Tribalism and the effects on fiction

It’s no secret there are deep divisions in American culture, especially politically.  Maybe it’s just my perception but it appears that everything is suddenly seen through the lens of politics.  While that isn’t to be completely unexpected, after all people read things through a worldview.  However, right now there appears to be less nuance and more, “believe like me or you’re evil.”  This is seeping into fiction.  Television, movies, and books are labeled with assumptions based on who ever is consuming the media and many times they are wrong.

I’m going to say up front that I do not adhere to the philosophies of either Republicans or Democrats.  I find them both deeply flawed for different reasons.  I feel this needs to be stated just in case someone attempts to accuse me of taking sides, since reading into things is a common practice on the internet.  Now that that’s out of the way, both parties have built of tribalism around them, while painting the other side as evil.  Yes, evil.  Not misinformed, not simply disagreeing on important issues, no evil.  The chasm between Liberalism and Conservatism has grown so much that neither side can even agree on the basics.  Around politicians that craft these ideas there is the rest of the country who mostly either adheres to one side or the other.

This tribalism doesn’t end at the polls or while determining which candidate to vote for.  It often overflows into media.  Readers start to have a visceral reaction to books because there are perceived ideas from “the other side” while authors cave to pressure to pander to their audience and fall into the trap of becoming too political with their works.  Tensions have been rising, especially after the 2016 election, and continue to escalate, almost as if people are looking to fight with those who believe differently.

In my next post I will continue this topic.  For now, I think all of us need to consider the implications of tribalism and vilifying those who believe differently.

Lessons from writing: I have a voice

I’m a quiet introvert.  I spent most of my life being submissive, avoiding conflict, and generally letting people steamroll over me.  Due to dealing with bullies for many years, I feared being friendless and rejected.  I rarely voiced my opinion, especially in situations where I knew someone would disagree with me.  If a “friend” spoke harshly or was even mean, I kept my thoughts and feelings private, pretending outwardly that I wasn’t bothered.

This started to change once I had a life-changing event take place in 2013.  I was riddled with anxiety due to yet another abusive friendship I found myself in.  That year I finally spoke my mind on the toxicity of the friendship dynamic.  Something which was completely foreign to me.  A year later I decided to publish my first book and start blogging.

Writing has opened a new window for me.  I feel more confident in what I have to say on a page and that has transitioned into my personal life as well.  I’m done being a doormat, and once I made that decision, people started to take notice.  Some were flabbergasted that I would dare to speak my mind.  Writing has shown me it’s okay to have an opinion or voice, even an unpopular one.  Everyone should be treated with kindness and respect, even if their behavior doesn’t warrant it.  However, that doesn’t mean, as I erroneously once thought, that we cannot or should not stand up for ourselves.  In fact, I would go so far as to say if a friend or family member doesn’t listen to your voice, especially if you are treated poorly or have an issue, then perhaps it is time to reevaluate the relationship.

If you are reading this I want to remind you that you have a voice.  You have a right to speak up for yourself, your beliefs, and to defend yourself.  Perhaps like me, you will find writing a means to empower you and your voice.

What makes humor humorous?

Humor can be difficult.  There is such a wide range of humor and what people find to be funny, it is difficult to pin down a concrete set of rules to go by.  While that is true, it is also true that there are things that more people will find funny than others.  I believe the root of successful humor is reality.  Something we find funny is usually an exaggeration of reality.

I recently wanted an episode of “The Last Man on Earth” a show which I felt has gone downhill since last year.  However, the last episode my wife and I saw came across as no where near the realm of funny but down right absurd.  Now I’m not going to give away spoilers or details, but it came across to us as 4th-6th grade humor.  I’m sure the comedy displayed on the show appealed to someone out there.  After all it is still airing new episodes.  For me it was so wildly sophomoric that I thought it was dumb and the furthest thing from funny.

This had me thinking about humor.  As authors we need to convey a range of literary elements, and humor is one of them.  When it comes to comedy, sometimes creativity doesn’t reign supreme.  Instead, how funny something is has to do with reliability.   We see the world through the lens of experience.  Of course, not all experiences are relatable, and thus where the differences in tastes lies.  That is okay, but when “comedy” crosses the line into implausibility and absurdity, that is when it becomes immature.

This is why over-reliance on fart jokes for a movie geared towards adults is typically frowned upon.  Farting can be funny, but adults don’t relate to the idea that every fart is funny like a child would.  For us writers, we must keep this in mind when we include comedic scenes.  Not all my find our attempts at humor funny, but we should at least aim for the situation to be as relatable as possible.

Hurt Pt. 2

In my last entry, I discussed victimhood and the culture growing around that.  Pain is a shared experience, it is one of the things that all humans everywhere face.  Most wish to avoid it, however more and more American culture appears to be embracing it, placing people into categories based on historical and emotional pain groups.  A writer’s job is to pay attention to the world.

As stated in the previous blog.  I completely understand that there is hurt that I don’t understand and can never understand, and at the same time I’ve faced things that others will not understand.  That is the truth of being human.  Pain is pain.  Yes, some of it is more traumatic than others, such as seeing combat or being assaulted, but claiming that as an identifying feature accomplishes nothing.

There is a recent study that says teens are creating fake social media accounts to “bully” themselves.  Is this how much we prize victimhood?  Have we ended up creating an environment that favors those who define themselves solely by their pain that this has become a reality?  Life is short, and as we argue about who hurts more and what pain is more legitimate, feeling sorry for ourselves, our life is passing by.

As I watch this unfold, I cannot help but feel like this is something that would be considered unbelievable if it was in a fictional book.  Especially the part where teens bully themselves to get attention.  If that was in a book I was reading, it would feel campy and forced.  Yet this is the reality of the world we live in.


I’ve said before that a big part of writing is observing the behavior of people.  This observation enables authors to be guided toward more realistic characters.  One observation that has become very apparent in recent years is hurt.  So many people appear to be defined by the past and the pain that was inflicted upon them.

We are emotional, sensitive beings, even people who care very little for others are still sensitive, particularly when it comes to their own feelings.  I do not pretend to know about every type of pain and how to overcome it.  I do not know what it is like to be a veteran with PTSD or to give birth to a child.  I have not felt the pain of going days without food, or the hurt of being divorced.  One thing I am certain of, if you are human you have been hurt.

Pain is as much of the human experience as pleasure.  We have all felt it, and not only have we all felt it, we have our own personalized version of it.  I know from my own experiences that there are things nearly impossible to get past.  My wife too has endured pain and suffering few know about, and she has shown such a level of grace that it seems inhuman to me.

We each know pain, but not all of us are familiar with the same type of pain that may plague another person.  That being said, no pain is too great to overcome.  Yes, there are hurts that are beyond what humans were ever meant to endure.  I do acknowledge that, but at what point do we become stuck and defined by our pain?  There seems to be so many people that this scenario applies to.  This is seen heavily in identity politics, groups of all shapes and sizes coming out of the woodwork screaming “What about me?!  I have been wronged!”  Yes, yes you have been.  You know what?  So have the people you think are against you.

If we identify ourselves only by pain and gather with those who shared similar hurt, then how can we grow?  If we continually shout, “what about me?” when someone voices a concern.  If we utilize a person’s race, religion, philosophy, or nationality to say they do not understand pain, what are we accomplishing?  Nothing, nothing but more hurt and more division.  There is no glory in victimhood, and ultimately it will lead to shallowness and loneliness.  If we think our pain to be so great that we can in turn shout down someone else then that reflects more on us than anyone else, even if our pain is legitimate.