From Grey’s Anatomy to Batwoman to The Vampire Diaries most stories in the modern fiction landscape have the singular focal point of emotional conflict. With conflict there is no story. It’s almost as if there were so few solely dedicated Mr Tuvok stories in Star Trek: Voyager because the stoic Vulcan had no conflict and when he did, it required the influence of outside actors. Another good example from Star Trek is the case of Mr Data who’s best stories came from times that he activated his emotion-chip. Would we watch House MD if Dr Greg House shrugged off things? What would WandaVision be, if Wanda Maximoff viewed death in a stoic way? Kids love Anakin Skywalker and see him as the coolest Jedi despite being the antithesis of stoicism.
Stripping this back, taking this back 2000 years, to the gladiator pits of Ancient Rome, we see the nature of our love of conflict bare faced. Because that’s what is it is. We find entertainment in stories of people inflicting pain on each other. It’s almost a human desire to see it whether that’s in the Colosseum or in a deathmatch in Halo or in some trashy teen rom-com on Netflix. What’s the difference between inflicting physical pain and emotional pain? Both leave scars.
“The spectators insist that each on killing his man shall be thrown against another to be killed in his turn; and the eventual victor is reserved by them for some other form of butchery; the only exit for the contestants is death. Fire and steel keep the slaughter going.” – Letters from a Stoic VII.
Here, Seneca is speaking about the barbarism of the half-time shows at the Colosseum but doesn’t it sound familiar? We delude ourselves with sophistication but with each comic book, each novel, each TV show, each film franchise, each is just a protagonist going against and an antagonist over and over again. The only escape is death for both the spectator and the participant.
I was a habitual watcher of The Jeremy Kyle Show before that was cancelled. It was an emotional and at times literal gladiator match under the guise of conflict resolution broadcasted everyday. It was fantastic and I hated it because of how much I liked it. Of course, I never enjoyed the conflict and drama when it was thrust upon me, as is the way. We haven’t changed as human beings from the Romans to our post-modern reality televised Truman Show 21st Century existence.
I even know people who start fights because they’re bored to watch the chaos. I used to do it in secondary school for the shit and giggles. It’s wanton violence on the soul for what? A little butchery at lunchtime? Can we humans be truly entertained without an antagonist to conflict with?
There are six types of conflict in all fiction even in non-fiction: person versus person; person versus society; person versus nature; person versus technology; person versus self, and person versus supernatural.
All conflict in our lives can be boiled down to those six things. Why are so entertained by it? In Taoism, this conflict between yin and yang is life so does it stand to reason that life is conflict? Is our purpose in life is to stand as a rock in this conflict uninterested, apathetic? Is that even possible? We are both the conflict and the peace. We neither one thing nor the other, are we? And, in the end:
“Yesterday a sperm: tomorrow a mummy or ashes.” – Meditations 4.48.2
I don’t think I’m educated or experienced enough to decide. I’m certainly not far enough along the path to come to any rational conclusion on my own right now. Does it make me any less of a good man for indulging as a spectator in what I can only see to be human nature?
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Meditations 10.16
Only one thing that I can be certain of is that Anakin Skywalker is a terrible Jedi.