It Can Be Here

This essay was originally published in the 16th December 2023 issue of The Full Lid

The cast of Come Bargain With Uncanny Things

Months ago, I wrote two lines that would start and end an essay. The first was this:

Help isn’t coming.

The original piece was born of the frustration Jenga required of working in a creative field in 2022. Pushing against the endless rip-tide of Events Demanding Opinions by being aware that none of those events need another cishet white dude doing anything besides signal boosting voices that weren’t his own. The pressures of a new job that was brilliant, challengingly at the edge of my comfort zone. The sudden existential ‘…I’m sorry, what?’ of being paid (and well!) to do creative work full time and coming in from the freelance front lines. Unblinkingly staring down the misplaced guilt of that. Wondering if I was doing the ‘right’ sort of creative work, because every creative you know is convinced everything they do is why they can’t have nice things. Making plans, and being able to make plans for the first time in two years. Travel! The persistent weltzschmerz of watching Bigot Island continue to worsen. A not-gone-yet global pandemic. A war in Europe.

It was a lot. At times, too much. And it did not feel like help was coming at all. So I put the essay in a drawer, and got on with it.

Then a few weeks ago, Marguerite and I had lunch with the just disgustingly talented Sarah Griffin and fellow radical soft boy Rhys Lawton. One of those ‘the only way I get to see my disgustingly talented and busy working friends anymore is by sharing a meal and desperately trying to catch up on everything that’s happened since the last time we did the same thing’ lunches. Both Rhys and Gryph had worked a lot this year, and all their work was about community. Stories about people coming together for a common goal — making things, or saving the world, or saving themselves. Stories told in community, about community, and how it changes. 

That’s an idea I’ve seen explored again and again this year. 

Gryph was part of Come Bargain With Uncanny Things earlier this year along with fellow Lid Friend and Kildan Michelle Kelly. An original piece of theatre that’s one part audience participation LARP, one part art projects, with heavy doses of opera and mystery. The audience steer the story and sometimes they steer it to some very dark places, but they have agency. The audience playing with the story defined by the actors within the sandbox defined by the show. The traditional power structure of ‘we will sit here and you will entertain us’ replaced with a blank canvas and all hands to the brushes.

It’s a complex and frightening and brilliant idea, embodied too in Derek DelGaudio’s stunning not-quite-magic show In and Of Itself.  There’s no audience, only art co-conspirators.

Video description: The trailer for the magic / theatre / storytelling hybrid show In & Of Itself by Derek Delgaudio

Speaking of art co-conspirators, 2022 has been the year for fantasy television stepping out of its past’s shadow to welcome more travellers around the bonfire.

The TV continuation of the 1988 movie movie Willow has been massive fun so far and a big part of that has been Willow himself. Warwick Davis is a chronically under-rated comic actor and his laconic delivery is used as a fulcrum for the show to turn its emotional wheels, like when he and daughter Mims (played By Davis’ own daughter, Annabelle Davis) say goodbye. They’re funny and sarcastic and kind and terrified, people who are caught up in events that every instinct tells them they can’t control. Yet Willow goes anyway because if he doesn’t, who else will? Willow’s village is underground now, there’s no sign of his wife or son. He’s clearly suffered losses. But Willow and the Nelwyns he leads are still there. Still moving forward. Their size doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as their actions.

Likewise their presence, their representation on screen. Cathy Reay wrote about this in the Guardian this week and this quote stood out:

I’m halfway through The Witcher: Blood Originand can safely reveal that Francesca Mills’ character Meldof is funny, fiery and independent, all things that are so obviously about her person rather than her race. She is surrounded by an average height cast and forms meaningful connections with them. Seeing this character in her full humanity, yes I relate to her because we share an impairment, but I also relate to her as a personality. Viewers will care about her character because of who she is, not because she looks different.

Representation is as powerful — and as simple — as showing people themselves.

The cast of The Witcher: Blood Origins

Editor’s note: Spoilers for Dragon Age: Absolution (2022) ahead.

Which is a truth Dragon Age: Absolution also lives when it’s not to busy setting fire to the building where its standing in and running away cackling. 

is such fun, especially if you live with a die-hard Bioware fan like I do. It’s also the most cheerfully openly gay piece of genre fiction I’ve seen since Sense8. The series is powered by two different intersectional relationships powered by gay characters, none of which die.

