Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Theme-Symbolism Integration Part 1: You Can't Fight City Hall by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Theme-Symbolism Integration
Part 1
You Can't Fight City Hall
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous post on Symbolism:

Is fighting City Hall romantic?  You bet it is! 

But first I want to point you to a short post by Margaret L. Carter here on Alien Romance.  She surveys the effect of going back in Time by watching very old TV Series and how those series depict characters.

The dissonance she refers to measures the sudden change in social norms.  It's too sudden for humans to adjust without psychological stress, according to Alvin Toffler in FUTURE SHOCK change in social norms.  I think we are still in the midst of that change, and therefore Romance Writers can leverage the chaos into massive commercial success bigger than mere destruction-derby, action, raw sex, or violence.


So let's journey back in time, then apply what we can learn.

One of the hottest hunks of an era was the guy who brought down the mob-corruption in Chicago when the mob had total control of "City Hall."  And the actor who portrayed that sexiest guy was likewise a heart stealing, larger than life, ultimate target for any woman worth her salt.

Here is an Amazon Video page with some of the titles available for a refresher course in that era.

The Untouchables Instant Video

And here is a Kevin Costner remake of that story:

The background theme in the mob story is "corruption."  Corruption is the way to "do business" and/or "Corruption is Dishonorable" and/or "Corruption is a figment of the imagination of those who want to control you."

The themes of Corruption are a theme-bundle, a set of independent but related themes that can be used to drive the stories of a whole set of characters who are in external conflict (plot), but each learning different lessons from being opposed.

Outside of a mere dictionary, the term "corruption" will be defined in a myriad different ways.  "This is corrupt."  No, nonono! "THAT is corrupt!"  "No actually neither is corruption at all." 

"Corruption" is a term with a huge, negative semantic loading (like EVIL, and we all admire the kickass Heroine who fights EVIL and protects our world from invasion and domination by Evil), but unlike Evil Corruption doesn't doesn't come in "Black" vs. "White." 

So with the shift of Generations, as time marches on, we see our very language morphing, words taking on new connotations, new definitions, and being used in new ways. 

Compare that Kevin Costner remake of The Untouchables with the earlier version from 1959 and watch that difference:

Now, consider "Corruption" in the abstract.  The concept lends itself handily to Thematic Statement -- what particular action in which situation actually equals "corruption" and what action does not qualify.  This is potent stuff, and crazy-sexy stuff, too because it makes or breaks Relationships. 

A woman looks for a "strong" man, a man who will stand for what she believes in, fight to the death to protect her and his children, never break his promises. 

Marriages founder on such broken promises, even if "Oh, that's not what I meant" comes into play when accused of breaking a marriage vow.

You see this argument unfolding in today's headlines, all the dodging and weaving to redefine what an oath actually means, what the US Constitution actually means (nevermind meant long ago) and what that has to do with "reality." 

Nobody knows how to resolve such an argument.  The internal parameters are fuzzy, foggy, blurred, and there's no concrete definition of what's right and what's wrong, nevermind what's legal and what's illegal.

This befuddlement affects people of different ages differently and thus your Target Audience is divided by age group.  To capture more than one age-group, you need characters of different ages bespeaking the attitudes and values of their own generation.

Remember how we broke down the Generations among your target audience according to what Sign of the Zodiac Pluto was in at their birth? 

---------quote from that Part 6-----------
Gen Y came of age just as the possibility of video games emerged, and the home computer became financially feasible.

PLUTO IN SCORPIO kids -- only 10 years worth of kids -- grew up with computers in GRAMMAR SCHOOL classrooms and at home and became the market for the most violent video games. Pluto rules Scorpio, the Natural 8th House - when Pluto was in Scorpio it was its most POWERFUL. For the 1/12th of those kids born with Pluto in Scorpio in their own 8th House, Pluto issues are likely to rule the whole life.

There was a huge baby boom in the 1990's. Though it's only a 10 year span, 1985-1995 saw an unusual increase in the demographic significance of that generation who are now entering college and the lesser educated workforce.

That Pluto in Scorpio generation turned out the most young voters ever in this previous Presidential election, and you've all seen their vehemence (power) in political rallies (both sides of the issues!)

The generation reared on the most violent video games is determined to assert their right to their inheritance, their rightful possession by dint of the fact that they exist.

Employers have already noted that the current 18-20 year olds they hire are mortally offended by any workplace rule that prohibits texting during work hours. Employers have no right to restrict behavior or communication during work hours. (I saw a study about that posted online, and saw several interviews about it on TV, but didn't save any references, sorry. I may have referred to it in a previous post here.)

