Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Guest Post: Donald Trump, Liberal Millennials, and THE THING IN THE WOODS

Though the 2016 election was a surprising turn of events for people all around the world as the unexpected candidate Donald Trump snatched the Republican nomination from out of nowhere then created the greatest electoral upset in nearly a century; it is not as surprising as finding a Lovecraftian horror infesting the woods near your where you live. Though maybe for some of you it was. Here author and fellow blogger Matthew Quinn lays out how some of his characters from his recent novel, The Thing in the Woods would most likely have acted if this story were set ten years further on in history during an election year. Being set in rural Georgia (a state which Trump carried with over 50% of the vote) it is easy to see how the ages and occupations of these characters set them out in support of nefarious goings on, or bias them against it and how such biases can be used to make excellent conflict in stories. I'll let Mr. Quinn take it from here and show you what he means.

The 2016 presidential election was, at least in part, a generational conflict. A significant chunk of Donald Trump's support came from older, more traditionalist people who disliked recent cultural and economic changes. Fears of "cultural displacement" motivated members of the white working class to vote for a man one would think resembles a particularly boorish boss instead of a champion of the little guy. A great many self-identified Christians supported Trump despite his history of rancidly un-Christian behavior for much the same reason.

Although The Thing in the Woods takes place in 2010, many of these cultural and generational fault lines were already in place, as British science fiction writer Chris Nuttall pointed out. We see this generational conflict reflected in many characters.

*Phil Davidson- Phil is the (human) antagonist of Thing. He's a decorated junior officer from the Vietnam War (good), the owner of a local barbecue restaurant (good), and the high priest of the local Lovecraftian cult (very bad). He still despises hippies and although not personally racist (he disdains "white trash" who stirred up "racial crap" in the Army during the war), he's an authoritarian who murdered civil-rights activists at the command of the previous high priest a generation before. He finds the films Borat and Bruno disgusting, not from religious opposition to homosexual behavior (Lovecraftian horrors don't care about such things), but due to his old-fashioned ideas of masculinity and propriety. Although there's much to admire about his devotion to his nation, community (he pays above-market wages to his employees to support the local economy even though this harms his competitiveness), his support for having children after marriage and not before, and his disdain for overly-permissive parenting, his murderous authoritarianism rather dwarfs all of that.

If he voted in the 2016 election, he would have despised Trump as a draft dodger and a man prone to dishonoring women, but at the same time he would view Clinton as the avatar for all the cultural and economic  forces he abhors. I imagine he would have voted for a business-class type like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie  in the Republican primary or even fellow Vietnam veteran Jim Webb in the Democratic, held his nose to vote for Trump in the general, and wished he could feed him to the Lovecraftian horror he worships with every obnoxious Tweet.

*Sam Dixon-A private soldier during the 1991 Gulf War, he's in his 40s and works at the local sheet metal factory. He's part of the cult headed by Phil, but he's not ruthless and overbearing like Phil, nor cruel and racist like Deputy Bowie or Jeffrey Reed (we'll get to them later). For example, his basic empathy (and the abuses he'd seen against Pakistani guest workers in the Persian Gulf) leads him to reject the latter's prejudices against Indians. However, he's also a Baptist (despite being in the cult) and takes pride in his military service, so he'd likely vote for Trump for the same reason many Christians and veterans did despite not approving of Trump's bullying ways, gross behavior, foul mouth, etc.

*Deputy Charles Bowie-One of the cult's enforcers, a deputy in the county sheriff's office who's in his 50s or 60s. A rural white cop who begins the story by kidnapping a homeless African-American man to be sacrificed, he's not going to be a fan of stronger state or federal oversight of local police forces and he's going to want the Sheriff's Office to have all the high-powered goodies it could get its hands on. He's going to vote for Trump based on police-officer tribalism with a helping of white tribalism and straight-up racism, although his helping isn't nearly as big as Jeffrey Reed.

*Jeffrey Reed-Another cult enforcer, he's around Sam's age and works behind the counter of a gas station. He's even more of an authoritarian type than Phil, is extremely racist, and prefers to solve the congregation's problems by murdering them. If Phil is Don Corleone, Reed is Luca Brasi. The fact Clinton was for all intents and purposes the minority-group candidate would be enough to make him vote for Trump. Low as he is on the socioeconomic ladder, he might also be concerned about job competition from immigrants, although given who owns and operates large numbers of gas stations, he's probably employed by one.

*Amber Webb-The female lead of Thing and a high school senior. In terms of social class she's small-town bourgeoisie like Phil (to whom she's actually distantly related) rather than working-class like Bowie, Sam, or Reed. She's also a devout Methodist, so demographics would tilt her toward conservatism. However, unlike other members of her small-town girl posse, she has no objection to interracial relationships and she's in the community theater, which is probably more liberal than the wider town. Furthermore, she probably empathizes with Hillary Clinton as a woman who could become president and, given how her jerk-jock ex pressured her into sex, she probably despises Trump. I imagine in the primaries she would have supported somebody more moderate like Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, or John Kasich, been tempted to vote for Clinton, and probably left the presidential section of the ballot blank like somebody I know who didn't like Trump but didn't want taxes raised.

*James Daly-The male lead of Thing and also a high-school senior. James hails from Buckhead, the wealthier white section of Atlanta proper, and he was in the Boy Scouts, which might predispose him to conservatism on economic and cultural grounds. However, although he'd identify as a Christian, of the characters listed he's the least religious. His close friend from Atlanta is Jewish, he isn't bothered at all by two of his Atlanta-transplant friends being in an interracial relationship (Indian boy, white girl), and part of his disdain for Edington is based on the (false) assumption the residents are all racists. However, much of his attitude is driven by class prejudice against Edington's "rednecks." He'd be a toss-up, but of all the characters listed he probably be the most likely to vote for Clinton, especially given how he's a protective big brother to his younger sister and Trump's attitudes speak for themselves.

So although The Thing in the Woods is a straight-up small-town horror tale, the historical context in which it was written (off and on 2007-2014) and set (2010) play a major role in the characterization. And although I was not consciously aware at the time, that context would soon become extremely, extremely important.

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