Monday, July 21, 2014

Relations: civilians

Normals. Mundanes. Stage Zero. Muggles. Well, that last one is from Harry Potter, but it's always been a thing to separate the privileged and powerful from the masses.

In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx talks about a class emerging from self-realization and then acting against those who exploit them. His perspective on economics gave us the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Superpowers gives us mundanes and supers. Like a lot of capitalists, we supers are born into privilege, though often we don't realize it until adulthood. While I don't necessarily subscribe to Marxist class theory, I think it says a lot of interesting things about supers and normals interacting.

What got me thinking about this was a conversation with Ekaterina Avrilova. She mentioned a talk that the American All-Stars' ex-member Link had given last year. I want to reproduce part of that here:

"A superhuman has fewer physical needs than a normal. He doesn't get sick. He will not understand when someone is sick, because he is not. He will not understand hunger if he doesn't feel it. He may remember these sensations from before his progression to Stage Three or higher, but those memories will fade. Empathy is based on a shared framework of experience. A super who doesn't understand mundanes will simply stop knowing how to care about them."

"Superhumans have their own masks. The hero and villain and monster masks, imposed on us by a legacy of mythology and religion and popular narrative. Masks forced onto us by the jealous or the fearful. Masks we adopt of our own accord. What you must understand, ladies and gentlemen, is that the face behind the mask is increasingly inhuman. Removed from the concerns of mundane life, and without those same social pressures, the superhumans you know are becoming something other than what they were born and raised to be."

Clearly this is some heavy-duty shit. But what does this mean for villains?

Mundanes as a class will continue to be important to you throughout your career

Unless you retire to an island with a hot significant other and plan to live there, you will always interact, in some capacity, with mundanes. This means you need a policy in place for how to deal with them. Even if it's "normals are insects", you've at least thought about it.

Almost every time you want something that you can't produce or steal yourself, you'll be going to a mundane. Casual friends, lovers, henchmen, financiers, fixers, fences, and so on will probably be mundane. Maybe you don't think you will have a use for such people. I'm here to tell you that you will, sooner or later.

Mundanes as a class can curb-stomp individual supers

Father Freak hangs out in his Detroit church all day, sure. He can get away with that because the military hasn't made a concerted effort to kill him, and they haven't done that because he hasn't made himself enough of a nuisance to demand it. My little excursion to Virginia was a necessity because the CIA had in fact captured a super and were experimenting on him - and he was definitely not the only one.

Dr. John Schindler's rules of spycraft includes this wisdom: "All important intelligence methods have already been perfected by the Russians. We need to figure out how to do them nicely." His advice also applies to anti-super tactics in general, both intelligence gathering and wetwork. The Grasscutters are all mundanes, as far as anyone knows, mostly ex-KGB, and they have killed dozens of supers since the fall of the Soviet Union. A lot of people are sitting up and taking notice, especially when a noob villain overreaches and blows up something (or someone) important.

Yeah, there's a lot of talk about how easy villains can escape from prison, but there's plenty of holding facilities where that's not true. By and large, what's lacking in villain containment isn't the technology, it's the funding or the political will to effectively use it.

Individual mundanes can be just as sneaky, smart, interesting, or useful as supers - maybe moreso

I have some mundane acquaintances, and even a few friends. Some know my villain identity, others don't - and a few could figure it out if they read this guide. Those people that I choose to keep around me are there for a reason. More than a few times, I've been blocked on a caper, only to run it past one of the most intelligent, canny motherfuckers I know, who always had a solution. I've had some amazing romantic relationships with mundanes as well.

Powers are only one part of the human equation. Yeah, they're a game changer in a lot of respects, but they don't replace all the other things that make humans interesting. Given the choice of spending time with an intelligent normal girl or a super like Beaver Boy, uh, sorry BB but I'm going out for drinks and dancing with the lady.

The best parts of mundane life are still fun for supers

As a villain, you can stop paying taxes, house payments, auto insurance, and all of that dreary stuff. But you can still go for dinner, see a movie, travel the world, stay at five-star hotels, and all that great fun stuff. I encourage you to go enjoy such things whenever you have some free time. And when you do, look around, and watch people. Remember that this is as good as it gets for them.

Villains can give back to mundanes without losing their game

My discussion on presentation and showmanship talks about crowd management. I've made the comparison to professional wrestling and lucha libre in the past. I want to repeat those things now and say: as a villain, your actions can actually provide a sort of entertainment to your audience. When doing capers, you'll have more fun if you make a sport of it. If they feel they're part of something exciting, they'll appreciate it more. And you can make it exciting for them - and in doing so, you'll feel gratified by their enjoyment. Seriously, go out and have a blast. Don't be a bore. If you're robbing a bank, talk smack to the bank officers and compliment the cashiers. Make it exciting.

Villains have so much opportunity to profit from mundane attention. A cooperative crowd is a rare and precious thing, and you can cultivate it. By understanding their feelings, by remembering that their feelings matter, you'll connect with them, entertain them, but most importantly they'll give that back to you.

So, Mr. Big's words of wisdom: "To be superhuman, you have to be both super and human."