stories we are told, read and watch that we build the foundation of the people we want to be.

So, what is the benefit of stories about horrible people doing things, you ask me? There are two main positives for Grim-Dark stories.

First: they draw the attention of these young men, which causes them to actually read a book, or more often to pay attention to something that isn’t “Jersey Shore”. This, I think, is vitally important. Young people, and young men especially, don’t read enough. If you ask the average high school student to read something out loud to you you’re likely to get a lot of stuttering and the sounding out of any words that contain more than one syllable. If stories that involve a lot of stabbing and several graphic sex scenes are what it takes to get a kid to start reading, then by the fuck bring ‘em on!

Second: Because Grim-Dark stories are so bleak, any altruistic act of goodness, or even simple kindness, really stands out. It is a big deal to the reader because the author makes it a big deal in the context of the story. If a good deed is such an attention getter in a dark story, then hopefully the person reading it will learn a bit of a lesson.

A fairly significant quantity of the stories I read when I was a kid, and even what I read now, involved good for good’s sake. The protagonist is on a quest to set the world right, because that is what he ought to do; it is not a simple matter of survival, but something he feels compelled to do because of his innate nature. These are the stories I like to read, and they’re also the kind of stories I like to write.

Is this kind of behaviour unrealistic? Well it certainly seems to be in the world we live in now.

During the course of my “day job” I see constant examples of how the world is going for an absolute shit, but I was warned by my best friend’s old man when I joined the Force 10 years ago: “The only time good people need the police is when something bad happens to them”, and truer words were never spoken. So, perhaps because of my work experience my view is a little skewed, but I really worry about future generations, and how absolutely awful some people can be. Or, perhaps even worse, how much people don’t care about anything but themselves.

Can the answer to the world’s problems all be solved with a few good stories? While I would like to think so, I’m a little doubtful. But it seems like there is nothing to guide young people, young men specifically, when it comes to the way they ought to behave, and if one good story can steer one young man in the right direction, then I say it’s worth writing no matter what genre it’s in.

Where ever you are reading this, I hope you’re surrounded by people who don’t suck.

Let me know if you have any ideas, and thanks for reading.