“People of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: overchoice.” ~ Alvin Toffler author of Future Shock
“A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension.” ~ Oliver Wendell Homes
Do you yell at the characters on the TV, or in your books? I do all the time. I want my favorite character to be protected and to make the best moral choices even in the most dire of circumstances. And if they don’t I want to see why they followed a path that I naïvely think I would not choose.
Recently my husband and I binge watched three shows on TV that have good characters faced with moral dilemmas that I hope I never have to deal with. These shows were the last season of The Man in the High Castle, the last season of Poldark, and season two of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Each one, in it’s own way, is suspenseful has plenty of twists and turns, and points when the characters have to make moral decisions. That gives me opportunities to think about how I’d react to the given circumstances in which they find themselves. As you can imagine, I do a lot of cringing and giving them advice.
The Man in the High Castle is the show I want to write about because it’s the one I have been thinking about the most. It’s chock full of moral dilemmas. And as I wrote above, I find myself wondering what I’d do in those circumstances.
The story is based on the dystopian novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick, a famous pioneer of the the sci-fi genre. It takes place in the mid-60s. The Axis Powers won WW II. Germany has control of the eastern part of what was the United States, as well of all of Europe, and Japan has control of the western part as well as most of Asia. There is a neutral zone in the Rockies where Jews, people of color, and those who want to resist these powers attempt to escape to so they can eek out a living. This is also the headquarters of the resistance movement which grows stronger as the series moves through the four seasons.
The key plot point that moves the story forward is the existence of films distributed by the mysterious “Man in the High Castle.” No one knows who he is or how he got these films that show the history familiar to us where the Allies won the war. As more and more people see the news reels they begin to hope that the oppressive governments can be defeated.
One of the things I love about the series is that the pivotal character is a woman by the name of Juliana Crain. From the moment she sees the first film that happens to feature people she knows in her world, in the other world, she’s on a mission to not only find the man in the high castle, but to bring about the destruction of the Nazi and Japanese empires. Her nemesis is John Smith, an American, who rises to be the leader of the American Reich.
The series forces the watcher to ask themselves how could any Americans throw in the with Nazis, especially military men who were fighting for freedom? They are the more dominant empire on the continent, though we do see how American’s are treated as second class citizens by the Japanese. It’s bad enough for whites, but Jews and people of color are in extreme danger.
One of the brilliant choices the film makers made was to wait to show the moment when John Smith and his wife decide to save themselves and their family by joining the Nazi party. Their decision is portrayed in one of the last episodes of the final season. It’s titled “Mauvaise Foi,” which is a French term originating from existentialist philosophy. It’s the concept that human beings adopt false values and act inauthentically (in bad faith) under pressure from social forces. And as we know, the Nazis were experts at setting up situations where people were forced to make bad faith decisions, or be destroyed.
In the show, after the surrender of the Allied Forces, the Nazis have starved the American people. They then “benevolently” air drop, or ship food and other necessities to all the major cities assuring the populace that they will be taken care of IF they join with the Nazis to ensure a prosperous new future.
I couldn’t help wondering what I would do if I were in that situation. When this happens in the story, we see John and his wife Helen trying to care for their infant son, who’s health is rapidly declining because of lack of food. Would I be able to let my child die for my principles? I might have made the same decision even though in my heart I knew it was wrong.
One thing that great stories do is allow us to see the consequences of character’s choices. For Juliana, her choice to learn all she can from the films, to practice the Japanese form of meditation, and to resist the oppressors, turn out to be transformative for her personally, and for the society. In the case of John and Helen, their decision to become Nazis turns out, dare I say, satisfyingly tragic.
In each of the TV shows I mentioned above, the hero characters have strong ideas about what is right and what is wrong. They sometimes make mistakes, but in the end they choose the moral high ground and win because of it. This does two things for me: One, make me pay attention to my own choices. Am I kind, do I show I care for the planet, do I stand up for what I believe? And two, gives me hope that if more and more of us on this planet choose the moral high ground, we will eventually create a better world. Am I delusional to hope for that do you think?
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Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2020
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Except that Jenna’s life is shattered and she must find a way to put it back together. When she finds old journals, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan, rather than traveling physically. She is able to come back at intervals and apply what she’s learned to her own life situations.
The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.