Holocaust Remembrance and The NeverEnding Story
January 29, 2017 11:46 AM   Subscribe

...that’s exactly, expressly what [Wolfgang] Petersen is saying. He’s saying the way you fight bullies in the real world — the way you stop Nazis — is by having more compelling fantasies than they do and making sure everybody can see that.
posted by Sokka shot first (20 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
it’s worth noting that the recent ressurection of the far right is pulling in PoMo gray-on-gray Gen-Xers, not Millenials — whose famed conscientiousness, academic researchers have suggested, may come from having grown up reading anti-racist propaganda in the form of Harry Potter.

The idea that the alt-right are mostly gen-xers is patently false, and this article is teleological millennial backpatting.

nb: I'm a Millennial
posted by R.F.Simpson at 11:56 AM on January 29 [11 favorites]


I heard a new age writer on the radio early this morning talking about mythos, that story that binds us together as a people. In a lot of ways the old mythos are dying or dead and people are now lost and are trying to find one. Unfortunately a lot are returning back to the rascist/rightest mythos of white supremacy. In this increasingly diverse world (it's always been diverse but now the diversity is open to everyone's experience) their assumed place in the world is being threatened. Instead of embracing the diversity they are fighting it. Compelling fantasy or mythos to replace what people are telling themselves now would be good.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:02 PM on January 29


What we need is to rediscover truth, not bury our heads in more private fantasy bubbles.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:06 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


(Sorry for the mixed metaphor, btw.)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:07 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I mean, even when it comes to art, social realism, not fantastical art, has shown the most success in actually contributing to the advance of liberalism and human progress, such that it is. The CIA didn't bankroll abstract artists to try to combat creeping liberalism for nothing. Twain argued the same, and he was a much more effective political influencer than, say, Salvadore Dali or even any of the dadaists or surrealists. Living too often in that dreamy space where fantasies take hold makes you exactly the kind of mark propagandists and marketers want you to be. Fantasy, kept constrained and within healthy boundaries is fine and arguably even indispensable. But radical fantacism is part of the disease of our age, in my opinion, and could never be the solution, though creative storytelling rooted in reality, or even fantasy that allegorically deals with reality, might be.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:16 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


The idea that the alt-right are mostly gen-xers is patently false, and this article is teleological millennial backpatting.

Well guys like Cernovich are, but yes, almost everything else about the sentence you quoted is pretty silly.

I do think having a vision of the better future you hope your politics to achieve is important if you want to beat the Nazis - theirs is pretty clear. So if that's what's meant by "fantasy" then sure.
posted by atoxyl at 12:27 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


It's really interesting that she's connecting with the movie, rather than the book. I have a deep relationship with this book, and I'm rereading it right now.

The movie we all know only discusses the first half of Ende's book, making it an entirely different story. In the second half, Bastian learns that his constant indulgence in storytelling, in fantasy, in wish-fulfillment, is eroding him, eating away his memory. But he has to hit bottom to discover that. Eventually Bastian tries to overthrow the Childlike Empress, to declare himself the Childlike Emperor and the true center of Fantastica. It ends badly for him, of course, and he finds himself in a city of lost souls who all tried to do the same thing, and have now destroyed themselves entirely. A Childlike Emperor -- well, who does that remind you of, but -- is this really a political story, or a personal one?

For years in my life, I've returned to this verse, the answer that Atreyu traveled miles to find at the Southern Oracle, when the Nothing was devouring Fantastica and sickening the Childlike Empress. A new name was what the Childlike Empress needed, but she could not simply have one invented on the spot.

Who can give the Childlike Empress
The new name that can make her well?
Not you, nor I, no elf, no djinn,
Can save us from the evil spell,
For we are figures in a book
And do what we are invented for . . .


A human being has to name her and rename her, over the centuries. It's a message that children only understand superficially at first. When you get older, you understand what Ende is saying: fantasy alone cannot save humans. We need our fantasies, because we are the storytelling apes, but they are tools, not destinations. I connect with this verse because I am a writer and I want to write my way out of my problems, yet year after year I have to relearn that I can't.

German fantasy, from what little I've gotten in translation, is amazing stuff. Walter Moers writes like Michael Ende with a Pratchett edge.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:32 PM on January 29 [41 favorites]


The millennial alt-right movement seems to come in large part from young white men who actually seem quite angry about how many of the stories in modern media involve, even as secondary characters, people who are not white men. Video games, on the other hand, held onto that fantasy for much, much longer, and still in many cases have. Protagonists don't need personalities--but they do usually have a gender and a skin color.

For everybody else, all these other things are potentially incredibly compelling. If young white women still trend towards believing in the supremacy of white men, it's because they're discouraged from engaging with these fantasies at all. But white men--you can't teach someone who doesn't know empathy that they should see value in stories where they aren't the protagonists. And they're the ones who start out holding all the cards.

That said, I do believe that stories are important, especially in that position. People need narrative patterns to follow--maybe not 100% of people, but many, many people use stories like that and always have. The right has for a long time tried to coopt revolutionary stories for exactly that reason. The New Testament is the least Republican possible narrative I can think of, and yet they spent decades twisting it around to keep it from being used against them.
posted by Sequence at 12:35 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Tossing religion into the dustbin of history would be a good start. Seems like we snake people at least have that going for us, which is good. Once you open yourself to doublethink, it's a slippery slope, and I'm sure for many people a big part of that conditioning is through "God(s)".
posted by anarch at 12:43 PM on January 29


It's really interesting that he's connecting with the movie

Romie Stott is a woman!
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:02 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


The next real legitimately world dangerous nazi's are not going to call themselves "nazi". Before the horrors were exposed (thank you Eisenhower) they were legitimately admired by many for having a noble cause. Not wanting to minimize the white supremacists but they are a known edge condition (like a bad rash that won't go away).

