In this moment of crisis, I return to the lessons the fairy tale have offered me about how the world works and although the world no longer relies on the inherited wisdom, the good and the ugly of how folklore teaches us to navigate the world still applies.
Some of our new folklore is dispatched through television and like the sadistic narrative of Bluebeard, ask us to endure the wiles of a tyrant. The alpha male of television is a renegade, shoots from the hip at the expense of others, is uncannily and unfailingly visionary, railroads the little guy, gaslights women, and still gets renewed season after season. The forbidden room is the dreamy center of the television heartthrob who treats women terribly, but still nails them one by one.
Little Lord Fauntleroy and the lambs.
I’m trying desperately to understand how ideology replaces reason, and I know part of it is fear and I know part of it is that innate sense of connection with this or that history and art of power. Fairy tales taught me that having power is always worrying about losing power: the whims of the king meant to test his subjects and even his children. That crucible is remote, except in theory, and then it becomes less remote. But the little omens in stories become something else with the word suddenly.
Suddenly is canon in folklore the way it’s canon in truth: the world changes. Then suddenly the house burned down, then suddenly the skies darkened or a witch came out of the sky to smote the ogre. Then suddenly the fox had the henhouse.
House M.D. is the king and the ogre and the landowner and the mercenary and slavishly we watch him treat people terribly because he was a genius, we thought, because we were being inured to despotic power, and I forgot in my own devotion what I was complicit in, a cultural submission to his. I forget how in the fundament of Bluebeard, his tyranny has inside it—through its connection to power—a seductive quality that made me soft to his awfulness. I was raised Catholic, which was to me all about the powerful, stern grandfather, Charlton Heston Moses correcting me in nightmares. There’s a host of these men to see every night, almost every hour seeking to subjugate me, and how idle I have been in my resistance.
The devil is in the details. I have to resist the vicarious connection to power because all power exists through the subjugation of another person. That is the truth the seductive Bluebeard hides in his ornate room. They argue that we have to let him keep his room because we will need its darkness and the bodies in them. But when lay our lot with a seductive monster, we’re complicit with those dead bodies, our hands stained like the key.
Suddenly my list changes, a new name. Suddenly my labors feel insufficient. How I see the world is suddenly some other thing. My next labor as a reader is to watch the peripheral omens of the invisible characters not represented in the crush of supremacist archetypes, which is why I love the work of fan theories, of creepypasta, of real folklore: counternarratives to corporate-state-sponsored dissemination of television-as-folklore. The work can be dystopic, utopic, transgressive, queer, all of it futurist as it imagines the fringes of time and space in the intersection of reality and television.
Westworld and Wayward Pines the metapoetic gesture of tyranny.
Which is to say this: the work of folklore can be the work of resistance. Or to say that we have to occupy, to counter-appropriate because folklore is where culture and subsequently morality lives. We lost to fake news. Folklore is the real news. Poetry is the news, Williams was right.
Suddenly we are not people but numbers, suddenly we are interlopers, suddenly we are tasked to do something we can’t even imagine yet. We have the loose bones of those old stories that are fundamentally about facing, then confounding fate. That’s as good a place to start as any.