[[Note: trigger warnings for mental illness, bipolar disorder, medication, and some spoilers for Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette.]]

These days, I call it burning, but for most of my life, I called it flying.

It’s that feeling when you’re wrapped up in a writing project so hard you look up, and half a day has gone by. You haven’t moved, you haven’t drunk or eaten or talked to anyone. You work and work until your knuckles hurt, and there are words flowing out of you, and you can’t stop until it’s all done. Then you look up, realize what time it is, and fall over because the words are done for the day and you’ve been doing it. You’ve been flying.

That’s what writing when you’re me feels like.

Well, a lot of the time. Some days it’s just normal. I get up, I do my morning routine (take my meds, get some grub, boop the cat, check my email, mess around on Facebook) and then it’s off to the word mines. And on those days, they are indeed the word mines. I check an outline, I write notes, I putter around, I get the words going however I can, tugging that little mining cart up the hill towards those far-off paragraphs and… y’know, this analogy has gotten away from me. I digress.

Those are the hard days at the job because that’s what it is – writing, like making any art, is a job. It’s craft and talent and passion rolled up into one ball. It’s doing a thing you worked hard to learn to do the best you can. You’re capturing those weird little ideas rolling around in your head and making them into words, then lines, then paragraphs, and somehow they’re all supposed to reach out to someone who reads them and make their brains go POOF, I LIKE THIS. No pressure or anything, writer, just take the ephemeral and translate it onto a page.  You make it happen as best as you can.

Then, there are the other days. The days when BLEH becomes BANG. The days when something just clicks and comes roaring down the pipe inside my brain and it’s all I can do to get to my computer because it’s ready to go and that’s it. Get out of the way.

fantasy-2934774_1920I call it burning these days because that’s what it feels like: like there’s an idea inside me burning its way out. But when I was younger, I called it flying. What I really meant was controlled falling. Like there was a tornado going on and I would leap off something and ride right through the middle of it, all the way up, chasing words. Because that’s what it felt like for me, rolling on through the manic energy that comes with being bi-polar.

There’s a lot of folks who equate the manic energy of being bi-polar with the creative spark that drives artists to brilliance. They point to so many great artists in history who lived with mental illness and say, “there it is, that energy, that’s what made them great!”

Except for so many artists, mental illness didn’t make them great. It made them ill. And if they weren’t careful, it made them gone.


MV5BY2I3MThmYTctZTU4YS00YWNmLTg4YzktNDY0ZGE5MmQ3Y2Q3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_Hannah Gadsby’s blockbuster comedy special “Nanette” was billed as exactly that: a comedy. She was meant to get up on stage, make some jokes, and entertain us all on Netflix. Instead, Gadsby delivered what I can only call a commencement speech for comedians, a bait and switch that took the audience from laughter to silence and ultimately to a standing ovation. Gadsby, a queer comedian with a career going back over ten years, started her performance with a fairly standard routine, drawing in the laughs. Then she started explaining how jokes worked, about how they increased tension and then broke it into laughter.

Then, she stopped breaking the tension. And just rose it higher and higher by telling the truth.

She spoke to her audience about a lot of things. Her family, and what it was like coming out to them. About violence, about triggering subjects. She broke from the funny parts of her routine a little over halfway through and talked about quitting comedy because she was tired of making people like herself, a lesbian still fighting with some deep shame issues, into a punchline. I watched in spell-bound silence as Hannah Gadsby deconstructed comedy to its most basic building blocks and rebuilt them into a soapbox, a grand forum where she read the audience a monologue of pain and vulnerability, her farewell to wisecracks and the opening of perhaps a new chapter of honest, open speaking in her life. She was out to speak her truth, and by the end, I was in awe.

It was somewhere in the middle where she told people to fuck off when telling artists to “feel” for their art that I felt the ground open up beneath me a little and I cried.

 

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Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

She talked about Vincent Van Gogh, the artist who suffered during his life from mental illness, self-medicated, was treated by doctors and struggled to succeed despite his obvious impossible talent due to his sickness. She talked about her knowledge of his life, thanks to her art history degree, and how he only sold one painting his entire life – not because he wasn’t recognized by his community as a genius, but because he struggled to even be part of a community due to his illness.

