Right now, people around the world are protesting police violence following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer last week. (Click here if you’re interested in finding ways to get involved.)
The conversation about these issues have been going on for a long time, and will and should continue. Historically, systems of oppression change only slowly, with a large number of people keeping up pressure on those in power, if they’re not trying to overthrow them wholesale. The topic of revolution and rebellion is very popular in sci-fi and fantasy, with some of the biggest, most popular series of all time ending with a war against an oppressive regime: think of the Rebels fighting the Empire in Star Wars, or Harry Potter and his crew battling Voldemort. These stories are rousing and, more often than not, ultimately triumphant, which is very satisfying to watch.
But they’re often not particularly true to life. A lot of them involve a “Chosen One” of some kind, one very special person who is destined to be the key figure in the fight against evil. That’s great for audience identification, and it streamlines the storytelling process by reducing the number of important characters, but real revolutions involve masses of people fighting for their rights every day.
That’s the basic distinction drawn by YouTuber Just Write in a video essay that went up the other day. He argues that The Hunger Games came closer to the mark than many other stories about revolution, both because of how it depicted hero Katniss Everdeen — she was powerful because people followed her rather than because of some kind of innate talent — and because it gave greater importance to the revolutionaries on the ground. It’s a great watch. Check it out below:
I think Just Write has a great point. From Harry Potter to Avatar: The Last Airbender to The Matrix to Mr. Robot to Divergent to Westworld and way beyond, the “Chosen One” narrative tends to flatten the complexities of revolution, not so much because it’s bad in and of itself but because it’s used so often. There are other stories that subvert the Chosen One myth, like Game of Thrones, but it’s still really prevalent.
And that’s not a bad thing! There are good reasons why the Chosen One story works so well, but at a time when a lot of people are fighting injustice on a massive scale, it pays to remind ourselves that real change happens when lots of people are inspired to change things. No destined hero is going to strike the final blow against injustice. We all have to be a part of it.