Muriel Rukeyser, “The Speed of Darkness”
And it was Joseph Conrad who noticed that stories also tend to have a hero, or protagonist, and that this hero often was set on a journey on which he had to defeat an antagonizing force. Often this journey was a trip to some other place, a far away or magical land, where the hero would have to overcome a series of challenges before returning home triumphant.
Traditional narratives, the type that fit into Freytag’s Triangle and Conrad’s Hero’s Journey, participate in a kind of mass make-believe. Traditional narrative lulls the audience into a complacent stupor that allows them to believe that they, too, are heroes, that their enemies are villains, and that they will somehow prevail over the tyrannies, misfortunes, and character flaws that plague them. These structures create a story-telling binary of people like us (protagonists) and people like them (antagonists). And the people like us always win.
Except, of course, when they don’t. When viewed from a place of marginalization, of fetish, of oppression, or of trauma–from a place of otherness–these same stories where in the able-bodied, attractive, capable heroes (with just enough of a Superman curl to keep them interesting) re-enact time and time again the very aggressions that oppress the rest of us. And with nothing else to watch on TV, we sit there and take our punishment wondering as Muriel Rukeyser did, “who will speak these days, if not you, if not I.” (Rukeyser, “The Speed of Darkness”)