I’ve been taking some time to reconsider how my mentor figure enters the scene, so (as usual) I’m looking to the real world for inspiration. But I’m not focusing on mentors today: I’m talking about the world they live in, and what makes them answer the call.
In the area where I grew up, we could get four channels reliably. We watched the shows that the network thought would sell. The people who cried about fake news on the networks were the manifesto makers. That makes them bad people, our elders warned us. So we idolized our movie and TV stars because they were good. The silver screen rebels, heart throbs, doctors, superheroes … they were our voices because we didn’t have a way to be heard. Lives were made or ruined because some network or publisher decided that someone’s voice had value.
That sounds awful in today’s world, but if you remember those days it’s probably with a certain degree of nostalgia. The details have faded, and we remember simpler times when there was some consensus of thought.
But it only felt like we were on the same page because we were all watching the same show at the same time, over the network’s shoulder. We all walked away from it with more or less the same basic ideas: it was good or it was bad.
Something amazing happened when everyone starting walking around with video cameras and instant publishing. We noticed that those heroes, those gods we worshiped … well, they were only human after all. They had bad hair days, said racist things, and danced on Oprah’s chair, and were generally … not perfect.
Culturally, when we find out that the people we worship aren’t who they said they were, we develop a hobby of carrying around sharp things to hit them with. People rise up to claim their voices back. And we did.
Today, more content is created in one day than we can consume in a lifetime. Everyone has a voice now. We are each standing in a crowded room where everyone is screaming. Everyone is on TV. Everyone is online. Everyone can get their book published, for the right price.
So how does this make a mentor? Though politicians may fuss in public, it’s the perfect storm if you’re a corrupt government in need of a hero to overthrow you.
Before we devolve into arguments about regional politics at one moment in time, remember that we’re world building. We need to find the truth of our world that lies beneath our current political feelings so that we don’t age out of our market when the winds of politics change course. (And, they will. Few things are certain in life, and we’re not talking about either death or taxes.)
So let’s simplify and personalize it.
I am a mean dictator. My people are armed, and outnumber my military by… enough. If I try to bully them into submission it’s not gonna end well for me. If I cross The Line they will stand against me, and I will become flower food.
I don’t want that… obviously. I want to keep doing what I’m doing. So, they need someone else to get mad at. If we spend any time at all looking at our imaginary culture, we are going to find an Us (50%) and a Them (50%). Us are good, Them are sons and daughters of the devil.
But that’s still a lot of people on either side of the pendulum. I’m an evil dictator, and I don’t like big groups of people who all think the same way. The people who support me today are gonna stab me in the back tomorrow given half a chance.
How can I split those groups up even more? Maybe some people are with Us, but they don’t believe in Us’ whole platform. They’re mainly with Us because they just don’t want to be with Them. They’re fakers. A few carefully worded speeches are going to expose that truth, and Us will self-purge until I’ve got three groups of 25, 25, and 50%. That’s fine, because I can do the exact same with the Them’s to get four groups of 25%.
Rinse and repeat. To use a real world example that’s going to age poorly, now we have Never Trumpers, Tea Party, Squad Liberals, and the list goes on. As long as they’re squabbling among themselves over who gets to be top boy, they’ll never have the numbers to oppose me.
I get to stay King of the World.
Eventually someone is going to notice, but no one will listen. People are tired of conflict by now. Burned out. And now, all of the groups that are still engaged are very angry. That kind of anger needs fuel. Humans are fun like that: the fuel for anger is more anger.
“Us Subgroup 82 is angry at us! Can you believe that? Us Subgroup 130 are now really angry at them.” Pretty soon I have sliced and diced until I’ve got families turning against their own. They can’t come after me now, right?
This is what drives a hero, and a mentor, to create change. The whim of a publisher or network can’t break us enough to cause a rebellion. Only our friends and family have that kind of power. People we trust. People we love. It’s the pain of a Confederate son when he is rejected by his Union father. It’s a Colonist wife who was struck by her Loyalist husband for making him look bad. And today, it’s the Red vs. Blue of everyday politics.
We’ll find our mentor in these places of pain and betrayal. He’ll be the Obi-Wan who has lost everything when we first see him through Luke’s eyes. Without his order, his trainee, his home, his status. All he has left is his mission.
He won’t enter on a white horse or take the spotlight. He’s too damaged, and knows it. That will drive him to find the charismatic hero destined for the spotlight. The mentor’s convictions (and yeah, usually his horrible death) are what drive the hero to sign on to this scary new cause that is probably gonna get him killed.
So yeah. Mentors.