This is a momentous day for me. It’s one that I’ll remember for years to come. It’s kind of a life-changing event, actually.
So, what’s happened? Well, I’ve just taken part in the largest re-Tweet in world history – that Tweet being President Obama’s ‘Four More Years’, complete with this photo of him embracing his wife, Michelle. So far, over half a million people have re-Tweeted his message, and have shared this image, and I’m glad to be among them.
It feels good to know he’s been re-elected. Even though I’m not American, the issue of who gets to live in the White House is an important one for me, and for anyone who is interested in the way the world is run. It is a relief to know that a good man, a man who has inclusion and equality at the heart of his campaign, will be at the reins for another four years, and I’m a happy citizen of the world today. Having said that, however, I really dislike the title ‘Leader of the Free World’, sometimes bestowed upon the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, because I think it makes the world seem too simple; my country has its own leaders which we’ve (inexplicably, it seems at times) elected, and we have our own issues and problems. Thinking that we’re just a sub-section of ‘the Free World’ takes away a bit of our independence and agency, and gives the impression that it doesn’t really matter, in the end, what the rest of us do – America stands behind us all, wearing a shirt that says ‘I Got This’. Well, if that’s the way it has to be, I’m glad Obama is the man wearing the shirt, but it’s not really an ideal situation.
The US election, and its outcome, has got me thinking about the idea of leadership, both in the real world and how it’s used in fiction. I wonder are we hard-wired to make any fictional character in a position of leadership into a ‘bad’ character? Most of the fictional figures I can immediately call to mind who occupy any sort of position of leadership or power are shown as tyrants, bullies, hopelessly corrupt, or otherwise incompetent. The Capitol in ‘The Hunger Games’, Mr. Rochester in ‘Jane Eyre’ (until he is ‘humbled’ by injury, and learns to allow some dependence into his life), The Magisterium in the ‘His Dark Materials’ novels are all flawed power structures; as well as these, the way the characters are depicted in ‘The Lord of the Flies’ shows abuse of leadership and power, as does ‘Animal Farm’, as does ‘Brave New World.’ Even in the Harry Potter novels, the ‘good’ leader, Dumbledore, can’t be allowed to remain in position, but must be replaced by an evil, power-hungry, corrupt figure – it’s true that this gives Harry the chance to show his own leadership skills, which I suppose is the point.
Leaders in fiction who are good, brave, noble, self-sacrificing and willing to fight for the good are largely people who have risen from humble beginnings through the power of their own virtue to a position they might never really have wanted in the first place. They don’t always necessarily fight for power, or the right to lead, but sometimes when you fight for what’s right, taking on the mantle of leadership comes with the job. It’s not always the case, but I think you could argue that it’s depicted that way a lot of the time. We read about bad regimes being toppled by brave rebels, corrupt administrations shattered through the efforts of a hero or a group of selfless demi-heroes, and so on. This isn’t always the case in reality – in our world, if a corrupt regime is toppled by rebels, sometimes the replacement regime is as bad, if not worse, as what went before. The idealism in fiction sometimes just doesn’t work in reality.
I suppose this is why a victory like President Obama’s has such resonance, not just for Americans – it really does seem like the hero, who has struggled and who knows what it’s like to fight for what he believes in, has prevailed. The closeness of the election meant that the ‘story’ had tension, drama and suspense; all these things make the resolution even more satisfying. It’s like watching a story come to life, in some ways, and it’s wonderful to feel like there’s been a happy ending to the tale. Well, it’s more than that, of course. Stories need conflict to work – the idea of reading about how a good leader rules well, and how all his people/subjects/citizens love him and want him to remain at the helm forever, is a little ‘fairytale-esque’ for most tastes (not that there’s anything wrong with fairytales, of course!) Normally in writing we need to make leaders and power structures corrupt and evil, ready to be toppled by our bright hero, so that there’s danger, conflict, peril and a story arc, and therefore a bit of interest for the reader or audience. Today, however, it does feel like a noble leader has succeeded, despite the fact that he hasn’t exactly toppled a terrible regime, per se. Clearly, however, the majority felt that President Obama was a better choice than the alternative, and so – in fiction terms, if nothing else – a ‘terrible regime’ has been avoided, perhaps. At least, that’s how it looks from this vantage point. It feels like something wonderful has been started, and it feels like there’s a reason to be hopeful.
Well, unless you’re a Republican, in which case I sympathise. Better luck next time.