The Pluto in Scorpio generation (only 10 years long) has passed on their taste for video games to the Pluto in Sagittarius generation.

PLUTO IN SAGITTARIUS, 1995 - 2008, are still just babies, and their buying power is still mostly controlled by Gen Y parents.

But for us, it's interesting to note the success of TWILIGHT with the Pluto in Sagittarius teens.

Gen X acquired a real taste for the teen-vampire novel. The sex appeal of Vampires with the edgy connotations of risking death is soooo PLUTO!

YA shelves filled with vampires in the 1980's, which naturally gave rise to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER a little later, and all sorts of vampire spinoffs for older people.

TWILIGHT and the urban-fantasy vision of reality as a thin film over a seething cauldron of evil is intensely popular with Pluto in Scorpio AND Pluto in Sagittarius.

Noel Tyl, an astrologer's astrologer, has identified the axis in the natal chart that describes one's deepest anxieties, fears, nightmares, repressed fears -- the kind of deep, inarticulate fears that rule our behavior and which we rationalize.

That axis is the 3rd House/ 9th House axis.

The Natural 3rd House is Gemini, ruled by Mercury (thought, communication, short trips, fast moves, and also indecisiveness and restlessness).

The Natural 9th House is Sagittarius, ruled by Jupiter, and all about Philosophy, Courts, Social Justice, the generous and magnanimous King, the kindness of the world, success by expansion, growth. Sagittarius is all about open-honesty as the adjacent sign of Scorpio is all about hidden realities. Sag is long trips, foreign countries, PUBLISHING!!!

Kids with Pluto in Sagittarius are the teens who gobbled up Harry Potter (foreign published) when they were 9 years old, TWILIGHT etc, in their teens. TWILIGHT treats the darker (Pluto is "dark") aspects of the vampire as "out there" and mostly ignorable, while the vampires that are "in here" are trustworthy and above all that dark stuff - probably. In TWILIGHT the nasty part is "hidden" (Pluto).

Marketers have noted a leveling off of the growth of computer games sales (not shrinking, just not growing as fast as there are no more Pluto in Scorpio kids coming to buying age)

The trend in films toward ever more exaggerated violence and destruction, spectacle for its own sake, (TRANSFORMERS?) pleasures and amuses Pluto in Scorpio folks in some way that mystifies the Pluto in Leo folks. And I don't think it's just because the Pluto in Leo folks are older. I think it's because the Pluto in Leo folks have an Amusement Button that's configured differently.

When the Pluto in Sagittarius kids are 18-25, what films will they be taking their girlfriends to? What games will they spend their money on? What will amuse them life-long? What songs will they popularize? (already, I see lyrics changing)

The dark, ugly subject matter of the first wave of popularized rap is giving way to something else, but it's gradual.

If the Pluto in Scorpio generation pushed the violence in video games beyond all previous taboos, what taboo will the Pluto in Sagittarius generation (the obese kid generation -- Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius is famous for obesity, the JOLLY FAT WOMAN image is usually Jupiter on the Ascendant) what taboo will this new generation expand out of all sense and reason? What will obsess them as violence and destruction obsesses Pluto in Scorpio?
----------end quote-------

Yes, it's a long post, and that is a tiny slice out of the middle.  It was posted in 2009.

I still think understanding the generations, and the attitudes they have toward Government (what it should be used for, what it can do effectively, what it must never do, etc) is a vital key for writers who are aiming at a particular Demographic which is seen by publishers or producers as currently gobbling up a certain type of fiction.

The full effect of a generational obsession is not seen until that generation has a) money they earned, and b) power over others (e.g. getting promotions to management positions).  The effect is not seen in politics unless there is a significant portion of the total population born in that time-span.

For commercial purposes, industry (Public Relations Firms mostly) have named the generations and assigned them boundaries in years, then attempted to parse the statistics of the mass-behavior of these people.

Forbes Magazine did an article in July 2014 examining the breakdown of generations, and highlighting individual biographies to illustrate a point.


And it contains the key graphic writers can gain from, a chart defining the generations in percent of population, and their behavior at different life-stages.


Forbes is not a magazine most student-writers think they must read -- but actually, it is a must-read because in order to understand the world behind the headlines that we rip stories from, one must "follow the money."  Money is Power.  Power is Pluto.

"Follow The Money" is the mantra of all Mystery Writers -- and the truth is, all Romance is driven by Mystery.  Mystery is arousing.  Mystery is exotic.  Mystery holds un-defined promise.  Mystery is very sexy.

