One of the reasons I think people want to read or watch stories about heroes is to fill the void in themselves. We’d all like to think that, given a reason and opportunity, we’d rise to the challenge. We’d fight tooth and nail for the cause of justice, we’d sacrifice everything to save the one we love or to find their killer or to free an innocent man from jail…
We all like to think that we have what it takes to be Luke Skywalker or Jack Bauer or (insert name of selected hero here).
I just finished reading Ian Rankin’s new Rebus book, The Naming of the Dead, and it got me thinking about this.
And about what people admire in fiction but don’t want to have to face in reality.
Rebus is the classic insubordinate cop, always breaking the rules, going his own way, repeatedly risking his career, his life, even his soul, in his quest for the truth. Only I’m not even certain it’s the truth he’s primarily interested in. I think that the more obstacles Rebus faces, the more determined he is to overcome them. You know, the ‘for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction’ idea. Reverse psychology at its best. Likely the way to get him to give up on a case is to encourage him to solve it.
Okay, okay, that’s probably going a bit far and it’s not exactly true, and it’s a side note. But as I was reading the book, one of the things I got thinking of was how common it was for Rebus to buck the rules. And he’s not the only fictional cop who does. In fact, a lot of popular fictional cops (Thorne would be another) have a tendency to do things their own way.
What it got me wondering was, why is it that we admire characters like this so much in fiction, but in reality the last thing we want to deal with in our day to day lives are people who won’t follow the rules?
On the surface, some people think it’s strange that I’d be so drawn to an alcoholic Scottish cop who smokes too much and pushes everyone in his life away from him, yet there’s one thing about Rebus that rings true for me. I’m a troublemaker. I am the kid always asking why. The minute someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m determined to prove them wrong.
I’m easily baited, and I can even know it, and still can’t resist the urge.
I’m going to admit something to you guys. I didn’t graduate from high school. It is true that I graduated college with ‘great distinction’ – my average being something like 96.7% - and it is true I completed my grade 13 (OACs) but not my grade 12. I was one generic credit shy. I could have taken grade 9 home ec or music or grade 10 typing and been done. Instead, I (more or less) ran away from home.
People told me I’d never have a career, yet I’m an educational professional. Don’t graduate from high school and you’re unlikely to ever complete post secondary education, yet I graduated top of my class.
I wouldn’t recommend it. I mean, my life was complicated as a teenager and I had this feeling that if I stayed where I was one second longer I’d be falling off the precipice, that I’d never escape and ultimately it would kill me. I know it sounds a bit melodramatic, but that’s really how I felt. It may not have been true in a physical sense, but emotionally, psychologically, I had to get out.
No matter how much people can admire a fictional character who disregards protocol at every turn, it isn’t something I find most people have a lot of respect for in reality.
There’s a way things are and a way things are meant to be and a way things have always been done, and if you don’t follow that way, you’re out. How many times have I seen that thinking employed, with the schools and children’s programs I’ve worked with over the years?
I’m one of those people that’s proof that the lack of a high school diploma doesn’t have to keep you from achieving your goals. College graduate. Top student. Educational professional. Plus I’ve worked as a professional photographer… I’ve done a lot of interesting things in my life.
There’s only one point to this, and it’s a simple one. The things that a lot of people seem to admire aren’t what they’ll respect when they’re faced with it themselves. I’ve been a boss – I know what it is to suspend a staff. Believe me, when I’m in a position of authority I’ll be every bit as difficult about following the ‘rules’ and expect people to tow the line.
Sometimes, I wonder why it is that I just can’t do things the way everyone else does them. Why make my life difficult?
I don’t really have an answer for it. Maybe, in part, it’s because I wasn’t raised to follow the rules. Maybe it’s because I need to believe in what I’m doing every step of the way.
Maybe it’s because I’m a person who, ultimately, finds it hard to give in to blind faith and just trust. There’s a great line in season 1 of The Wire, when Herc says to Kima (badly paraphrasing from memory) ‘You want shit done right you got to do it your own self.’
Maybe that’s the reality, for me. My own experience being that you can’t rely on most people, I’ve continued to choose the course that allows me the most hands-on control over every aspect of my life.
I guess I have some trust issues. I wonder if I could write off the Rebus books as therapy?