We all do it. We do it from early childhood from the first moments after we acknowledge the world outside of ourselves. We anthropomorphize the world around us. We name our first stuffed animal, and endow the beloved stuffie with human characteristics that are commonly lacking in plain cloth, batting and plastic buttons. From books to movies and television programming, talking animals are a staple. The tendency to anthropomorphize is a lifelong attribute. There isn’t a writer alive who does not know, with unshakeable certainty, that the word processing system that just deleted the entire day’s work product and output just as you were about to hit “save”, did so intentionally and with malice aforethought. (Don’t even think about it, Machine.)
“Anthropo- a learned borrowing from Greek meaning 'human’ used in the formation of compound words....” Webster’s Unabridged Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, New Revised Edition (Portland House, 1996, p.63). “Anthropomorphize” or “anthropomorphise”-- “to ascribe human form or attributes to...” (ibid, p. 63).
Anthropomorphism lies at the heart of fantasy and para-normal writing. If the creature doesn’t have certain undeniably human attributes, then why is the hero or heroine so hell bent on trying to bed it? Conversely, why is the creature so determined to bed the human? Accordingly, as a fantasy writer, I have been programmed since birth and by choice of avocation to accept the concept of anthropopathy.
Many writers may suspect while growing up that one or more siblings or cousins may be changelings. In order to pacify Mom, the writer gives these creatures human attributes and treats them accordingly. At some point, the writer may acknowledge that the sibling or cousin is, in fact, human after all. Acknowledging that Mom was right may take a little longer. The point, however, is that anthropomorphizing things that look human is a common practice. Nonetheless, the anthropopathy of career politicians remains one of my writing pet peeves.
What is a “career politician”? A career politician is a mindless golem manufactured to perpetuate and facilitate the decision making operations of government. Special interests provide the glue that holds the construct together. That such an entity should be entrusted with decision making responsibilities is either a cruel oxymoron, or the ultimate expression of heartless cynicism. The career politician is not a mere homunculus. It is a full sized, walking, talking breathing, human appearing construct.
Typically, the anthropomorphized career politician receives the full “Oz” package. First, it possesses “human intelligence”. It is expected to be fully conversant on every subject and topic from bio-ethics to hydrofracking. It recites dialog from read-only memory. Yet the listeners are continually astounded, flummoxed and perturbed when the words directly contradict a prior pronouncement Second, it is dowered with a “heart”, the avatar and embodiment of human compassion (not the actual organ). Once again, the public is perplexed when it votes to displace hundreds of people from their homes to facilitate the development of a superfluous shopping center. Finally, it is loaded with “courage”. Still, people are amazed and bewildered when it refuses to take any actions contrary to the interests of its benefactors, despite overwhelming public support on an issue.
While problems with plot inconsistencies continually plague the anthropomorphized career politician, a far greater problem often lies with attempts at mimicking human speech. What kind of character would tell people desperate to find employment, “I like to fire people.”? What kind of character sits down at a small gathering to seek his hosts’ support, then insults the special treat that the hosts provided? If a character claims to support women’s rights, then at least some of the character’s actions should be consistent with such support. Willing suspension of disbelief will only carry a character so far.
Career politicians are sui generis, creatures of their own unique kind, and need to be recognized as such. Ascribing human characteristics to them only serves to confuse and frustrate the populace. So stop it! As every writer knows, a reader that is confused or frustrated isn’t going to finish reading the book. When writing about career politicians and their actions, remain objective.
CK Copyright 4/24/12; Moral rights to be identified as the author of the foregoing article asserted worldwide (including in Great Britain in accordance with Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act of 1988) (See last week’s blog on Moral Rights).