Thursday, October 21, 2010
In Which Skin is Pilloried for Doing What's Right
I pretty much expect to be arrested for this myself any moment, so it will be no surprise when jackbooted corporate mercenaries under joint contract from the Department of Defense, the FBI, the CIA, and the Saudi government simultaneously, but preceded by flash-bang grenades, crash through Skin Kadash's doors and windows and gitmo his ass for …
So far, each of my books has a different theme. In Lost Dog, the theme is (*gasp*) loss. In Chasing Smoke, the theme is mortality. In Day One, the theme is isolation. And in my next book, County Line, there are dueling themes of betrayal and trust. But all my books feature an underlying theme, one which is foundational: contempt for authority.
That theme comes out most clearly in the character of Skin Kadash, who embodies a You Not Tha Bossa Me attitude which is one of the few traits he and I share. With rare exceptions, I detest the polemic novel, and so I do my best to avoid Making A Point when I write, but attitudes and values inevitably come through. I'm not looking to write a story with a moral, and I try my best to be fair and true to all my characters, even when they have values and beliefs I don't share.
Skin is as close as I come to having a soapbox in the pages of my books. He's different from me in many ways, not the least of which is his ability to stand tall in the face of the adversity (I'm more of a Slinkie). But there are certain values which I hold dear and which I try to channel through him. Most of these traits he carries off far better than I can. What I imagine is thus what I aspire to, even if I can't always achieve the heights of my own ideals.
Here is what Skin is: loyal, committed, dedicated, trustworthy, honorable, and true.
And yet Skin is none of these things to: governments, nations, corporations, sports teams, soft drink brands, economic systems, and other generally detestable human constructions designed to separate people from their cash and/or their well-being. If something has a board of directors, stockholders, elected offices, a rigid hierarchy, or a logo, Skin doesn't trust it.
(I'm going to take a moment to address the, "Wait, you had 'nations' in that list. That means Skin—and by extension you—hate America!" I get this a lot. But, no, neither Skin nor I hate America. Among the things we both have in common is that we both served in America's military, and both would have died in its defense had it come to that. But that doesn't mean we're kneejerk loyalists unwilling to call out bullshit when we see it. We mistrust nationalism, and share with Samuel Johnson the belief that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And America the nation is filled with scoundrels, many of whom are currently thumping their chests for your vote so they can turn around and sell your lives and livelihoods to the nearest multinational corporation. Which is all I'm going to say on the matter.)
For guy with authority issues, Skin has sure spent a lot of time in organizations defined by rigid hierarchy and an irrational belief in the exercise of authority over the exercise of judgment. He volunteered for the Army during Vietnam, and served there as a member of the MPs. Holy crap, you don't get much more rigid and hierarchical than that. Upon his return to stateside and discharge (honorably) from the Army, he went to college then became a member of the Portland Police Bureau, where he served for 25 years in another hierarchical organization.
Ah-hah! He's a hypocrite! Busted!
No. He's conflicted, and he lives in the real world, not some idealized utopia free of ill-mannered louts shouting at you to stand in line, bend over, and take one for the team—even though the team would set you on fire if it meant adding a nickel to the profit line on the balance sheet.
The essence of story-telling is conflict, and Skin's authority issues come up again and again in the books. His career is essentially bouncing from one conflict with this superiors and supervisors to another. In Lost Dog, he stood aside and laughed when another cop got punched out by a citizen. The bastard deserved it, after all. In Chasing Smoke, he bucked his lieutenant at every turn in order to rip a hole in a petty corruption he discovered. It goes on and on. Given a choice between doing what he's told and doing what's right, Skin will take doing what's right every time.
There have been costs. Nations and governments and corporations and logos don't like people who choose what's right over doing what they're told. Such entities exact a high tariff for such seditious actions, but the payoff for Skin, I believe, is higher.