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Hero's Journey (5): How good that evil exists.

Good wins when it defeats evil. A meta-message that is told to us again and again in many, many stories across generations and cultures in the most diverse variations. In epics, myths, heroic sagas, in fairy tales, in love stories, in thrillers, comedies and biographies: all is well in the end, and if it is not well, it is not the end. Happy ending.

We will deal with "happy endings" and the great error associated with them in a later episode of this series. In the meantime, if you can't wait any longer, take a look at Aristotle's Poetics.


In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!

This much already: Your story will have ended when the main character has transformed. If not, you either don't have a story, you don't tell it well, or you don't understand it yourself. Or you haven't finished it. There is no talk of happy here.

On the keyword "transformed", two actors come into the story game: the mentor and the antagonist. One is the supporter, the other the antagonist of our main character. You can find some more thoughts on the mentor here.

The mentor appears in the vast majority of stories, and in very different guises, but he is not indispensable. Without a mentor, it works somehow, but without an opponent, nothing works. Because without an opponent there is no conflict and without conflict there is no story.

Not even the most banal run-of-the-mill TV series can do without conflict. If the characters there did not at least have problems to solve, the stories would not only be bad, but also bland and completely uninteresting. The lowest possible interest level, which must not be fallen short of under any circumstances, at least activates the audience's question: "How does it end?" If it doesn't, nothing does. So it is pure primitive curiosity that often makes us watch even bad films to the end, and at the same time God's stern indication that in our everyday hectic pace we obviously still have far too much time after all.

Life is conflict, or bland.

Story is the image of our lives - in other words, an incessant chain of conflicts that we have to resolve. Big and small, significant and insignificant - from the small annoying issue to the life-deciding dilemma.

You can have conflicts in four areas and thus have opponents there:

  1. physical conflicts - for example, bad weather at the garden party, the climate crisis, a volcanic eruption or whooping cough.
  2. Conflicts with society and its institutions - the deserved fine for parking, our inferior education system that damages your children, or the back tax payment.
  3. Conflicts in relationships - with the snotty kids of your neighbours, with your wife, with your parents, with the Godfather of Mansplaining, who of all people is your superior, the stupid ass.
  4. Inner conflicts - qualities, behaviours, habits or reactions that you recognise in yourself and don't like. Or that you display and don't recognise until someone or something makes you realise that ... Someone? The antagonistic force!

More often than one would like to believe and at first glance, external conflicts are nothing more than mirror images or the frames for what is going on inside ourselves. Tasks that trigger our inner conflicts. Coincidentally, because life throws tasks at us ...

Overpowering antagonists make us grow mightily.

A conflict triggered and carried by a powerful antagonist, preferably a - seemingly - overpowering one, is the best thing that can happen to a story. For it is only through her that the heroine learns, that we learn. Only by overcoming this force through our positive counterforce does growth come about.

So this is the best thing that can happen to you and your own story, because it triggers transformation, in the best case towards the person you could and should be. To a better - truer - version of yourself.

Once again: it is antagonistic forces that are at work, because an opponent does not always have to be a person. And in many cases of great, important stories, people as opponents are not the real challenge at all, but embody, in a figurative and actual sense, as people only antagonistic forces that dwell, rage and rage in a completely different place: in the heroine herself. In us.

The devil is not in the detail, but in you.

Sometimes the visible antagonistic force only forms the framework for the heroine's proving herself, which, in the course of this external struggle, is demanded on the inside. The averting of a humanity-erasing meteorite impact, vulgo Armageddon, or the defeat of the overly voracious hyenas by Simba and his comrades-in-arms is then virtually only the - quite desirable - side effect, so that there is room again for Hakuna Matata. For a while, until the next conflict.

In marketing communication, there are several examples of this polarity in the struggle with the external opponent, the antagonistic force and one's own proving oneself, which - as difficult as it is - translates most banally in the products of a company, but in reality only comes to life in the corporate culture. All too often, however, not ...

