Coen’s ‘Hudsucker Proxy’ and Capitalistic Aristocracy

Sorry for skipping last week’s post. As I told you, I was in bed with the flu. That’s the bad news. The good news is that GOT is back! But I won’t be talking about that today either: that’s the bad news. But my brother came visiting from England and that’s the good news. My younger brother and I are very close in age (10 months apart) and we were flat-mates in another life so we are close and think alike about many things. But as we live so far away from each other we only meet about once a year. So it was very interesting to learn in an exciting conversation that he shares my views about some of the most controversial subjects, as the flawed usual way people speak about Capitalism and what is wrong with it. I spoke a bit about it here. At the same time, I recalled what is probably my favorite Coen Brothers’ movie: THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. It may be considered one of their minor works, but it’s one that says a lot to me. I’ll be using it to structure a few thoughts on Capitalism and this is the first part of that post.

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So here’s the story, for those who haven’t watched it. Straight out of IMDB: When Waring Hudsucker, head of hugely successful Hudsucker Industries, commits suicide, his board of directors, led by Sidney Mussberger, comes up with a brilliant plan to make a lot of money: appoint a moron to run the company. When the stock falls low enough, Sidney and friends can buy it up for pennies on the dollar, take over the company, and restore its fortunes. They choose idealistic Norville Barnes, who just started in the mail room. Norville is whacky enough to drive any company to ruin, but soon, tough reporter Amy Archer smells a rat and begins an undercover investigation of Hudsucker Industries.

Let’s start with this: Norville Barnes, played by the brilliant Tim Robbins, is a young and naïve business-school graduate who comes to New York to make his fortune. We can see him looking for work and getting increasingly disenchanted: it seems for every interesting job opening announced there is an overwhelming sentence: ‘Experience Necessary’ or ‘Experienced’. Finally, he finds an advert in a paper (or the paper finds him – destiny and luck play a curious role in this movie) announcing a mailroom job, ‘No Experience Necessary’. It’s low pay and long hours.

The next time we see Norville, it’s his first day at Hudsucker Industries. It’s the mailroom. The Coen/Sam Raimi script describes it perfectly: «The hellish mailroom is criss-crossed by pipes that emit HISSING jets of STEAM. As he wheels a piled-high mail cart down the aisle, Norville is accompanied by an orientation AGENT who bellows at him over the clamor and roar of many men laboring in the bowels of a great corporation.»

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The Orientation Agent screams at Norville as he gets flooded by other characters’ shouts, information, and responsibilities. The Agent shouts things like: «You punch in at 8:30 every morning except you punch in at 7:30 following a business holiday unless it’s a Monday and then you punch in at eight o’clock! You punch in at 7:45 whenever we work extended day and you punch out at the regular time unless you’ve worked through lunch. Punch in late and they dock ya!»

It is obviously impossible to follow everything Norville is supposed to do and all that he can do wrong. But he seems too enthusiastic to care. He is ambitious. He has plans. He has a design hidden in his shoe, a perfect circle he shows to his colleague proudly, explaining: «You know… For kids!» Norville’s colleague, sorting the mail, has been there for a long time: 48 years. «… Next year they move me up to parcels… If I’m lucky.» He says, not stopping his work. When Norville doesn’t know how to sort an envelope too big for its slot, the old sorter has the solution: «Well… if ya fold ’em, they fire ya… … I usually throw ’em out.»

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But suddenly, an alarm sounds and the whole mailroom stops. Someone comes carrying a special delivery. It’s a Blue Letter. «It’s a blue letter… top, top level… confidential communication between the brass… usually bad news… they hate blue letters upstairs… Hate ’em!» Everybody is terrified of the Blue Letter. Of course, it’s Norville who’s chosen to carry it. He goes up to Vice-President Sidney Mussberger’s corner office. Mussberger is played by the wonderful Paul Newman. Norville’s delivery of the Blue Letter is a terrible disaster – but luckily for him, Mussberger is looking for the perfect clown, a patsy, a proxy, to assume the reigns as the CEO of Hudsucker Industries – and that is how Norville gets the job, he simply seems the worst person for it and that’s what Mussberger wants.

Now let me stop right here and think a little bit about all this.

As I said someplace else, I believe that we are slowly arriving at a political setting where we can assume satisfaction for macroeconomic and macropolitical decisions and solutions. In certain parts of the world, arguably the most center-leaning political countries as the Nordic in Europe, or New-Zealand, we are well off to an overall attitude that actually achieves social, political and economic progress in a satisfactory way. What we seem to miss is that this overall macroeconomic and macropolitical setting is systematically undermined almost everywhere by the remnants of an old foe: the aristocratic thinking that is still pervasive and corrosive within public and private organizations alike, the corruption dominating the microeconomic tissue everywhere.

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This first few minutes of THE HUDSUCKER PROXY show us a bit of this thinking.

