How pop culture perpetuates the myth of change at the top
I just finished watching Luke Cage on Netflix. There is some great writing and some not so great writing in it. There are moments where I had a hard time suspending disbelief in the plot and the characters, after all, it is based on a comic book character. I enjoyed Mike Coulter's swagger as Luke Cage, and I was shocked at Alfre Woodard's nihilism as Mariah Stokes. But there was a subtext throughout the series: change comes from knocking off the person at the top.
In nearly every good vs evil story, especially superhero stories, the message is, if you want to change life for the better, you have to replace the leader with a better leader. I can't help but see the analogy, or is it an allegory, a story of David vs Goliath? I think that if we look down deep, we might find that most stories of good vs evil are expressions of the wish for the inner child to prevail against an authoritarian parent.
A mere two years ago, a disheveled Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, burst onto the national political scene. There were two things that he said that I will never forget:
Get big money out of politics.
Real, lasting change always comes from the bottom up.
Yet, we could look at any good vs evil story, from Star Wars to Batman, and the story is pretty much the same: go after the guy at the top. As I look back on the movies and TV that I've watched, I see that the focus is on taking out the big guy at the top, never mind how he got there. Just take him out and the problem is solved.
Now there are a few sober moments in pop culture where the protagonist says something like, "Yeah, we could take him out, but some new guy will replace him in a heartbeat."
Ever notice how every four years, the press is so fixated on, "The President"? And that every two years, they're fixated on "Congress"? But the press is relatively mum about local politics, and they are far more content to talk about locals exhibiting challenging behavior like murder, rape, robbery and suicide on the TV news.
Our culture implores us to watch the people at the top, yet ignores how they got there. People like Donald Trump and Bret Kavanaugh are the result of thousands of decisions, starting in school boards, water district meetings and city councils. They are the result of thousands of small decisions in local courts and districts. They are the result of the decisions made by many local associations, all coming together, as one.
Political information is distributed by media in a way that ignores all those little decisions, so that we can't participate in those local decisions. Our economy is structured so that most of us can't participate in politics. I've talked to teachers in my neighborhood and they tell me that kids struggle in school because their parents are busy working 2 or 3 jobs. Most of us are so busy, we don't have time to participate in local politics.
Guess who has the time? The people with the money, or the people who are willing to do without, to do with less, the people who are driven to influence public policy. The greatest influence in public policy comes from the bottom.
By the time someone like Mike Lee becomes a Senator for Utah, he has attended hundreds of meetings over many years, at all levels of government. The people who supported him, have been in attendance at those meetings. Where do they get the time and the money to attend?
So if you find yourself fixated on Trump, Kavanaugh or some other leader that irks you, remember, all of that is the result of hundreds of thousands of decisions at state and local levels. It is not just one election that got them there. It is thousands of elections across the country.
If you really want to change how public policy works, you must get involved. I will admit that I haven't been involved, and I wish I was more involved. All governance requires the participation of the governed. I look back on my life now and see that I was so confused, and now that I have kids, clarity is emerging.
The press, the media, all of it, that is focusing our attention on the top, where it's too late to do much of anything to change things around. The real work, that's down here at the bottom. At the school board. At the water district. At the redevelopment meetings. Politics requires thousands of hours to master. The most successful politicians start there, at the bottom.
Trump is an anomaly. Trump supporters like to say that because he lacks experience, that he will serve the country better. I disagree. I say that people who have been involved at the local level understand how to compromise, how to reach to the other side, how to find fairness in their agreements. And since Trump doesn't have that kind of experience, authoritarianism is what he knows and does well. I also believe that Trump is lying when he talks about all the great things that he's done for the country. He's only one man, and just now, he's getting involved.
One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato
I am writing this article just as much for myself as for you. I am writing this article to encourage you and I together, to get more involved. It doesn't matter which side we're on. What matters is that we're talking, and that we keep the lines of communication open. If we don't govern ourselves, someone else will govern us.