Most of the people I know woke up the day after the U.S. election asking “how did this happen? Why did it happen? How can someone so manifestly unfit to rule get elected President?”
Well, there are many ways to answer that. This blog is about movies, so I’m going to base my answer on the character of Loki from the Marvel “Avengers” movies.
Loki is a Trickster. That’s his role in the universe. And what a Trickster does is shake things up, make things change, often just for the sake of seeing what will happen. He doesn’t care about outcomes. He doesn’t care about who might get hurt. He doesn’t care, period. He just likes to blow things up.
Dr. Sharon Blackie recently wrote about Tricksters in British and American politics:
Right now, we’re living in Trickster Times. Because when civilisations start to become moribund; when social, economic and political systems stagnate, and empires become degenerate and unresponsive to the needs of the people, in walks Trickster to shake it all up. Trickster is the catalyst, the disruptor who sparks off the tearing down of the old order. In the story we’re living through today, Trickster is the one who undermines the élitist establishment which refuses to be held accountable to the people it’s supposed to serve. Lewis Hyde, in his wonderful book Trickster Makes the World, argued that Trickster is the archetypal disruptive intelligence which all cultures need if they are to remain lively, flexible, and open to change. But that change is always an alarming process, and one in which there are no guarantees: what follows might not be better.
What follows depends on many things – among them, the specific qualities of the Trickster who happens along in the story you’re living through right now. Because here’s the problem: you don’t always get the Trickster you think you want. (Though mostly, you get the Trickster you deserve.) It gets even more complicated when more than one Trickster shows up. Let’s take as an example [the] ‘Brexit’ referendum in the UK. You’d maybe think the Trickster character in this particular story was Boris Johnson. Boris as Coyote: bumbling, often foolish, usually harmless, and above all a prankster. It’s hard not to love Coyote Tricksters, even when they’re driving you mad. But Trickster isn’t always a clown, there in the story to make us laugh; and neither is he always the clever one, like Brer Rabbit in the African-American tradition, outwitting his oppressors. There are Tricksters who are noble, and those who are ignoble. Think of Loki, the amoral, often malevolent Trickster of Norse mythology, who wants nothing less than Ragnarök, the downfall of the gods and the end of the world as we know it.
That last bit is the scary part. A lot of people are thinking “Ragnarok” right now.
In the Marvel films “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World,” however, Loki wants something else. He wants power. He wants to rule. This is not where the Trickster traditionally belongs. He is usually behind the throne, manipulating things without being seen. As he has been in our politics since the 1980s as Roger Ailes and more recently as James Mercer. But the last Thor movie ended with Loki on the throne, and so did our recent election.
Over the last few years, a whole lot of ugly stuff has seemed to be coming to the fore in our society: racism, sexism, rape culture, homophobia, religious bias . . . you name it. But all of this has always existed. It’s just much more out in the open now, and Trump has been a major instigator of that openness. Whatever you think of him, Trump says what he thinks with no censorship. To him as a Trickster, it’s funny, and he has delighted in being as shocking as possible, just as Loki does.
As horrifying as that might seem, this is actually a good thing. The more the stuff in the shadow gets brought into the light—that nasty stuff that usually has gone under the radar—the better the chances of healing it are.
So it makes some sense that the Trickster who usually hides in the shadows is now claiming center stage. Because these problems are stubbornly recalcitrant, and we can’t heal them until we see truly what we are dealing with, just how deeply rooted they are. Loki didn’t create these problems; neither did Trump or the people behind him. They’ve always been with us. The fact that Loki seems triumphant right now may mean that we are finally ready to deal with these problems once and for all.
The more these nasty stinking messes come to light, the better our chances of cleaning them up. Abscessed wounds cannot heal until they are opened up, and oh do they stink when they are! But that’s got to happen before we can clean them out, find the actual cause lurking in the depths, and pour in the antibiotic solution before stitching it up again.
It’s a painful procedure. There will be scars.
Sharon Blackie has some advice on how to deal with this shadow stuff:
. . . here’s the thing about the Shadow, and it’s critical to understand this if you want what follows to be better than what came before: it’s no good berating the Shadow, shouting it down, calling it names, telling it it’s bad. The cultural Shadow is part of who we are, and we all have to take responsibility for it. You can’t do moral high ground with the Shadow. The Shadow is ourselves. Refuse the Shadow, and you’ll never be whole. The beginning of the long, hard work of integrating the Shadow is listening to it, not abusing it. Lash out at the Shadow, as waves of so-called ‘progressives’ are now doing …; refuse its right to have a voice – and it will turn round and bite you in the throat. You can’t kill the Shadow. The Shadow is you.
We might not have chosen these particular Tricksters, but now we have them. What follows from their particular brand of disruption might not be better than what came before – but it might be. It’s all down to us. It’s all down to the way we respond to and integrate that cultural Shadow.
I once heard Michael Meade tell a story about the end times. In this story there’s an old woman who is knitting a long garment, but from time to time she has to go stir a pot of seeds, and whenever she does, a black dog rips out half her work. She doesn’t beat the dog, she doesn’t even bewail the loss of her hard work; she simply starts working with what is left. And each time, she makes it better. She makes it more beautiful.
Living through bad times is no fun, but when are we not living through bad times? The answer is not to cry “Ragnarok!” Instead of blaming and seeing ourselves as victims, if we can think in terms of a necessary breakdown of what has not been working—and the problems coming to light are clear evidence that things have not been working for many people—then we can prepare ourselves to reweave the world in a new and better way, once we’ve endured the unweaving.
Oh, and Loki? He always loses in the end.