Monday, March 9, 2009

On the infinite gradiations between "We" and "They"

I've gone on about the new World of New Krypton series already, but I'm pleased to see that some of the things Robinson and Rucka have introduced in their first issue are already sparking talk.

In that first issue, Superman sees flaws in the guild system that Kandor/New Krypton employs in its society. He says right out that it's more of a caste system. He looks at the way Alura speaks to Labor Guild member Lor-Van, and immediately brands it thinly veiled slavery. But he's been there like a day. Are we absolutely sure he's right?

Bear in mind the following. They've already said that Jor-El married "outside his guild" and suffered no penalties from it. This implies (or more correctly, I infer) that they are not as hopelessly locked in to their guild as one would expect in a strict caste society.

At first glance Superman views the Labor guild as "glorified slaves". But do THEY consider themselves that? And if one is "glorified", is one still a slave? And as I've said many times, don't look down on the folks that fix things and deliver the food. Want to see what happens to society if they all stay home? To quote spencer Tracy "The world needs ditch-diggers too". Yes, in our society these people are often paid like chimps and treated like animals. But there's no evidence of that yet on Krypton.

The subtle thing that makes guilds "wrong" in most eyes is if they force people into those guilds. If the child of two Labor Guildsmen shows an amazing aptitude for scientific thinking, or if the child of two Science Guildmembers is built like a tank and has a voice that makes the other kids follow his orders, it would be against the good of the society to force those two to be street sweepers or beaker jockies respectively.

Guilds have made their way into science fiction lots of times. The Guilds in Dune and the Splinter Cultures from the Dorsai books (more correctly the Childe Cycle) are but two examples. Ironically, many people say that the only way you could get a guild system to work smoothly is IN science-fiction. I've often said that a truly perfect model of Communism exists in only one place - the Marvelous Land of Oz.

While it could concievably be played out as if it's a bad system, consider a few thoughts...

Superman sees these things through the eyes of an American, one used to democracy. So he's going to apply his worldview to the societies he meets up with. England still has a monarchy; a democratic Monarchy, but there's still a lineage-based leader in the middle of everything. That seems woefully out of place in a modern world, but it seems to be working fine for them. So in New Krypton (I can't bring myself to use the acronym "WoNK"), perhaps R&R are planning to simply present the idea that other cultures have come up with government structures that work for them, and are not "Good" or "Evil" in any sense.

A lot of people on this world claim that countries in the Middle-East "don't want" or even more insultingly, "Aren't ready" for democracy. I doubt we'll see that heavy-handed a point made here. I've yet to see either of these writers Sockpuppet any characters, even when dealing with touchy and controversial subjects. So I don't expect them to start.

As I mentioned before, with a year to work with and a whole planet to play on, There's every possibility that Robinson and Rucka will play with our expectations and offer the idea that maybe, just maybe, an alien planet with who knows how many more millenia of advancement as us might be able to get a workable system that isn't a direct copy of ours. There is every possible chance that the story will NOT end with earth at war with Krypton.

Jim Shooter tried to play with the same ideas in his run of Magnus Robot Fighter. He said it would have been far too easy to portray North-Am as this momolithic fascist state which Magnus would fight against. But he chose to suggest that maybe these changes ended up being beneficial after all. He once said in an interview with yours truly,
"A lot of the citizens of North-Am are relatively nice people. In this
country today, if you had a psycho-probe and offered it, there'd be a lot of
basically decent respectable nice people, people you wouldn't mind having lunch
with who would think that was a good idea. So basically, it's not an all evil
thing, it's a society that's decided to make use of technology."

Now of course, after a couple of years, Shooter got ousted from his own company and Magnus got turned into a knock-down drag out book where Magnus fought not just evil robots, but evil ALIEN robots. The thin political-philosophy pieces of the puzzle were replaced with more hitting. To this day you've got camps of people each maintaining that this version was better than that one.

The challenge in fiction (or indeed in the real world) is that when you suggest that That Group Over There might have a couple good ideas, or that "They" might be doing some things right, it's too easy to get accused of being anti-"we".

Politics is not a black and white discussion, no matter what the folks on television would like the viewer to believe. Comics have never been very good at portraying gray, literally and figuratively. let's see if it gets any better here.

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