Them: Heroes, Villains, Humans

March 31st, 2023

I spent most of my youth trying to shock people.

I think a lot of young people, especially boys, do.

When I think of those moments, that era, the many times I said or did something for the sole purpose to shock, I cringe so hard I form permanent wrinkles on my soul.

It’s a miracle that I don’t regret any of the books I’ve published, though it may have helped that I pushed through my early twenties before successfully printing one.

I am genuinely proud of all the work I’ve done: the words, yes, but mostly the effort I put in me.

Them (and its sequel, Us, which I start talking about next month) were experiments in several ways, and learning experiences in every.

In the new epilogue in the collected edition of Them + Us (it’s very good, you should read it), I suggest the idea that Kim, our protagonist, may also be its villain.

I also quickly point out that she might not.

And that is true of all of us.

We talk all the time about how humans have the potential to be both good and bad, and it’s kind of a pointless conversation, because all of us have already done both good and bad — at least according to somebody else.

We are all heroes. We are all villains. It just depends on the day.

This morning I was talking about terrible things I’ve said and why I don’t say them as much.

It’s because I’ve learned the value of shock.

It’s an ingredient, a spice.

It works best as part of a whole.

Them and Us were vehicles of offense, designed to shock and, in a way, it lessens its impact. The shock, when used effectively, is a break in character; it shouldn’t be character itself.

And I look around at the world, and the internet in particular, and I see clearly what happens when we let shock control us.

That’s the legacy of Them for me: the idea of shock as both revelation and harm.

I relearn every day that words matter. I learn that people matter. And that caring about others — heroes, villains, humans — is the most important thing we can ever do.


Published by dennisvogen

I'm me, of course. Or am I?

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