I thought about naming this post after former President Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, but I figured that would be a bit presumptuous of me. So instead,I went with hopepunk. What is hopepunk? Well, as the person who seems to have originated the term, I’ll go with what author Alexandra Rowland says: hopepunk is the opposite of grimdark.
Grimdark is, according to the website TVTropes, a tone shift in how a work, whether in film, books, or some other media, is presented – rather than go for a lighter, more hopeful tone, instead it moves in the other direction, darker, edgier, more dystopian, more amoral… more hopeless. Nowhere in geek culture is this more obvious than in the setting of popular miniatures wargame Warhammer 40,000 – where there are no good guys to play, nobody is clean or pure; even the nominal ‘good’ guys think nothing of exterminating whole planets of their own people to halt the spread of infectious ideas, or to deny ground to their enemies. In a grimdark setting, hope is a thing of the past; all that can be hoped for anymore is survival, and perhaps revenge.
I bring this up today because of the events in Las Vegas on Sunday night, of a shooting rampage that left, as of this writing, 59 people dead and 527 injured. I spent much of yesterday after hearing about this in a daze. That someone could inflict such terror and bloodshed on his fellow man, and for (thus far) no discernable reason… I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it. The thing that came to my mind most readily was a quote from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Theoden, king of Rohan: “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” I was sickened, saddened, depressed, horrified, angry. I despaired over what could have caused this, and raged over those who decided to take the opportunity to say that it happened because of disrespect for the president, or who decried any possible attempt at conversation about gun control. I was trying desperately to find something to help me make sense of things when I remembered reading about the concept of hopepunk a couple weeks ago.
I’ve written about hope before here; in the process of recovery from mental illness, and learning to manage what will be a lifelong condition, sometimes hope is all that you have. And I am, by nature, a cynic; I tend to think that things will likely get worse, not better, which is odd coming from someone who has adopted (and should probably get tattooed somewhere) the credo dum spiro, spero – while I breathe, I hope. But I was having a hard time finding anything to be hopeful about in this situation until I remembered the idea of hopepunk. It’s not the deepest philosophy, but I felt that it somehow touched something in me, something that helped me to come back out of the dark hole I was descending into. Like the concept’s author says:
“Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Robin Hood and John Lennon were hopepunk. (Remember: Hopepunk isn’t about moral perfection. It’s not about being as pure and innocent as the new-fallen snow. You get grubby when you fight. You make mistakes. You’re sometimes a little bit of an asshole. Maybe you’re as much as 50% an asshole. But the glass is half full, not half empty. You get up, and you keep fighting, and caring, and trying to make the world a little better for the people around you. You get to make mistakes. It’s a process. You get to ask for and earn forgiveness. And you love, and love, and love.) ”
Things are dark now. They will be dark again. For some of us, there hasn’t been a time in recent memory where it hasn’t been dark. But they won’t always be that way. Despite whatever is happening now, things are slowly getting better. Sometimes they aren’t perceptibly better; sometimes they might not get better for us, but rather for our children or grandchildren. but things are getting better, though it can be hard to see. 60 year ago, I probably would have been put in a sanitarium – and that’s assuming I survived my suicide attempts. Even 5 years ago, I was unable to get health insurance, because I had a pre-existing condition and that meant insurance companies avoided me like the plague. Now I have insurance, I just finished my MSW (even got the degree int he mail today), and I’m looking to get into the field and get to work because I want to help.
The world is dark at times. Grim, painful, and ugly. What happened in Las Vegas Sunday night was a gruesome, terrible example of that. But there is hope. Sometimes we can see it in the events in the news, and sometimes in the lives of the people around us. And sometimes we can see it in the media we choose to immerse ourselves in. For me, a website I read a fair bit, RPG.net, has created a fair list of media they feel qualifies as hopepunk storytelling, and I agree with many of them. And, because I’m a geek, I think I’ll point out a few of my favorite examples.
Game of Thrones, a show famed for its brutality and character death count, has moments of this – fans of the show will see it in ‘dancing master’ Syrio Forel, when he says “And what do we say to the God of Death? Not today.”
Fans of DC Comics will see it in the oath of the Blue Lantern Corps: “In fearful day, in raging night, With strong hearts full, our souls ignite. When all seems lost in the War of Light, Look to the stars, for hope burns bright!”
Some may even see it in the 90s Kevin Costner vehicle The Postman, where a grifter in a post-apocalyptic USA takes up the guise of a US Postal Service mailcarrier, initially as a way to con others – and starts a movement he ends up believing in (plus, as a bonus, it has a cameo with Tom Petty, who passed away yesterday, playing himself as leader of a settlement).
I think the two that might do the most for me, though, are these two: the first is from the first season of the HBO series True Detective (and, as a warning, it does include some NSFW language):
The second comes from the TV series Angel, a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was a show that was all about a group of monsters, misfits, screwups, and criminals trying to find some kind of redemption in fighting against evil the best they could, and this idea became one of the central points of the show:
So, rather than rant about people like Pat Robertson, or how desperately the country needs gun control or something like it to keep these terrible things from happening over and over, rather than add to the deluge of negativity and despair, I write to you about hope. Find it where you can; ask others for help if you can’t find it on your own. Hope for a better world is how the world gets to be better. I leave you with some of the final words of Canadian politician Jack Layton: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
I would love it if those reading could contribute their own examples of things they think might fall under the classification of hopepunk; please do so in the comments section below.