The best selling Romance novels today are filled with sex scenes -- and a good deal of violence sometimes -- along with "irresistible attraction" to the sexiest creature alive.  "Irresistible Attraction" is Pluto acting during a Neptune transit that vitiates the Will.  Pluto magnifies the Neptune effect, and Neptune is Romance (Venus is Love - totally different subject).  Pluto is pure, raw, animal sex-drive.  Pluto Rules Scorpio, the tall, dark, handsome cliche.  Scorpio men are often the dark haired, dark eyebrows, dark eyes, mystery-lover of fake Tarot readings.  They are the men that women obsess over.  

Note in that Astrology post, Part 6 quote, Pluto is associated with "obsession" -- that's not usually considered it's "virtue" but rather it's "vice." 

Every sign and planet, and every angle, every formation in Astrology manifests in at least two different ways -- as "virtue" (something that helps you accomplish your purposes) or as "vice" (something that thwarts your purposes.)  The choice is yours, but it isn't always clear which course of action is which, so Pluto makes a good plot-driving force.

For Pluto, for example, when it's manifesting as obsession -- that obsession can be the virtue.  If you've been diagnosed with cancer, you should be obsessed with researching everything about it, with studying all your lab panels, with obsessively following your meds schedules, with researching your doctor, clinic, etc etc. 

So obsession itself is not necessarily a vice. 

Another manifestation of Pluto is it's Transforming Power.  Whatever "was" in your life's structure will be tested, often to destruction, by Events whose root causes lie decades beforehand (because Pluto moves slowly through the Zodiac).  That gives your plot depth, as you delineate your Main Character's back-story, what traumas or successes shaped their decision making of today.  For example, perhaps his family lost everything in a tornado that destroyed the house, his favorite pet or maybe a sibling?  Today, he might pass up a great-paying job in Tornado Alley nevermind how desperate his pregnant wife is? 

Pluto is the plot driver for the classic Rebound romance because Pluto reveals the flaws in a relationship, and breaks that flawed relationship apart with sledge-hammer blows of Events, leaving the person to go on into a new life with new awareness, sometimes for the better and sometimes not-so-good. 

Pluto is a magnifying agent for the power of other transits and a revolutionary agent  -- it turns over the concealing veneer and reveals any corruption hidden under pretense.  In that function, it's a "virtue" for those hurt by the corruption, and a vice for those who committed the corrupt acts.

So a corrupt act done decades ago under immense pressure to violate values of right and wrong will emerge (usually not "suddenly" but with many harbingers that are ignored) and then become known to all, producing shame, failure, very possibly jail (12th House is jail, among many other things).

 So back to the Untouchables.

The "Untouchables" were called that because no offer of bribes, under-the-table benefits, quid pro quo, or even threats of being shot down in the streets -- or having their families shot down in the streets -- no threat and no temptation could TOUCH them.

This group of men who took down "City Hall" (entrenched, mob-run government in Chicago) held themselves, all by themselves, to a standard code of right and wrong, and lived that code in spite of all odds.

Because of that take-down, "City Hall" has become a symbol for the theme of Corruption.

Like all symbols, it means something different to each person -- and to each generation.  It means something different to people at different rungs of the economic ladder.

Contrast the way the movie and TV Series, The Godfather, handled the story of life in the mob with the way the early films on The Untouchables.  Note how the later films handled it.

That change is due to aiming the entertainment at different audiences.  Each generation of audience has a set of assumptions and beliefs about what corruption is (and what exactly constitutes business, what constitutes corruption).

At core, the word "corrupt" just means "changed."  It is no longer what it appears to be -- it is a shell of its former self, "rotted out" from within, not structurally sound.  It appears to be one thing, but is actually something else entirely.

If that former self was good, then "corruption" is the process of turning it into something bad.

If that former self was  bad, then "corruption" might be the process of turning it into something good (or maybe into something even worse.)

"Good" and "Bad" are words that don't really mean anything.  They are defined by the Point of View -- which is why new writers must master Point of View.  Good is what you see as in your favor, and bad is against you.  Which is which depends on who you are, and what you are.

Therefore, we can add to our definition of Strong Character.  A Strong Character is one who adheres unswervingly to a specific code of "right and wrong" -- an ethic, a moral system, a vividly defined value system.

Most people don't live long enough to evolve a really workable ethic, morality or value system -- nevermind all three.

And if you wrote of a character who was working to create such a system, it would bore your readers to tears.  It's abstract, tedious stuff, the raw material from which writers fabricate themes.

So when creating a Strong Character, you reference an existing set of values that your character shares with your target audience.

That is what the strategy of Save The Cat! does.  The cat which is saved in that screenwriting series is some helpless person or animal which is "saved" by the main character right on page 1 of the script.

