I want to try to recapture the essence of a conversation over dinner at 4th Street Fantasy before any more details seep away. (I call on dinner companions Jen, Steve, Nicole, Aliza, Lydy, and Skyler to supplement if I miss something important or get this horribly wrong.) If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Skyler White, one of the things you should know about her is that she asks the most interesting questions.
Here’s the basic premise: different ages invent and popularize different archetypal heroes in relation to fears and values within the context of their times. Take, for instance, Sherlock Holmes: emerging into the public consciousness at a time when our understanding of science fundamentally changes along with the philosophy of rational thinking after the Age of Reason, Sherlock gives us a hero who can use science and deductive reasoning fluently. Moreover, in a time becoming increasingly centered in cities and crime rising accordingly, Sherlock applies skills and mindset unique to his time and place to solve societal problems particular to that time and place.
So the question, then, is what is our archetypal hero?
I submit two archetypes for consideration.
The first is the conman-as-hero. They’re all over the place these days, in our books (for instance, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch) and our TV shows (“Leverage,” “Burn Notice”…). I could list contemporary examples forever. What conmen are doing specifically is manipulating identity. In a fast-paced, rapidly changing, increasingly surveilled world, conmen-heroes can change their public identity as needed while still maintaining a firm sense of self, private and separate from their public personae. And they use this ability to fight the powerful on behalf of those abused by power with no viable (legally, financially, etc.) recourse. (I trust I don’t need to elaborate on why that problem resonates in our culture?)
The second archetype I propose is the tech-savvy (cool/hipster) nerd. These are the characters (like Hardison on, again, “Leverage,” or Tony Stark, or let’s not even get me started on SFF book examples) who are hyper-competent at using technology that the general populace is surrounded by but doesn’t really understand, anything from robotics to coding. These tech-savvy heroes navigate technology adeptly and successfully for largely the same reasons as the conmen-heroes: subverting power. In the wake of increasing awareness of how technology is abused and used to infringe on our rights by our own government and massive corporations, the notion of being able to use the tools available to us to protect our date and our selves also really resonates.
What do you think?