The word "antisemitism" was originally an attempt to hide jew hate under a sheen of academic acceptability.

I certainly loved the film and the strongest themes in art come from the deepest areas of the creative psyche and am all for fantasy but what we need is to bring up all the people in the world to have broad education, living conditions and opportunity. The cultural mythos will take care of itself.
posted by sammyo at 1:03 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I apologize! If someone can fix this that would be great but otherwise the typo is all on me
posted by Countess Elena at 1:05 PM on January 29


Ende sued to get the name taken off the movie, didn't he?

[Petersen]’s saying the way you fight bullies in the real world — the way you stop Nazis — is by having more compelling fantasies than they do and making sure everybody can see that.

yeah. that sounds about right. and Michael Ende, on the other hand, said that you lose your memories and almost all of your identity by means of having a magic talisman that says DO WHAT YOU WISH on the back of it and following the instructions, with no constraints to hold you back, and the way to recover yourself from this state is to finally wish to be able to love others, which Bastian cannot do, or thinks he cannot do. a more notable message than it seems in a children's book, since a lot of children's fantasy is concerned with being lovable, more than loving; finding someone to care for and give you what you deserve, not about fear or sorrow that you have lost or never had the ability to love and give.

The book is in no way anti-fantasy, but DO WHAT YOU WISH/what thou wilt is an extremely compelling fantasy directive, and it's not really a Nazi-beating fantasy. the book is smart about that. I don't know about the sequels but I don't think the original movie approaches anything to do with that. so I think she is right about the movie message but I do not think that message offers anything much at all of substance to fight fascism with.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:19 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


This may be neither here nor there, but one of the most ethereal, fantasy-influenced recording artists of all time, Klaus Nomi, was a German postwar baby. If his "Total Eclipse" is not a song for our times, I don't know what is.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:36 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


The NeverEnding Story is one of MY stories (except for the last ten minutes of the movie and the second movie). The book in particular has informed my ethics to a marked degree. In the book, Bastian becomes the hero and both rises and falls, only to rise again. This is an old story, as is the cause of the fall being Bastian's own flaws, but I always found the trajectory of his fall particularly compelling because it's about forgetting, losing empathy, and becoming a tyrant.

It was the movie which brought me to the book, and that poignant moment when Moonchild (she's been renamed, after all) says that the single grain of sand is all that is left of her vast empire. In the book this becomes an amazing, dreamlike sequence where the planted seed grows into a jungle of every color, watered by Bastian's wishes, and that always felt to me like a natural progression from the movie (though I think you lose something without the internal forth wall break when Bastian realizes he's in the book, and by extension it's implied we could be in another book, reading this book about Bastian). You need that intense joy of Bastian wishing and forgetting, you need the moment when he wishes creatures happiness and it makes them destructive, you need his growing distance from Atreyu and the hubris which drives him to see Moonchild again in order to really feel him digging in the depths, nameless.

I really need to read the book again. I've always wanted a leather bound copy with a metal Auryn on the front.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:06 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Once you open yourself to doublethink, it's a slippery slope, and I'm sure for many people a big part of that conditioning is through "God(s)".

We can acknowledge the importance of the story without giving it primacy. From the article:
I was a literal-minded child who was happy to pretend, but nevertheless committed to distinguishing between “real” and “not real.” (My family has schizophrenic tendencies, so being able to make this distinction was highly encouraged.)
The narrative isn't the problem; it's the fact that in the US, most of the population has been raised to think reality doesn't matter. Some people get away from that. Many others don't. Science is a thing you take in school because you have to take the classes to graduate and you forget it all immediately. We have to fix that.

I don't think it's a necessary thing that the fantasy get abandoned. I believe that if one man sees a riselka, his life forks there. I believe that the good of dead warriors is that they are dead. These things actually mean a lot to me, even though I don't expect most people to even get the references. But I know that evolution is a thing because science is a thing, and science is a thing because logic and reason exist independent of my feelings. There are reasonable people who believe in some kind of religious narrative, and unreasonable people who are at best halfheartedly observant, if at all. The distinguishing factor here is that religion, when it is a problem, is a problem because it's used as a weapon against reason.

It's entirely possible to be a reasonable person with a life heavily informed by fantasy, but I'd say it's more likely the more fantasies you have. Fixating on one of them seems more the problem.
posted by Sequence at 4:44 PM on January 29


I would posit that the issue with the US right now is not that it just hasn't found the right bit of children's fantasy content to obsess over.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:44 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


Well, honestly I think there's a bit of that. Most left wing people I've met don't need a strong tribal identity. They're comfortable with who they are regardless of what they are, and like busting down historical myths to get at unpleasant truths just for the sake of truth as a value.

But a lot of people need an identity to tell them who they should be. And I think the tearing down of the myths of America on the left to reveal the real racial injustice hidden by them, and on the right, to promote ethnic nationalism and religious warfare, has left a big hole.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:04 AM on January 30


Saulgoodman: "The CIA didn't bankroll abstract artists to try to combat creeping liberalism for nothing."

The CIA funded abstract expressionism to promote liberal alternatives to communism.
posted by phrontist at 6:20 AM on January 30


Most left wing people I've met don't need a strong tribal identity. They're comfortable with who they are regardless of what they are, and like busting down historical myths to get at unpleasant truths just for the sake of truth as a value.

But a lot of people need an identity to tell them who they should be.


If you don't count a superiority complex and a conviction that you know better as an identity myth, then the whole thing collapses into meaninglessness anyway. The need to believe that being right inheres in a particular personality type is a deeply unpleasant identity fantasy and although I cannot say whether we on the left "need" it or not, we certainly do seem to be stuck with it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:34 AM on January 31


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