 

And I thought of the flying and the hard days at the word mines. I thought about the days when I heard the tornado in my head and couldn’t make the words get to my fingers. I thought about the frustration, the depression, the difficulties talking to people about what it sounded like inside my skull some days when I could barely pay attention because of the rush of words and ideas.

Hannah Gadsby told people artists don’t have to suffer for their art, and I’ll forever thank her for having the guts to stand up and say that to the world. Because I used to believe it was true.


anxiety-1337383When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2.

I came from a family that didn’t really get what being bipolar meant. My parents tried to get it, but when I’d do something irresponsible, it was always because I was ‘bad.’ I tried to explain how it was impossible to keep my whirlwind mind straight sometimes. How it was a battle against depression to get up in the morning and go to class. When I flunked in school, I tried to explain why, when I overcharged my credit card on a manic binge, when I cried for days and couldn’t stop. But those were the bad days. And the good days – those were the days I could take on the world, where no one could stop me, where I was manic off my head. I was out of control.

I went to a therapist when my school suggested it to my parents. The therapist took one look at my behavior and referred me to a psychiatrist, a loud and overbearing man who listened to me talk a mile a minute for fifteen minutes, heard my symptoms, and pulled out a giant prescription pad. I started taking the drugs he gave me but received no explanation about what being bipolar really meant. He never explained what behaviors were unusual, or what could be attributed to the illness, or any coping skills or resources to better understand my situation. He gave me pills and saw me every two weeks. I knew almost nothing about what was going on with me but was even enough to realize I needed more information.

So? I went online.

Because my family didn’t know much about bipolar disorder and my doctor wasn’t telling, I learned a lot from the internet. Those were the wild and wooly early days of the internet, when it was the 90’s and everyone was in AOL chat rooms and the world was a wacky, wacky place. It was on the internet I found a community of roleplayers that eventually led me to the career I have today. It was also where I got a LOT of bad advice about mental illness.

I read a lot of stories about people being overmedicated or given the wrong medication. I heard stories about people being committed by their families if they didn’t hide what was wrong with them. But I especially came across the same story over and over from people who had been medicated. “If you go on the drugs,” they said, “the creative drive goes away. You’ll lose that spark inside you. If you want to be an artist, stay away from medication. It’ll kill your art.”

I didn’t believe it. I was taught doctors were to be trusted. And besides, I knew I needed help. So I took the drugs the doctor gave me and fell into the worst confluence of events you could imagine. Because the medication the doctor gave me DID kill my creativity. It also made me sleep too much, have no emotions whatsoever, destroyed my memory, and made me gain tons of weight. And every time I brought this up to my doctor, his answer was to add another pill to balance out the others or up my dose.

mental-health-1420801_1920I didn’t realize it until later, but I had a bad doctor. What I did know was at the height of this medicine dance, I’d spend my days sleeping, or staring at a television, and feeling nothing at all. I couldn’t even cry. But maybe worst of all, I struggled to create. I couldn’t find that spark inside me like I used to, that flying feeling that gave me inspiration. In the moments when I could feel something, it was the overwhelming terror of going back into that stupor once again.

This went on from the time I was seventeen, when I was so messed up I dropped out of high school, until I was nearly 19. In between, I struggled to get my GED so I could at least get into college and proceeded to flunk there too due to the medication’s impossible weight on my mind. I went through so many ridiculous emotional issues I can’t describe, but all of it was through a curtain of medication so thick I can barely pull up memories from that time.

The times my emotions would push through was during what I discovered later were hypomanic phases, mood swings so strong they butted through the haze and made me wildly unstable. All the while I struggled to get my life in order, and every time I did, it was under a fog of badly managed medication, or through the adrenaline of mania so strong I could barely function. I didn’t understand I was badly medicated, of course. All I knew was everything was falling to pieces, all the time, and I couldn’t feel a solid, real emotion long enough to care.

So in 2002, in one of those moments of emotional lucidity, I made a decision to stop taking my meds. I suddenly thought: the internet is right, this is a horrible, horrible mistake. I trusted my experience and my terror and I stopped taking my meds.

And well, to quote one of my heroines from the time, Buffy:

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What followed were ten years of the roughest, rockiest, unbelievably manic, altogether difficult experiences of my life. I had bouts of going back on medication, but would always stop for one reason or another. I’d make excuses but each time it was the same thing: I convinced myself I didn’t feel right on the medication. That I couldn’t feel that creative spark I so relied on as part of my life. I was afraid of going back to that medically-induced haze I’d been in before. I hid from it and kept riding the tornado, every day. And like any tornado, my instability left chaos and destruction in its wake.