The opening situation characterizes the main character as sympathetic (even if he's the Godfather), as someone the audience can understand via his good side.  You must show without telling what that good side is.

Remember the SUPERMAN film that starts with Clark Kent bumbling down the city street amidst chaos and saving situations just barely managing not to breaking his cover disguise?  The film opens with a whole string of save-the-cat moments.  The Cat of the instructional books is a symbol.  The theme is represented by the symbol of what is saved on page 1.  And remember, the saver must have something at stake, something at risk, something precious he/she is willing to risk to perform a Good Deed.

By creating the environment, the objects in it, the jeopardy, the action required to "save" and the person who does the saving from your Theme's core material, you integrate theme and symbolism in a way that draws your chosen audience into your story.

So with Theme-Symbolism Integration, you can create save-the-cat moments to awaken sympathy for any character. 

Take for example, "You Can't Fight City Hall" -- and your story is about some hapless bloke who will succeed in fighting city hall (i.e. changing local law to allow him to do whatever his goal is, maybe found an SPCA shelter behind his Veterinary Clinic, but it's against city regs).  You might open on the scene where he first meets the Female Lead he will fall in love with, so Love can Conquer All (even City Hall).

That scene might be the imposing steps of City Hall -- say in a major storm.  She is running up the banks of steps into the main doors wearing 4 inch spike heels.  The storm rips the American Flag (or whatever country) from the pole and whips it around her - causing her to fall.  He "saves the cat" by catching her wrapped in a wet flag.  He unwraps her, and looks her sopping wet suited body up and down, then bends and retrieves her sopping wet cell phone for her.  There's a picture of him on the phone (doing what? wearing what? or was it just taken accidentally?), but they've never met.  Maybe she's the new Mayor? 

In one scene, you've got a Hunk, sex, Patriotism, conflict between Hunk and Patriotic symbol, comic relief as he fights with the wet flag, imagery in the storm hitting right then as foreshadowing of his fight with City Hall, and if the subsequent dialogue ends in war declared between them, then you've got PLUTO driving the plot (Mars is a fight; Pluto is War).

If they're on opposite sides, the "war" will conclude with one or the other changing their mind about the role of regulation in city management?  Or she'll arrange (corruptly?) for him to acquire a different parcel of land where he can have a clinic and rescue center, and a big house so she can marry him?  But he'll refuse because it's a bribe to shut up and let her win re-election or let The Mob have his old clinic?  So maybe he'll run against her in the next election, and wouldn't it be horrible if he won?  Will he get a City Council he can convince to change the regulations against animals? 

Regulations are all about Saturn, and Saturn is all about Government (self-discipline is self-governing), about borders and boundaries.  Pluto is about change, thus about political revolution -- doesn't matter what is; when Pluto's done, it isn't.  But that doesn't mean that nothing is, that nothing is left of what was.  What withstands the erosion of Pluto, may just stand for centuries. 

Pluto tests and transforms.  Pluto is Urban Renewal -- it first exposes and destroys anything corrupt, especially what it created decades previously, then it builds something new (which could decay with more decades).

Pluto is about Power, atomic power, and fusion power.  It's also about political power.

One action of Pluto is to concentrate Power under a blanket of deceptive appearances.  Another is to cause that concentrated Power to explode (as with enemies engaging in raw animal sex without actual love involved right at that moment).  Pluto does not explode without warning, but without any warning people are willing to heed. 

Since everyone born has Pluto somewhere -- generations share a Sign that Pluto is in because it moves slowly -- the World politics, and the fates of nations move in 248 year cycles, and quartering of 248.  So that means every 62 years, you see a repeating pattern in world affairs every third generation or so.

It's called Mundane Astrology - and is about the patterns that repeat in history, and about predicting the character of the next round.  Thus it's important for Science Fiction writers to have a basic understanding of Mundane Astrology to write stories centuries or millennia from now and give them plausibility.

People who do not know anything about Astrology do recognize its patterns when shown them.  Imbue your work with those patterns and the most absurd worlds you can build become plausible.

One of the patterns to watch for is that concentration of Power just before violent dispersion of Power -- and that applies to economic Power and political Power, even scientific Power.

When Political Power becomes concentrated, you see fewer and fewer individuals making more of the big decisions that affect everyone.  You see people (like the Veterinary in the above sketch) being cut out of the decision making process, not having a voice in zoning.  You see people being taxed at the say-so of a very few (remember the cliche Medieval scene where the Duke's men ride into a shabby village and steal all the winter-storehouse supply of food to supply the Duke's army and pay the King's taxes).

