Sometimes changes are only skin deep. We mistake window dressing with actual change when nothing could be further from the truth.
In Haggar the Horrible, Lucky Eddie is the ship’s beleaguered cook, getting flack for always serving fish. Eddie tries his best to implement change by serving fish cubes, triangles, and donuts, never getting the fact that until fish is off the menu, he is doing the same thing.
Serving fish to people who have long had their fill of it.
Modern storytelling is in the same place. We may have more diverse characters representing a broader spectrum of society, but the same Patriarchal system is used to tell the story, undermining the changes we are seeing at the present moment.
Star Wars is a case in point. Yes, there are more representative characters in key roles, but the structure of the story is identical to the original movie. There is no real change. For those touting that there is something of a breakthrough, they have it half right.
Until the storytelling structure alters, we are stuck in the same maddening vortex of stagnation.
In alchemy, there is a saying: as above, so below. Modern storytelling has made changes above, but not below, meaning there is, in fact, no change whatsoever.
The deeper changes have not come, and the reason is that modern storytellers still cling to the Patriarchal style: main protagonist must battle the Other, and it is a hunter’s game of combat. It is a contest where the hero gets the audiences’ goodwill while the villain is to be ultimately reviled, or at least abusively pitied. Supporting characters know their place and it is to make the hero look the best of the bunch. There is a single and definitive voice running through the narrative, and everything falls neatly into place.
Star Wars is, at heart, a war movie (its title is a giveaway, yet people disagree with me on this point, for whatever reason) and war movies are almost always told in a Patriarchal style. It is about good and evil, even if both sides do the same things to each other. It is the winner who gets the crown of being designated the Good Guy.
The original Star Wars trilogy is fascinating stuff: at the end, the victor is the son of the villain who rules the cosmos, meaning even at the end, nepotism counts for everything.
In other words, it is an infinite loop where nothing truly ever changes, and the empire stays in the family.
The Matriarchal structure, on the other hand, is about growing and changing. It is about exploring interconnected lives where people are front and centre in some aspects of their lives, but supporting players in others. It is about understanding opposing sides not always in an “us versus them” or “good versus evil” dichotomy, but as two sides who must come to grips with their reality before hammering out a solution where the seeds of grudges and vendettas don’t threaten to tear down all that was built and created.
The Matriarchal style takes care of both Above and Below: it is more than just having a diverse and diversified cast of characters: it is about telling their stories through their hearts and souls, allowing us to see their perceptions, realities, and truths so that we can stop tyranny long before it has a chance to take root and grow by hiding in lies and mistaken beliefs. We begin to understand other ways of seeing the world with the Matriarchal as we gather other ways of seeing stories.
Storytelling may be the oldest of pastimes, but we have not even begun to explore this exciting and thrilling discipline. We have stuck with the Patriarchal for so long, that we fail to see it is but one of the many ways of constructing a story. The Matriarchal can break us out of that vortex so we can finally begin to truly explore the art and science of making maps to the future one story at a time.