I can’t say I regret those ten years. They taught me a lot. I regret a lot of the horrible decisions I made, the people I hurt, the situations I got into where I got ripped up myself. I have memories I’ll never forget, instances of realizing too late I’d gotten into something because of my mania that led ultimately to disaster.

But I remember the creative highs. The way I could just fly like the wind and produce 12,000 words in a night. How I could map out entire novels, series of books, all the things in the world I thought I could create. I wrote papers, read whole book series, stayed up for days on end, played role-playing games from morning until night, and never, ever saw anything wrong with where I was in life. Because I was living that artists life and I thought, hey, this is me. This is who I am.

I know now the truth: that was the illness talking. The living high on life, throwing caution to the wind, tornado voice? Is the manic voice. And unless tempered with medication and coping mechanisms can lead to disaster.

From 2002 until 2012 I remained largely unmedicated. And those ten years are, in hindsight, an unspoken cautionary tale of someone not flying, but falling without recognizing the drop in altitude. A tale of someone on a corkscrew through rough weather, catching fire all the way down.


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I went to grad school in 2012 and thank god for so many reasons that I did. It’s not even my education I laud when I think of those years, but a single day in November 2012. I’d only been in classes for two months and already I was starting to lose it from the stress. The day I broke down with a massive anxiety attack after a critique from a teacher, hiccuping with tears and hyperventilating in a bathroom, I walked across the street to the health clinic and got an appointment with a mental health counselor. There, a very nice man named Bob talked to me about my experiences, about what I knew about bipolar disorder.

Bob told me some truth about where I was at and what I needed. He said he was surprised I’d gotten as far as I did going the way I was. He listened to my fears about going on meds and what had happened in the past. Then he calmly explained how he was going to give me medication and we’d work together to find what worked.

The first day I took medication, I woke up in the morning and the tornado was quieter. Not quiet, but less a twisting funnel of noise and more of a loud echo. I called up someone who was then a friend (who had experience with the medication I’d started taking) and broke down crying. I asked him: is this what normal felt like? I had no idea it would get even better.

Six years later, I’ve never been off my medication a single day. And I’ve graduated from grad school, survived a brain surgery and being diagnosed with two serious chronic illnesses, ending up using a wheelchair, running my own business, becoming a writer, and too many personal ups and downs to count. Each of them I tackled with a surety in myself I never could have before, because I was no longer screaming through a tornado all the time. More importantly, I’ve spent those years creating games and writing work I’ve made with deliberateness and careful consideration. When I create, it was no longer controlled falling, but dedicated flight on a controlled course. Well, most of the time.

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I won’t say everything became perfect after I started medication because I won’t let blogging make a liar out of me. Being bipolar is a constant system of checks and balances. These days, I fight against needing my medication adjusted a lot, against depression and anxiety, mania and hypomania. I still end up flying some days, sometimes for days at a time, because as time goes on the body changes and you have to adjust to new needs, new doses, new medication.

Coping mechanisms change, life situations go ways you never expected, mania and depression rear their ugly head. But the day I went on medication was one of the greatest days of my life, because it was the day my creative spark stopped becoming an excuse to keep putting up with an illness that was killing me.

I did some research online (now responsibly!) about artists who were known to have fought with mental illness. Google it some time and it’ll be a stark look into some suffering for art you might not know about. People know about Van Gogh, but what about Beethoven and David Foster Wallace, Georgia O’Keefe and Sylvia Plath, Goya and Cobain, Robin Williams and Amy Winehouse. I did research and discovered artists like Mariah Carrey, Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta Jones, Vivien Leigh, Russell Brand, Linda Hamilton, and of course Carrie Fischer all have/had bipolar disorder. Their stories, their struggles, are well known.

I read books about people theorizing about the connection between mental illness and creativity and shake my head. I don’t need to know the connection, because if there is one, it doesn’t matter to me. I take my medicine and work my craft at the same time because I don’t need to suffer as an artist. I don’t need the mania to take flight and reach inspiration. I can do that on my own.

