The Darkness and the Light in Storytelling: Contrast and Supergirl

I’m a horror writer. I prefer weird fiction. But not everything has to be blood, guts, and gore all the time; not everything has to be evil. In fact, the beauty of the Dark is that it balances the Light. Without the Light, there is no contrast.

So today I champion the Light.

Yes, I’m talking about general concepts. The Light is seen as being bright, positive, and giving of itself while the Dark is supposed to brood, call attention to the flaws of the world, and celebrate the non-conformist standards that feel a world away from childhood innocence. Ever notice how “good” is spoken of in simple terms while “bad” contains an inherit complexity, ideas that come with experience: life isn’t fair, good guys don’t always win, and not everyone gets the boy or girl?

DoctorHorribleCaptainHammerThe flip side of that coin is what those who embrace the Darkness often understand better than their counterparts: the Light is acceptance and being accepted, those who gain attention. Beautiful, strong, privileged, and loved…never mind it can all be a mask. “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” may be the best-ever example of showing heroes and villains in the simplest terms of how backwards things can get when our expectations are taught rather than learned. The hero is villain; the villain is the hero. We are meant to relate to being the loser who is destined to lose.

Storytelling is drama; it creates meaning to all of life’s randomness. Fate, Destiny, Kismet, and all that. But the Darkness is a place that the Light fears to tread, and rightly so. When love and affection is taken away; when the means to support yourself within the established system can’t be meant; when life must be lived on the fringe and fought for every day both within and without.

Those who survive become something more; like a great antique, damage comes from history, and history is what gives it value. It’s about the scars, not about being perfect.

But being perfect in the eyes of society is the goal, according to the media. The best clothes, the best phone, the best house, the best car. To be seen as a status symbol, a celebrity, a role-model to aspire to. The cliché of the only thing journalists enjoy more than building someone up is tearing them down is a very human trait; if we can’t reach the stars, we’ll pull them down to our level to make us feel better about not being stars ourselves.

Not all who lurk in the Darkness feel that way…those who’ve felt its touch.

ElfquestCutterLeetahWendy and Richard Pini’s “Elfquest” saga has much to say about the nature of the Dark and the Light. Some of the elves in the World of Two Moons are immortal while others eventually die. The immortals think of tomorrow and keep themselves safe, while the Wolfriders embrace the “now” of wolf-thought: live for today, for tomorrow you may die. The character of tribal chief Cutter was tainted when he found himself enduring countless years without those he loved more than life itself, fearing he would die before seeing them again. The loss of “now” gave way to “looking ahead,” but he understood that something precious had been lost – an innocence – something he didn’t want anyone else to have to experience.

For some, Darkness is where people exist while trying to find their way back into the Light, but they discover it isn’t where they’re meant to be. Their place is to help others avoid the Darkness, the only way to fight it. To quote Firefly’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds: “The woods are the only place I can see a clear path.” Lost in the Darkness, the Light is clearer ahead.

These types of characters and their stories are full of truth and wonderful for those who’ve lived, good souls who have touched the shadows.

But too much shadow tends to eventually swallow us. Which brings us back to the Light.

Superman used to be about four-color truth, justice, and the American way. He had seen evil, but (originally) never had to become evil to know it was wrong. Sometimes there are villains – antagonists who don’t believe what they are doing is wrong – who believe taking anything, everything, and anyone they want is okay.

CastleBeckettIn a television landscape full of police procedurals and terrible crimes, dark detectives and villains as main characters, “Castle” has stood out for a while as light-hearted fare. While its writers seem incapable of allowing the Castle-Beckett thing to mature into an actual adult relationship instead of “Moonlighting” it (note: watch “Farscape” to see this done successfully), it has been a positive show for most of its run…and we could use a little more of that these days.

Now is the eve of the new CBS debut of “Supergirl,” cousin to Superman coming into her own deciding to be a hero instead of remaining hidden away. The trailers bleed wide-eyed innocence, the belief a well-thrown punch can save the world from all of its problems. Of course it would have to be a girl since not all audiences will accept childhood idealism from so-called menfolk, but isn’t it time for some optimism?

If this story can take the Light as seriously as others take their Darkness, it could work. It could be wonderful.

Don’t screw this up.

How else will the Darkness continue to be noticed?



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