Apple, of course, comes to mind first. Remember the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, when the external adversary manifested itself as the all-dominating big corporations, which with their power and monopoly position put people on an equal footing in a technoid Big Brother system. This is what was said in the legendary TV commercial of Apple 1984... and you will see why 1984 will not be like 1984...".

Apple 's message to the outside world was to fight this Orwellian hegemony, but to the inside world it was about the development of creative power and people's own urge to create, which the devices from Cupertino are supposed to promote.

In the version of this story that quickly became legend in 1997 and remains so today, Apple addressed the antagonistic forces in a much broader context, proclaiming itself the spiritual leader and official colourful arms supplier of the Crazy Ones, those people who would be crazy enough to think they could change the world and consequently be the only ones to do so, with the battle cry "Think different".

If it weren't for these antagonistic forces, Steve Jobs' and Steve Wozniak's antagonism would never have been ignited, Apple would never have come into being and grown, and you wouldn't be reading this text on your iPad, but on some Microsoft hummingbird.

Speaking of Microsoft:So are the opponents really always villains? Far from it! On the contrary. Every antagonist in your story is the protagonist in their own, in which you in turn are the antagonist. "One man's trash is another man's treasure", says an old proverb, and your pipe dream can be someone else's nightmare. Bill Gates probably has no fewer fans than Steve Jobs, just different ones.

Who is good, who is evil?

Of course there is such a thing as good and evil. For example, the killing of people is objectively a crime, even if the Stauffenberg family and those involved in Operation Neptune's Spear will take a more differentiated position than the Hitler and bin Laden families. It is all about context. Context is one of the most important things Story gives us to explain the world and to interpret what is happening around us: Why is something happening now, and how?

No antagonist, no evil person does anything out of the impulse to be evil. Not even Hitler, not even bin Laden. In their value system they are in the right and do what in their eyes is their duty.

In the end, almost every criminal justifies himself with the circumstances; with the fact that he was driven to commit the crime, or simply could not do otherwise because the circumstances forced him. The culprit is convinced: "I had no choice!" So: You drove me to it. Or even more: I am in the right, I could only restore justice in this way. I have done nothing wrong.

The evil one never feels that he is the evil one. On the contrary: he thinks he does what he does for a good reason. Even every serial killer is convinced that he does what he has to do, that he is obliged or at least entitled to do so. And be it out of urgent need for revenge.
Only explicitly insane villains are exempt from this, and not even those really.

Is the Joker more evil than Batman?

The film "Joker", which is currently in the cinemas, shows this very clearly. Firstly, the change of perspective is an interesting narrative method (i.e. telling the backstory of the villain from "Batman" from his perspective). At the same time, the story is in a spooky way a metaphor for many happenings in our times and the motivations behind them, when the so-called little people who have spent their lives feeling exploited, not belonging and ridiculed as clowns get moving and want to be heard - with their methods, which of course are not justifiable in the slightest.

Nevertheless, the film clearly underlines the good advice of the Native Americans: before you judge a person, walk a mile in their moccasins.

The Joker's enemy is society - later embodied by Batman - his inner longing is for attention and belonging. That's where his transformation happens: at the beginning of the film he is a whipping boy who spends his life wondering if he even exists, at the end he is - ... watch the film!

Whether good or evil, whether antagonist or protagonist: in every story and for every protagonist, it is about a value that comes into danger in a conflict and must be protected. The stronger the conflict, the more powerful the opponent, the greater the danger, the better for you and your personal development, for your brand and its point of view, for your company and its story.

Because regardless of whether it's a global corporation, an SME or a heroic lone fighter as an EPU - every person, every brand, every company has and needs at least one archaic value and the story it activates, around which everything revolves. If you don't have a magnetic value as a living theme, there is only one other thing left: price. And price in this case is not the joker you are playing, but just another word for death sentence with an uncertain execution date.

So to all those who say, "It doesn't apply to me and my brand!", take heart in the words that my grandmother, old Story Dudette, sprayed as a tag under her graffiti on the Gotham City subways: "No Story. No Glory."

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