 

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So speaketh the General, the Princess, Carrie Fischer

 

Mental illness and the struggle against it is one I’ll tackle for the rest of my life. But to quote Hannah Gadsby: “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.” The day I started on my journey to getting better by taking medication, by denying the world my suffering and instead gave myself permission to live healthier while making art, was the day I started rebuilding myself into the strongest version of me. Every day, one more brick, with every word I write, I build myself higher.

And so I offer a special thanks to Hannah Gadsby, and her brave “Nanette,” for reminding me of how important that choice was to my life. For reminding me I owe nobody my suffering to make what is precious to me, and that a creator doesn’t need to push aside their own mental health to be hailed as an artist. Thank you, Hannah, for your strength. May you find your inspiration wherever you walk.

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Tumbleweeds rolling across a buckboard-lined street. The wide open prairies baking under a hot sun. A shot of whiskey at a rowdy bar. Cowboys riding across the range on beautiful horses. Gunfights at high noon.

The Wild West frontier, as we know it from legend and Hollywood, is the backdrop of a brand new project by Dziobak Studios and Imagine Nation Collective. It’s called 1878: Welcome to Salvation and it’s a four-day larp experience set in a fictitious town outside of Austin, Texas. For one weekend in November, guests will descend on the J. Lorraine Ghost Town under the hot Texas sun and play the citizens and visitors to Salvation, a town on the edge of the ever-shrinking western frontier. And I’ve had the pleasure of being the project lead for this immersive historic-ish event.

Taking on a project like 1878: Welcome to Salvation has been a monumental experience so far. Though I’ve been running larps for quite some time, the scope of a blockbuster larp like this has been a learning experience every step of the way. Backed by the phenomenal people in Dziobak Studios and Imagine Nation Collective, I’ve been supported so I can take the reins and take this event from the original concept phase to the eventual staging in November. It’s honestly been my humble pleasure to be given the space to create as widely as I have been, especially in a space as dynamic, complicated, and exciting as the Wild West. And in this post, I want to talk a little bit about the process going into the creation of 1878: Welcome to Salvation and some of those choices.

How The West Was (Not Really) Won

30709539_2122418241313618_5521391024074653696_oIt’s no secret that the Wild West setting comes fraught with a lot of problematic content. The history of western expansion is laden with horrific historical events, such as the genocide of the First Nation people of the North American continent, the discrimination against people of color, and the exploitation of the less fortunate by wealthy expansionists. Many of those events were later white-washed away in the media representations of the Wild West, out to create a thrilling backdrop for cowboy-and-Indian stories made popular in propaganda stories as early as the push west in the 1800’s and continuing down to modern day Hollywood representations. Television shows of the mid-twentieth century showcased heroic cowboys and lawmen rescuing damsels from marauding ‘savages’ and desperados, all the while brandishing their guns to protect the good folks of the west from danger. Even as media evolved and stories about the dark side of the west began to leak into more progressive television shows or movies, there was still a glamorous sheen on the Wild West ignoring the most difficult events for the most part in favor of adventure.

And that is the fiction of the Wild West, just like much of the history of the United States is full of its own fictions. The War of Independence. The story of Pocahontas and the early settlement of the Puritans and the first Thanksgiving. The legend of Alexander Hamilton made popular in the Broadway play. The heroic grandeur of the greatest generation in World War II. Each well-known story has created the majestic tapestry of American history when, in fact, most of these stories have been mistold, the darker truths massaged away to create more palatable tales to make up the American identity.

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History is complicated and full of dark spots. So when tackling a larp like Salvation, it was important to look at the history of the Wild West and recognize just what we were trying to accomplish in our design. Was Salvation going to be a game tackling the darker parts of the Western experience head on? Was it a game about post-slavery bigotry in a Western town, or the tensions between Texans and Mexicans over territory and culture? Was it about the First Nation genocide and loss of land?

These issues loomed large over the design, dictating we question just how we were going to design everything from the town of Salvation to the backstory of the area around to the characters players could take up for the weekend. It would be too easy to handwave the harder parts of the history of the Wild West in favor of the cleaner Hollywood version. Yet we as a team wanted to create something different, a play space between the Hollywood adventure and the reality of the historic Wild West.

What we’ve come up with is what we’re calling a historic-ish representation of a fictional Wild West town, complete with space for all kinds of iconic western characters and adventures. We’ve acknowledged the game space is not equipped and not supposed to be a place where the complex history of the Wild West will be interrogated as core thematics, though they’ll serve as part of the backdrop and influence for the development of our fictional town.

