Your Edu-scussion Character Guide
If you’ve played any of the major open-ended-adventure-type video games on the market in the past decade, you’ve probably had to make some character choices early in the story. Will you be male or female? What kind of hair will you have? Oh - and what race would you prefer?
You can be a Nord with naturally superior fighting skills, or a High Elf - adept with bows and influential with wildlife. There’s even that funny lizard-man species that resists poison and can breathe underwater – an almost irresistible combination, except for the part where have to be a talking lizard.
If your nerd runs more old-school than that, you made similar choices playing Dungeons & Dragons back in the day – will you be a Cleric or a Magician? A Fighter or a Thief?
What do you mean ‘an Illusionist’? Yeah, I KNOW what it IS, but no one DOES THAT – it’s stupid! Fine, be an illusionist, then. Die in prettier colors or whatever.
Why can’t people play this game correctly?!
As our social and political rhetoric heats up, and campaigns of various sorts begin in earnest, I thought it might be helpful to look at some of the character types you’re likely to encounter along the way. Heck, you may be one of these yourself.
These are typically white, evangelical or orthodox Christian men and their Biblically submissive (but not really) wives. The males are easily recognized by their slick hair and shiny teeth; the women by their neo-poodle hairstyles – although both may be camouflaged as they near metropolitan areas. Often homeschooled and self-employed (literally, or as consultants, ministers, etc.), they share a satisfying conviction that each blessing in their world was hard-fought and long-earned, the natural results of applied effort and clean living.
At their best they pity those unwilling or unable to themselves become tall, white, healthy, and educated; at their worst they despise the tiny dirty people, and blame them for their place in society. They revile the Touchy-Feelies.
The strength of the Righty Whitey is that they really do work for a living, making “good choices” and putting in long hours to create, innovate, contribute, and lead. They can sometimes be quite philanthropic within their own narrow understanding.
Their greatest weaknesses are those of Scribes and Pharisees – a deep-seated urge to legislate righteousness as they see it, and fixation on the rituals of charity without real interest in or compassion for the sorts of people most treasured by their Lord and Savior when He walked this fallen earth.
These folks see through every veneer, whether intended to manipulate the masses or simply smooth the way for civil interaction – and they call it out. Their nemesis is a world steeped in sexism, racism, classism – all the isms – and they’re never happier than when flinging around terms like ‘cultural appropriation’, ‘heteronormative’, and ‘micro-aggressions’, preferably in outrage.
The males tend to be overly academic or hipsters-in-denial, while the women have short hair and struggle with a desire to be socially presentable without ‘selling out’ to consumerist, body-shaming clichés about physical appearance.
Their strength is their ability to puncture our comfort zones and call out b.s., because even when annoying, they’re not always wrong. Their weakness is how easily and often they alienate potential allies; when fighting entrenched delusions on behalf of the voiceless and powerless, compromise is anathema.
These dear people are just trying to get through their days. They have jobs to go to and kids to raise, dinners to make and oil changes to schedule. They are prototypical ‘busy Americans’ – basically good folks minding their own business and feeling slightly guilty about how easily they get sucked into watching Pretty Little Liars (but not comparing theories about ‘A’ on social media because that’s just obsessive – but I think it’s Jenna, don’t you?).
When it comes to social issues or political disputes, Duck-N-Covers may have opinions, but they don’t like to get too involved or pay too much attention because it’s so time-consuming and discouraging.
Their strength is a type of moderation rarely prevalent in political decision-making and a genuine lack of animosity towards most individuals (although groups with which they lack personal connection may come under fire). They’re not the folks creating tension in the room with blanket statements about complex, emotional issues – they’re probably not bringing them up at all.
Their weakness is that same lack of engagement – they tend to vote against their own best interests and true beliefs because they’re not paying attention, and mistake detachment and uninvolvement for ‘balance’ and having ‘the right priorities’.
These are the oft-maligned and easily caricaturized liberals mocked by the Righty-Whiteys and shows like Portlandia. There’s no bad behavior they can’t rationalize via historical injustice or dysfunctional family, and no consequence they won’t condemn.
The agency for which they advocate is always about empowerment and rarely about personal responsibility. In their most private moments, they YouTube old commercials about buying everyone a Coke and teaching them to sing in harmony, and weep for a fallen world - and for their inability to save everyone in it, all at once.
Their nemeses are the Righty-Whiteys, to whom they attribute most evils in the world, and who they believe make all of the rules and control most institutions – especially those involving money, guns, and power. For such a diversity-embracing group, they are easily triggered by anything reminding them of Sean Hannity, fairly or not. They get most of their news from Comedy Central, and secretly want EVERYONE to be bi-curious, pagan, racially complex, and have at least one abortion, just to level the playing field.
Touchy-Feelies have a great deal of guilt over their own access to regular meals, hot showers, or other amenities.
Their strength is that they tend to put their time and energy where their feels are. They volunteer at local shelters, are disproportionately generous towards vetted charities, listen reflectively to society’s ‘least of these’, and otherwise chip away at the darkness in small, unappreciated ways. Their greatest weakness is the unconfessed loathing they feel towards anyone with a nice house, a clean car, and a good job.
It would be simply too ironic to describe this group with anything other than the most stripped down literal description. A snarky remark for every situation, an immediate focus on “the problem” inherent in every plan, Cynics are the antithesis of the MMMMs. It’s a toss-up which group is more emotionally draining.
Cynics are not always wrong in their darkened, boiling worldview, but they have trouble seeing the bigger picture. At the same time, their piercing insights can be powerful resources for leaders, explainers, and others who may be too caught up on ‘The Plan’ or ‘The Vision’ to think critically of it. Unfortunately, the very act of listening and understanding Cynics tends to validate and encourage them to go darker and boil hotter, thus reducing their clarity and usefulness.
The strength of Cynics is that they hate everything and distrust everyone pretty much equally, so their expectations are low. Positives are surprising every time, and thus enjoyed in small bursts before the darkness compensates. Their weakness is their inability to distinguish between the truly unforgiveable and the merely flawed, and like the boy who cried “WTF?!” they are easily tuned out by those tired of the harsh mojo.
MMMMs are less common than other major players, but still manage to shape whatever conversation they’re a part of through their passionate use of clichés, often-but-not-always in the form of pithy memes - or at least sounding very meme-ready. These are not recreational meme users - these are addicts. Maybe dealers.
Because they confuse emotion and conviction, they often believe they are key components of difficult discussions while adding almost nothing beyond perky echoes of others’ ideas. Theirs is a simple world in which “we should do what’s best for the CHILDREN” or “testing is not teaching!” pretty much solve every complexity and resolve every dispute.
Their strength is the clarity with which they prioritize and euphemize both personal goals and professional priorities. They really do believe that “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” so they make sure their kids know how much they care – and they really, truly do.
Their weakness is their inability to think creatively about complex circumstances or solve problems involving reality or living, breathing people – neither of which lend themselves easily to bold type superimposed over Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. They can’t fathom why anyone would be or listen to Cynics.
OK, that’s what I’ve got. What groups did I omit? Who did I mischaracterize? Please feel free to contribute below.
Keep in mind that while stereotyping is fun, it’s probably best to avoid examples which are TOO specific – and whatever you do, don’t name names! I’m too much of a Touchy-Feely to allow such behavior.