Wednesday, 5 November 2014

There's Nothing Wrong With Power Fantasy

Power fantasy. Harder to find two words in modern culture that leave worse tastes in one's mouth - mostly thanks to the fact they mostly find use justifying mindless, borderline-problematic blockbusters where story gets trampled to death to make room for more explosions, generic growly dialogue and explosion bonanzas that make Michael Bay look subtle.

In the world of books, this usually translates into Jack Reachers, Scarpettas, totally-not-a-Sherlock Holmes' and Absolutely Another Chosen One. Now, believe you me, I'd be the first person to rip into any one of these the instant it came within shredding range . . . but not for the reasons you'd think.

You see, friends-of-mine: there's absolutely nothing wrong with a power fantasy.

A power fantasy is, essentially, any imaginary scenario whereby a perceived underdog revolutionises themselves so that they come out as the top dog and hero of their situation. This can be anything from imagining giving voice to that witty comeback you kept behind your teeth when your Maths teacher called you out on your terminal inability to process basic trigonometry to a great big X-Men, superpowers, fight the bad guy, explosion, win the girl, go home to fame and fortune and all the Wotsits money can buy.

As you may have guessed, this story is old as time itself. However, its not on that ground that I wish to defend it - simply because something is an acceptable cultural construct doesn't mean that it can't or shouldn't be challenged and altered to suit the time.

The fact is, a power fantasy is fundamentally a positive thing; it's catharsis, it's self-actualising, it's an ideal to strive for, and a healthy way to process the occasionally overwhelming difficulties of day to day life. 

The issue with power fantasy as it's viewed generally is that has come to be viewed as something excessive and harmful. The phrase "power fantasy" has been dragged out in front of me as justification for all manner of loathesome things: the non-inclusion or overwhemling sexualisation of female characters, the use of mental illness to fill in for the fact a villain has no proper goal or method of operation, the fact that a character being anything other than white and straight sets them up to be either fetish material or cannon fodder from the get go.

However, that right there is not power fantasy itself. That right there is just the fallout of the dominant societal class / race / gender having a greater pull on the type of power fantasy that makes its way into our media. Other power fantasy may exist, but it is marginalised and, in general, improperly categorised as "unrealistic" or "juvenile backlash".

For an example of proper power fantasy, I give you: the wonderful Scott Lynch.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Gentleman Bastard series; in the second book, protagonists Locke and Jean end up on the high seas on board a pirate ship captained by an infamous, hard-bitten, ass-kicking ... black, middle-aged, mother of two.

Someone wrote a very snotty letter to Mr Lynch, demanding an explanation for this horrific breach of realism. Mr Lynch responded thusly.

"Shit yes, Zamira Drakasha, leaping across the gap between burning ships with twin sabers in hand to kick in some fucking heads and sail off into the sunset with her toddlers in her arms and a hold full of plundered goods, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy from hell. I offer her up on a silver platter with a fucking bow on top; I hope she amuses and delights. In my fictional world, opportunities for butt-kicking do not cease merely because one isn’t a beautiful teenager or a muscle-wrapped font of testosterone."

There you have it, folks, in two words. Amuses and delights. That is what power fantasy is about: it's a romp, it's a laugh, it's a backflip-bellyflop into unadulterated fun unhampered by the constraints of the miserably constrictive laws of our own reality and history. 

And most importantly, it's for everyone. Everyone is an underdog to their circumstance in their own eyes, and we are all gifted with the unique imaginative capabilities to escape that.

Everyone can, and should, have and enjoy their very own power fantasy. And you know what? That's freakin' awesome.

~ Charley R

1 comment:

  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. I completely agree with everything you've written - it's a bit of a touchy topic, but power fantasies are not actually the scum of the earth, as some people seem to believe. ;) There's certainly a way to write them well!