31732294_2132258743662901_4395690279160512512_oWe also made a conscious effort to look at the way certain groups – women, queer people, immigrants, people of color, people of different religions, the disabled and more – were treated in the 1800’s. Our goal was to find a way to design a way for players to not only play whatever they’d like within the town, but to have in and out of character issues of race, gender, sexuality, origin, and ability to hold back the in-game adventures. We certainly couldn’t go back in time to fix the bigotries of the past, but we didn’t have to allow them to plague our setting or our out of character space.

The design of this game presented some serious challenges, and a catch-22 many designers face when setting their game in time periods beset by horrific inequality and dark historical events. On the one hand, a game can focus on these events and make them a part of the game design. Yet often that means derailing more light-hearted adventures as the more intense thematics take center stage. This was certainly not the intent of Salvation, as we were aiming for a more thrilling, Hollywood Westworld influenced day-in-the-life adventure game.

Yet there is no way to ‘sanitize’ away the darker parts of the history without being unfair to the groups whose suffering were endemic to those time periods. Go one way, and you’re white-washing. Go another, and you can create a setting where dark content can drive away players due to triggering material. That material can end up forcing people whose backgrounds include ancestry related to the historical events to be pigeon-holed into characters they might not wish to play. If a woman comes to a game and wishes to play something outside the gender norm for the time period, there needs to be a place for that in the game, even though it breaks from historical precedent.

And so, a delicate balance has to be struck between history and fictional ‘adjustment’ for the sake of play.

In the end, the design and writing team tread that delicate balance and ended up with the setting we’ve created for 1878: Welcome to Salvation. With a backdrop of historical events and a town created to be a more tolerant and open location than other places during that time period, I believe we’ve found a fun and respectful middle ground that will make Salvation a weekend players won’t forget.

Wild West Adventures For All

So what does this mean for Salvation? With the work we’ve done, we’ve weaved a little Wild West town bringing together card sharps and law dogs, sex workers and desperados, undertakers and homesteaders, all centered around their proud little piece of the frontier and out to survive in an ever-evolving and shrinking West. For one weekend in November, players from around the world will don the spurs and hats (black and white) to bring Salvation to life. And as I said before, it’s been my honor to work for Dziobak and Imagine Nation to bring Salvation to all of you.

The next few months will be full of character creation and player communication, larp practicality planning and finally my first trip to Texas for the main event. And I really hope to see some of you there as we bring the town of Salvation to life.

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[[All graphics and photos are courtesy of Dziobak Studios and Imagine Nation Collective.]]

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I recently saw a video online taking pot-shots at an academic whose studies included deconstructing the representation factors in older roleplaying games, specifically Dungeons and Dragons. The video by Michelle Malkin is a screed against the supposed politically correct ‘party poopers’ intent on ruining games like D&D by bringing ‘social justice warrior’ politics into the picture. I won’t link the video itself (because it’s from a Facebook channel that’s pretty horrendously conservative) but I think the tag below it on Facebook…

Social Justice Warriors are the biggest party-poopers on the planet!

Is there no realm safe from the diversity police?!

… that really says it all.

It’s no secret the last few years have seen an ongoing march towards progressive creation in the creative arts. The fight for better representation in comics, film, television, toys, and games have sparked debates that have reached from the smallest communities to the largest stages of media coverage. You can tell how big the discussion is when films not yet released are dissected for their representation of minority groups and feedback is received by companies immediately from consumers. And whether you like this immediate feedback loop or not, it’s clear the days of companies simply producing material without considering the economic ramifications of a growing progressive demographic are over.

Still, in the face of such creative evolution and representational progress, there has been a significant backlash by those who believe progressives are trying to ‘ruin fun.’ People calling for better representation in creative fields are labeled ‘liberals’ and ‘social justice warriors’ and far worse terms. They’re called crybabies, party poopers, people out to turn everything into a political debate rather than just letting others have a little harmless fun. (Clearly, they never ascribed to the idea that everything is inherently political, but that’s a debate for another time). Instead, their response is to decry any discussions about progressive feedback so we can all just sit back and have a good time without interrogating what we’re enjoying.