When problems are too big for a person, or village size group of people to solve, they willingly combine with other small groups and create something big enough to tackle the big problem.

That is the process of centralizing authority, making a few experts figure out what to do and do it.

Very often, that small group of experts succeeds, and continues successfully solving problems for 62 years - the career-span of a young revolutionary.  Remember the Soviet Union lasted a little more than 70 years, but its last few decades were disintegrating failure eating the system out from the inside.  The popular Post-Apocalyptic TV Series and novels are about Pluto leaving a shambles when centralized power disintegrates, and then rebuilding from the pieces.  Examples might include "Defiance" on SyFy channel and "Falling Skies" on TNT.  Think about Castro's Cuba contrasted with the pre-Revolution Cuba.

After about 3 generations -- whatever was centralized becomes "corrupt" -- the originating Pluto-driven Power gets eaten out from inside -- which erosion is the nature of Pluto.  It still looks like City Hall on the outside, but inside the corridors, the people don't hold the same values.  They admire and practice different values that clash with the ostensible nature of City Hall.  So they begin to fail in that original mission, while perhaps succeeding in their own mission (maybe to get rich).

This dual nature of Pluto's function is encapsulated in the cliche, "Power Corrupts; Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely."  It is the nature of Power to eat itself out from the inside and collapse.  The more concentrated the centers of Power (electrical grid, politics, economics - doesn't matter - the principle prevails), the more catastrophic the collapse.  Collapse is the current most popular venue to place a Romance (Zombie Apocalypse). 

You can't change that tendency of centralized Power to fail in apocalypse by changing the individual people involved in handling the power.  It takes the explosive exposure by Pluto revealing the sneaky culprit, destroying the essential centralization itself to initiate significant change.

Pluto's cycle builds-disintegrates-rebuilds-disintegrates.  And Pluto is about Power.

So when you build your drama (Pluto is drama which is just ordinary emotional life magnified beyond sensible proportion), you locate your drama within that cycle. 

To maximize verisimilitude, you select the place on the Pluto cycle for your story to explicate the theme.

In the case of the Veterinary, "City Hall" is a symbol for a nexus of power built decades before and now hollowed out, "corrupt" and ready to fall.  Along comes an ordinary man and Love that Conquers All, and decentralizes the decision-making away from City Hall.  The voters get a say.  The animal rights groups get a say.  Do the homeless (victims of feral animals maybe with rabies?) get a say?  Who and what takes the Power away from City Hall?  Where does that power go?  To the State Capital?  To Washington?

If your Leading Lady is the newly elected Mayor, perhaps she then becomes Governor in the sequel and the third book is about a run for Senate or maybe the White House?

Set the same story in Medieval Times in Europe and watch the Church's centralized power lose its grip on Europe.

Set the same story during the years of the fall of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire was ruled between 1299-1922.

That's 623 years -- that's 2 1/2 cycles of Pluto.  The half is significant as it designates the fall as coinciding with a major opposition transit, a challenge. 

Think Elizabeth Peters who wrote those wonderful mysteries about a woman in Egypt around the early 1900's.  Think about Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and how she's used the early 20th Century and the thousands of years of Egyptian history. 

By focusing on the fall of the Ottoman Empire, you can let your readers watch that centralized authority disintegrate.  Maybe you want to reincarnate your couple in modern times and watch the new Caliphate arise as their past-life memories bring up moments from the Ottoman Empire, moments when they were mortal enemies not lovers? 

Can "Love" conquer such massive international forces rooted so deeply in human nature?

Can two lovers divided by their preference for centralized or decentralized Power in politics ever get together for an HEA?

Think of the American Revolution -- Britain wanted centralized British Power running the world from the British Throne and British Parliament dominated by the peerage.  The Americans wanted decentralized power.

In fact, America wanted each state to be sovereign, and the federal government to be responsible only for defense of the country and inter-state commerce.  Eventually a civil war was fought over State's Rights and many other sore issues (very complex war).

The most passionate Romance is all about the Powerless vs. the Powerful.  The winner is always the Strong Character with a vividly defined set of values, sense of right and wrong, and unbending pursuit of the ethical and moral path.  Find your epoch in the cycle of Pluto, then find the symbols in that epoch to bespeak your theme.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of a quote Robert Heinlein liked to repeat in his fiction: "An honest politician is one who stays bought." In the old-style city government of "machine politics," the patronage system might have looked like "corruption" from the outside, but to those who benefited from it, it was probably thought of as "taking care of your own." Nice example with THE GODFATHER -- in the opening scene, Don Corleone agrees to help a man who reluctantly appeals to the mob boss for "justice" because he believes he won't get it from the police and the courts.