Monday, October 30, 2017

Introducing Hopepunk! - "There is good in this world and it's worth fighting for"

In different genres of media there is this prevalence of things being extremely dark. Life is hard and unfair and it turns you unfeeling and cynical. There are whole TV shows centered around the constant disillusionment with the world as a whole (Gotham, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and House of Cards, just to name a few examples). To counter that phenomenon, popularly called "grimdark", a tumblr post proposed what they called "hopepunk". It's not about turning a blind eye to the world's problems, but about seeing and recognizing the problems and instead of reacting with tired acceptance and cynicism, reacting with activism and kindness.

This aforementioned tumblr post gave the following excerpt as sort of the definition of what hopepunk is about:

The world may be dark and it may seem hopeless, but we cannot give up. We will not allow this grim and cruel reality to steal our kindness and our softness and to turn us hard and uncaring. On the contrary, we will be even kinder, even more caring, we will fight back. We will not give up hope and we will not give up ourselves, because we believe that there is something worth saving, something good and salvageable. We trust that one day in the future, maybe not soon, maybe not even in our lifetimes, but one day in the future our fight will bear fruit.
This is the essence of hopepunk (the post elaborates on it a bit more and very eloquently).

The post also talks about real world examples of hopepunk, but I want to focus on media examples, because I sometimes have the feeling that a lot of shows, movies, etc. seem to show us that cynicism is inevitable and that softness equals weakness and hopepunk is the opposite of that.

Wonder Woman is what comes to my mind almost immediately. It is arguably about Diana's disillusionment with humanity. In the beginning she believes humans to be wholly good and innocent and puts all the blame on Ares. Then she learns that humans are deeply flawed and that killing Ares won't end the war and return the world to peace and for a few moments she is close to giving up. But what is really important about this movie, is her reaction to the disillusionment. Instead of being cynical and turning away from humanity, she continues to fight for it, because she has seen with her own eyes the potential and the good that there is in humans despite their flaws. She continues to be hopeful and kind despite what Ares wanted to make of her.

The world of Mad Max: Fury Road is post-apocalyptic and undeniably terrible. And yet the plot starts (the actual plot, not the Max part of it) because a beaten and broken woman cared more than anyone could have expected of her. Imperator Furiosa who has suffered at the hands of the cruel ruler does not continue on his legacy of cruelty. Instead she decides to risk everything to try and safe his slave brides and take them to a green and safe space. And then when the green space turns out to be long gone, a desert in its place, they turn around to topple the tyrant, because there is hope. Despite all there is hope. An old woman takes seeds with her, not because she expects to be there to see them grow, but because she believes someone will and that's all that matters.

Hopepunk is also a strong theme in the original Star Wars movies (and Rogue One, too). Hell, episode 4 is called "A New Hope". The galaxy is under facist rule, but there are people not willing to take it. They face almost insurmountable odds and in their struggle they often lose. Hope is sometimes all they have. When an imprisoned Leia sends a message with R2D2, when the rebels fly to destroy the Deathstar, when Luke tries to save his friends and so on. Characters routinely choose love over duty and in the end Luke only manages to defeat Emperor Palpatine because he still believed in the good in his father despite all evidence to the contray. All the main characters in Rogue One die, but the movie frames their stories not as failures but as successes, because while they personally might have died, their sacrifice was worth it, because it brought hope.

There are almost certainly some more examples. These are just the ones I came up with right now. Hopepunk stories are some of my favorites because they carry an optimism I often find myself lacking. That makes them so important for me. Related to that, characters that embrace the hopepunk attitude are also some of my favorite characters.

Over and out

P.S. There are some quotes I associate with hopepunk:
"Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage not weakness." - Katherine Henson 
"Be soft, don't let the world make you hard./ Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place." - Iain S. Thomas
"All this pain and loneliness and misery and it just made him kind." - from Doctor Who, a show that, too, carries a lot of optimism 

Add-on: Related to this, is the symbolism of outfitting Captain America with a shield (to protect) and the Doctor with a screwdriver (to fix) instead of traditional weaponry.

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I like reading, drawing, writing, movies, TV, friends, traveling, dancing and all kinds of small things that make me happy. Just trying to spread some love.

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