It's always been a conundrum to me that the same people who talk about "power to the people," tend to refer to people who follow a different leader as "sheeple." Has to be the word I love most to hate. I don't interact with enough conservative points of view to know if they use it on a regular basis, but I do hear it all too often from my leftie co-conspirators, and whenever possible I call them on it. Like "Hitler," it's one of those words that tells me I will find little beyond this point to interest me.
Unfortunately, the parable of the sheeple is being played out, again and again, in popular culture enough to make it a sort of faux reality. That is, if we see and read something often enough, it takes on a life of its own. A sort of "commie under the bed" syndrome, if you will. I wrote a little about this earlier in a piece on Dystopias.
I just finished the second volume, of Justin Cronin's dystopic vampire trilogy, and although there were satisfying moments, there was also a characterization of the population at large, that is, everyone other than the main characters, as being little more than pawns on the stage of history. That there were individuals who rose from this population to play key parts was dramatically interesting, but I was still aware that Cronin has written a culture that, by and large, continues to wait for a hero to save it.
That this is a popular paradigm was driven home again last night when I watched my DVR'd copy of The Walking Dead. Here I was treated to the spectacle of an entire community behaving like idiots, at one point cheering on a fight to the death like a pack of ravening wolves and at another making the astounding decision to pack up the wife and kids and hit the road, taking them out into a death-filled landscape without food, water, medical supplies or a viable destination. And then hanging their heads and agreeing to stay on and build something their grandchildren would be proud of after a 20-second pep-talk. I hope President Obama was taking notes.
To cheer myself up, I followed that one with the latest Downton Abbey, and noticed something very peculiar. The chauffeur turned son-in-law turned estate manager makes a little speech to the lord of the manor about the worker, the professional and the elite working together to make a better tomorrow. In this paradigm, however, it was the elite who concerned himself with the good of those who could not adequately help themselves. I hope John Boehner was taking notes.
Say what you will about Downton Abbey, it portrays a community of individuals, not a pack of sheeple. They are all living within a matrix of tradition and upheaval. They all behave as people might actually behave under certain circumstances. Sometimes a little unbelieveable, true. This is still, after all, a work of fiction. And even as a work of fiction, it could be better. You get no argument from me.
All the same, I argue that the world most of us in the West find ourselves in is far more Downton Abbey than The Walking Dead. We may none of us know our true place in the Brave New World that is always coming, but neither are we red shirted extras in search of a hero.
Unfortunately, it's sometimes a comfort to believe that they are.