The funny part is by making this very discussion, they’re doing exactly what they rail against: they’re looking critically at the material they’re being presented with and making an opinion on its content. They ARE questioning the politics of their media. They’re just choosing a different response than progressives. They’re choosing a different view, an opposition to growth, which I’m calling protective nostalgia. They put down ‘liberals’ for being social justice warriors when they’re taking up their own warrior mantle themselves. These ‘traditionalists’, these ‘conservatives’, are what I like to call Nostalgia Warriors.

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Picture it with me: a new game hits shelves, and the hordes are attacking. They come with their banners of ‘Better Representation Now!’ and chants of ‘What About Us?’ They bury fun new products in political discussions, drowning out the chance of escapism with constant reminders of blah blah representation and blah blah stereotyping and blah blah blah. The noise distracts from the chance to just sit back and have fun, like in the days of yore, when no one assaulted the fun! When it was just about basements and friends, sitting together and enjoying without complications or political rhetoric! Yes, these fun times and beautiful memories are under assault by the SJWs and are in need of defending!

And lo, the defenders arive, with their cries of ‘Party Pooper!’ and ‘Can’t It Just Be Like It Was?’ Their shields are the memories of times gone by, when things were simpler, and media was just fun. They are the Nostalgia Warriors! Ready to tell you you’re wrong for having progressive opinions! Ready to insult, degrade, and dismiss any idea challenging the status quo! And all armed with the greatest cry of all…

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These Nostalgia Warriors stand on their ramparts, zealously protecting new media in the name of what’s come before. They use the happy memories they have of simpler times, when people didn’t talk about the politics of media creation so actively, as proof that such conversations are ruining fun now. After all, they had fun in the past with their TV shows and comic books without these silly discussions about race and gender representation, why would it be needed now? In fact, looking back at the media before and criticizing it only defiles the memory of their beloved favorites. And how dare those pesky Social Justice Warriors go after their favorites, entwined so deeply with the sugar-coated memories of the past.

To take a step back for a second, I don’t want people to think all nostalgia is bad. Nostalgia can be a good thing! It gives us a chance to look back over our lives and see the good things amid the bad, the positive experiences we had cleaned up so they provide bright spots in otherwise complicated lifetimes. It lets us hold up things we find beautiful, things we find important to our identity, and present them with all the love we had for them when we were younger. Nostalgia can be beautiful, our memories can be beautiful, and the way they formed our fundamental years is a testament to experience building the people we are today.

To my people, those who hold fondly to the television shows and comics and films of the past with love and true nostalgia, I embrace you as brothers and sisters! The past gave us amazing, wonderful, fantastic things that should be cherished. This argument isn’t here to dismiss or attack all Nostalgia, or all media in the past that is important to people or beloved.

But.

But.

It’s hard to accept that our pasts are as fraught as our presents and that our futures are going to be just as hard. So we shine up our best experiences and hold them up as examples that in the past, everything was better. Everything was easier then and our precious favorites had no problems, or else those problems didn’t matter, because we loved them. And they gave us joy. And no one can assault our joy without assaulting a fundamental part of ourselves.

This progression into nostalgia defense is when nostalgia slips into toxic territory. When defending our sacred cows becomes a roadblock towards creative evolution.

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It’s no secret to anyone paying attention that our society is evolving away from shitty behaviors we once found acceptable in the past. I think most middle-road Nostalgiacs (new word again!) would recognize things like systematic slavery, for example, is an institution we thank god destroyed over a hundred years ago. Most would even say things like the civil rights movement, the evolution of the rights of women, all these things were great. Heck, most would say going across the ocean to punch Nazis and stop their genocidal reign of terror was a good thing! These were all examples of Good Progress.

So why is it when talking about the continued progress of our society in media, we see such a vicious backlash, even from people who would otherwise say Big Issue Progress (like those listed above) is a good thing?

This is where Toxic Nostalgia comes in.

(Sure, there are people who would question whether these were good events. They’re called Ultra Conservatives, Neo-Nazis, Misogynists, Racists, Bigots, and all around Backwards Problem Children. And this article isn’t going to find a solution for them, so we’re just going to move the heck on from THAT giant problem. Instead, to them I say this).

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Look, change is difficult. Change makes people look at themselves and the world around them with a critical eye and makes them question what they really believe. It makes them wonder if they’re complicit in big bad things like racism and intolerance, in systematic oppression and institutions of privilege. It makes people feel like they might be the bad guy, or part of a bad group, make them feel vilified and ashamed and attacked.

