1. This podcast episode reminds me of a video I saw a few years ago. It was a review of a movie called Wolfwalkers. I haven’t seen Wolfwalkers, but from what I understand Wolfwalkers are people that can turn into wolves, and they face prejudice from people that want to wipe them out.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call the author of the review woke, but from what I’ve seen of her videos she is a more Left leaning SJW. During the review, she and the person she made the review with basically described the villain as boring and flat — a run off the mill ‘staunch Christian colonizer man’. The reviewer named this as a plus, however. She admired this approach because there was no ‘both sidesing it’ in the movie. The villain was bad and wrong and there was nothing to discuss beyond that. Essentially, the reviewer had her moral stance on the issue, and she isn’t really that interested in discussing nuance, gray areas or why someone might disagree with her.

    Obviously it’s wrong for someone to take over another group’s land and force a different belief system down their throats, so she is correct in pointing that out. And it’s ok for stories to take a simplistic moral view sometimes. Every author has a different approach when it comes to handling moral complexity in stories, and that’s a good thing. But the reviewer’s words sort of encouraged the listeners to avoid thinking more deeply on this social issue, and that can be pretty dangerous. Deciding that another group of people is unquestioningly bad and to be fought at all costs sounds like the same mindset that the Wolfwalkers villain had, after all.

    All that to say…although there are areas where modern and ‘woke’ stories might muddy the waters of morality sometimes, many of them are steadily moving AWAY from understanding and nuance in favor of painting everything as a black and white moral issue. They often call for clear moral boundaries to be drawn, just like you advocated for in the podcast, but their moral stances are different, so they will depict a different set of people as the bad guys. And they are so firm and moralistic in their stances that it is very difficult to show them that they might be wrong about something. The comments sections for various movies, Youtube videos, webcomics, etc, show that there is no shortage of people with firm moral sensibilities. And they are quick to call out behavior that they consider bad. But they are imperfect human beings, just like everyone else, so their moral judgements are often wrong, or they act upon their moral sensibilities in the wrong way.

    So I don’t think the issue is muddy moral waters. In many ways it’s the opposite, and we are swiftly moving toward a society that is so sure of its moral stance and so desperate to enforce it that it seeks to shut down anything that disagrees.

    It’s also worth noting that exploring a character’s ‘trauma’ and reasoning does not mean that the author is trying to muddy the waters or justify that character’s behavior. The author may just be trying to illustrate why people make certain choices, explore a moral issue, or show the story from the character’s perspective. People tend to be the heroes of their own stories, after all. So if a character is immoral, a story will show how that immoral person justifies his behavior. Illustrating human nature is an important function of story telling, because when we understand how people think, we have more information we can use to avoid making the same mistakes the characters did. So we need to be careful when declaring that a story/author is amoral. Authors will sometimes put very good morals in their stories, but they don’t spell it out for the audience, and so the morals may not be readily apparent at first.

What say you?