“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”
– Stan Lee
One that that’s bothered me for the past few years is that I’m not curing cancer or bringing about peace in the Middle East. We’re all on the brink of dying from willful ignorance — climate change deniers, the anti-vaccination crowd, a deliberate misunderstanding of what “socialism” is, and on and on and on — and I write tabletop roleplaying games. Not as a major player in that market, either. Doesn’t the world have enough entertainment? Aren’t their already enough games to play, TV shows to binge, comic books to read, without adding to it?
Simplifying a Complex World
When I found that Stan Lee quote a while back, it made me reconsider. I haven’t been able to source where it came from, or validate that Stan actually said it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the sentiment that counts. The comics he wrote game people a brief respite from the horrors of the real world, it’s true. He did something else, too, that’s never fully recognized.
Stan is credited with bringing a level of realism into comic book superheroes. He made them real people with real problems, so that they were more relatable. What no one gives him credit for is taking complex emotional issues and reducing them to their essence. Spider-Man deals with the weight of responsibility. Fantastic Four tackles difficult family issues. Hulk is about guilt, and anger, and mental health. X-Men deals with bigotry. All in palatable forms that can still make a point and get you to think.
Creativity Provides Inspiration
How many people have said they went into science because of Star Trek? For as silly as it is, when I was a kid I took moral cues from Adam West’s Batman. Fiction can uplift us, inform us, and give us the means to process difficult real-world issues. We can find ways to translate values, concepts, and ideals and apply them to our own lives.
I’m not say that’s why my own creative work does, but it gives me something to strive for. It makes me consider what my work says, what I want it to say, and how I want to say it. My work can continue to be escapist in nature, but there can be a clear ideology running through it. There can be a call to action that carries over into the real world. I can put positivity and hope out into the world.
To Thrive, You Need to Be Functional
That’s not to discount the basic value of escapism. I don’t want to hear about the news in the morning until I’ve had a chance to drink some coffee and wake up. There is a point in the evening after which I do not want to hear about the real world, so I don’t get riled up before bed.
On an emotional level, we can’t be bombarded with seriousness and horror all the time. You can’t function like that. It’s how you burn out. Some people take it too far, it’s true, but we all need to unwind somehow. Entertainment is how most of us here in the 21st century do that. If it provides an emotional outlet, or gives us some hope, all the better. Then we can recharge our batteries and dive back into cold hard reality.
Doing a Good Thing
I’m not trying to overstate the value of my own work. At the same time, I need to embrace that it does have some value. I try to abstain from feeding the trolls, giving negativity a signal boost, and generally helping evil find a platform. That’s not enough. I want to end this with an actual, verifiable quote from Gandhi. This is something he really said, not the similar thing that ends up on memes:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…We need not wait to see what others do.”