And when the whole world seems to be talking about rectifying centuries-old systems of oppression, people start taking a good long look at where they are on the power pyramid and all these complicated feelings start coming up. They have to ask ‘am I really profiting from oppression?’ They get defensive, responding: ‘But I can’t be privileged! My life is hard, I suffer too!’ They bring out words like reverse racism and tout the suffering of the white lower classes, of the nice guys being ignored by ‘militant feminists’ and cry about how ‘All Lives Matter.’ And this is in response to the Big Issues being brought up across the media, across the internet. It’s everywhere they live. They can’t get away from it. They have to consider it.

And then, just when they’re sure they’ve had enough attacks on their identity and their status quo, the progressives come for their fun.

And so they cling to the last shreds of safety, the last places where they felt they were comfortable and could forget the politics of progress for a little while. When they watch TV or a movie, when reading a comic, they don’t want to think about the Big Issues. They want to escape for a little while. But unbeknownst to them, the progressives are looking at these media and questioning loudly whether the status quo was representing them well or at all. Whether the people whose representation was always there have taken a look at their privilege lately. Progressives are asking for equality, and to the Nostalgia Warrior, that is a challenge to the last bastion of escapism they’ve got.

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And so, the backlash begins. The outright dismissal and attacks against those calling for critical analysis of media has been unbelievably harsh. But what’s worse is it’s often without substance too. Instead of engaging with the Big Issues being presented in the context of media critique, Nostalgia Warriors deny the need for discussion outright and banish anyone trying to have a dialogue with labels like ‘party poopers.’ And to those who agree with them, it’s the best defense, because who wants to have party poopers around? No one! So get rid of these SJWs and their party pooper ways, ignore them! There’s no need to have an actual conversation about issues! We can just label them with names you’d throw at kids on a playground and call it a day.

Because that’s all the conversation is to the Nostalgia Warrior: a throwback to days gone by, when you could talk about fun things with the simplicity of school age name-calling and maturity. Why be an adult when talking about play? Simply regress to those childhood feelings and defend your stance with the same playground mentality. Hold tight to your play as the last vestiges of childhood you’re allowed and don’t let anyone damage that with talk about Big Issues. Because that would require the adult in the Nostalgia Warrior to have to face change and its complexity.

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Some of the worst offenders in this progressive backlash in entertainment have unfortunately been creators whose work is being critiqued. Whereas these creators, still relevant and important to the evolution of their mediums, could join the new generations of artists and contribute in new and fun ways, they often doggedly cling to the work of the past, defending their creative choices against critique and driving away new thinkers with their derision. What they fail to realize is their defensiveness about their nostalgia, fed by fear of being vilified and becoming irrelevant, is driving them TOWARDS irrelevancy as their mediums march on towards a progressive future. Simply put, the harder they cling to the past, the easier the future and their part in it slips through their fingers.

The sad part about the backlash against progressive thinking by Nostalgia Warriors and conservative thinkers is the ultimate damage it does to creative evolution. Creative mediums have come a long way since the days of cave paintings, Shakespeare, the Rennaissance and even the beatnik generation. Every wave of creation builds upon what came before, informed by the politics and social movements all around them. The fact that each generation has also participated in the see-saw of progress towards greater equality has informed said artistic creation, and to ignore those influences in favor of nostalgia only stunts the growth of new ideas and new forms of art.

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They say there are no new ideas under the sun, only new ways to express them. Yet if we’re only ever looking back to those so-called ‘better days’ thru the lens of willfully ignorant nostalgia, we’re cutting new creative expressions off at the knees. People yawn at remakes and rehashes of the old, asking for new movies, new television, innovative creations, and then complain when those new expressions involve evolving social thematics.

You can’t have it both ways, Nostalgia Warriors. Either you want new ideas or you want things to stay the same. And I have some bad news: things won’t stay the same, no matter how much you shout about it. Progress happens. The world moves on. And your sacred cows lose their shine under the scrutiny of the future. The only question is: will you put aside your blinders and accept the complexity of media and the critical analysis around you, or hold on stubbornly to the past?

The battle for progress continues across all mediums. And wherever people believe fun is under assault, the Nostalgia Warriors will be there, ready to refute every claim with childish rhetoric and nay-saying. And all the while, they don’t even realize they’re already involved in the political conversation: they’re just not doing a very good job at it.

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