Even better, both relationships have nuance and depth and feel like four different people instead of two drama accretion nuclei. Elven assassin Miriam (Kimberly Brooks) and her human girlfriend Hira (Sumalee Montano) are a complex knot of old wounds and new hope. Meanwhile, Lacklon (Keston John) and Roland (Phil LaMarr) act as the group’s muscle and take turns outrageously flirting with one another. Lacklon’s a dwarf, Roland’s a delight, and the way their relationship unfolds is lovely as they go to increasingly dangerous lengths to save one another from the latest consequences of This Is Why Blood Mages Should Only Be Allowed Crayons And Even Then Only With Supervision.

Because if 2022 has taught us anything, it’s that community means everyone’s story gets their moment in the spotlight. We are collectively done with an exclusive diet of growly, serious white male protagonists. Everyone can be a hero. Everyone should be seen when they’re the hero. Being a hero is different for everyone. And everyone can be heroes together.

Video description: Doomed, as usual, the team listen to Roland’s plan until Lacklon interrupts with a kiss. And Roland totally kisses him back.

But sometimes community comes with a cost.

This toll for hope is paid in blood by Wreck’s terrified, furious crew as the pyramid of privilege built upon their backs does everything it can to save itself. The show’s depiction of privilege and corruption is about as close to perfect as you can get; there’s always another rich bigot monopolizing something you need, they’re always stupid, usually murderous.

Sometimes they even take the name of a not-famous enough scientist very much in vain.

Darkside Detective 2: A Fumble in the Dark

Violent Night takes a slightly more allegorical approach and explores issues of capitalism, dysfunctional families and the disillusionment we all battle. Also, hammer fights.

One part Die Hard, one part Miracle on 34th StreetViolent Night shares with Wreck a narrativeabout people in oppressive situations refusing to accept the inequitable status quo. But while Wreck is a story about being the last adults standing, Violent Night is a story about matching the innocence and joy of childhood with the fact that sometimes, you just need to hammer fight a dude.

Both are bloody-toothed sweethearts of stories, not afraid to get up close and extremely, violently personal in their quest to break barriers and rebuild their communities as something other than a resource for terrible people to exploit. Likewise Sarah Gailey’s recent (and sold out!) Know Your Station

Because space may be the final frontier, but it still has a First Class section.

In each of these stories, community is created and strengthened because the status quo is so unfair their very existence is viewed as an offence. And inevitably, when you oppress enough people, you build what destroys you. Like I said at the start, it feels, so often, that help isn’t coming.

But then, Miriam says this in Dragon Age: Absolution:

‘No one saves us. WE save us.’
Whilst over in Andor, yet another show in this conversation, Nemik builds on that:

“Tyranny requires constant effort. It breaks, it leaks. Authority is brittle. Oppression is the mask of fear. Remember that. And know this, the day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance will have flooded the banks of the Empire’s authority and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege. Remember this: Try.”

Months ago, I wrote two lines that would start and end an essay. The first was this:

Help isn’t coming.
But now, at the end of 2022, the final line is this:

It’s already here.

These stories, and so many more like them, are both campfire and map. A place to shelter, recover, take comfort, and plan for what’s next. You have to be alive to feel exhausted. Rest always comes. Hope always follows. As John Rogers put it, people lived long and happy lives as the Roman Empire fell and if that’s where we are, then ave fellow citizen and welcome.

The landscape we travel has been ripped and torn by war, a pandemic, capitalism, incompetence and bigotry, abuses of power and privilege. None of us are where we want to be. But for the first time, in 2022, I’ve seen that conversation happen in mainstream art. The frustration, the exhaustion, the fear, the rage and behind all of it, the hope. Change is happening, and these stories and so many more are expressions of solidarity and compass points for us all to steer by.

It’s not just you. It’s not just me. It’s everyone. We are everyone. And we’re saving ourselves.
Have a safe, restorative, and fantastic festive season, everyone. We’ll see you in the new year.

The title of this article is drawn from the theme song to Community. Because of course it is.

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