  • Only aristocrats get easy opportunities: Even though Norville has a higher education, he’s nobody. He didn’t go to the right schools, didn’t know the right people, he is little people. And as such, his only possibility is to be fed to the machine through the bottom, the mailroom. Show me a country where this does not happen. Corruption and nepotism are widespread.
  • Lower employees are mistreated: lower employees are not treated as people. This happens all over the world in all kinds of organizations. People are humiliated and abused in their workplaces in a way that you don’t see almost anywhere else in present society. People fear being fired almost as much as they fear divorce or death and disease. There are actually fairly widespread phenomena of work-related suicides and work-related murders. It’s insane! And yet, we accept this status quo as if there was something wrong with the people and not with the system or the organizations.
  • The systems are so blind they are systematically boycotted: Not knowing what to do with an oversized envelope, the experienced employee will… lose it. He knows he can get fired for such a little thing, so he creates a rule to survive the absurdity of the system. And so, following the aristocratic arrogance of the Ancient Régime, the organizational aristocratic systems of today are flawed because they are blind.
  • They are cultures of fear: lower employees fear their superiors, who in turn fear their superiors, who in turn fear the response of the masses. It’s almost like we are in the tyrannies of the past! Rules are enforced with carrots and whips as if we were rats in mazes. In the 18th century’s aristocratic environment, this didn’t end particularly well, and it won’t end well today.
  • They are whimsical systems: if a high capitalistic aristocrat as Sidney Mossberger wants to install a patsy on the top of the corporation, he can. Why? Because he can do almost all he wants. He will be able to break the law, to destroy lives, to crush the environment, to be unethical and psychopathic – the system will protect him. We’ve seen this recently, with the 2008 crisis, with Donald Trump, with Exxon and BP, with all kinds of high aristocrats all over the world. They can do whatever they want – they will not be destroyed. The companies can be destroyed, employees be fired, people will lose their homes and their savings, small companies will be crushed. But aristocrats survive. And strive. Meritocracy, my friends, is a dream.

This doesn’t have to be this way. There are companies that don’t work in this manner – that incorporate democracy in their fabric and are extremely successful. But they are a minority. We have been blaming Capitalism for all the wrongdoing in the world, for all the inequality and all the misery. And it’s difficult to fight Capitalism because at the same time it brought so much good, it pulled so many from poverty and gave us so much over the years. What we are missing is that it’s not Capitalism itself that’s corrupt or corruptive. It’s Capitalistic Aristocracy. It’s the way organizations function and the way they incorporate the flaws of other centuries to favor certain individuals. We should not, we cannot, accept this. Let’s keep talking about it.

7 ‘World of Hans Zimmer’ Moments

Well… What a show! So, this past Wednesday I was picked up by a couple of friends and taken in awe to one of the finest showrooms in Lisbon, Portugal, the Altice Arena, to watch this amazing concert of Hans Zimmer music. It was in-cre-di-ble! As you might know already, I’m a sucker for movie soundtracks and scores. I wrote something about it here. And Hans Zimmer is one of my favorite composers, of course – he’s a superstar of movie music, the Spielberg of soundtracks.

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So on April 3, after a rush dinner, I entered this hall at the shore of the Tagus River where about 10,000 people (or more) were waiting for the music of the master to pour into their souls. Portugal is a small provincial country stuck at the end of Europe – I had no idea there were so many nerds like me, fanatical about Zimmer, eager to drool over his music played by a talented orchestra and a few superb soloists. But there they were. Thousands of them. And here I am, a few days later, ready to describe 7 moments of that night that made me shiver.

  1. The Opening: DARK KNIGHT + KING ARTHUR: I made a bet with a friend before the show that the DARK KNIGHT score would be the first music to be played and GLADIATOR the last. I actually won the first part of the bet. The thumping DARK KNIGHT drums put us at the edge of our seats right at the onset as I scrambled to my phone to WhatsApp what was going on to any heathen out there that didn’t know where I was. To some, DARK KNIGHT is the best of Nolan’s movies – not to me. But the score is something else indeed. the-dark-knight-rises-movie-2012-wallpaper-1920x1080-945x532And after a few minutes, we started hearing an exotic flute: what was this? GLADIATOR? THE LAST SAMURAI? No, it was KING ARTHUR – that mediocre Fuqua movie with Clive Owen but with a great score. Great combo!
  2. Some introductions followed and then a video with Zimmer sitting comfortably in his home in America and talking to us. He was talking to Ron Howard as well. Howard is a good director – one I respect – he made many good movies and a few great ones as APOLLO XIII or A BRILLIANT MIND. Zimmer composed the music for a few of them and soon the score for RUSH was coming up. I didn’t particularly liked RUSH but grown fond of the music. It has one of those combinations of emotion, sadness and thundering power that Zimmer is so good at.
  3. Probably the best moment of the night came a few moments later: the DAVINCI CODE suite. What a mystic, profound moment! Joining the Symphony Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, the Belarus Radio and Television Choir made a stunning performance. But it was the violin solo by Rusanda Panfili that grabbed us all by the heart.  Foto: @[100890010083913:Frank Embacher Photographie]And then, of course, it finished with the Chevaliers de Sangreal theme, the one at the end of the movie – one of the best Zimmer themes ever.
  4. There were several other themes played and several other videos. I was disappointed not to hear some of my personal favorites, as THE LAST SAMURAI or THE CROWN or the main theme to MADAGASCAR, but it’s always special to hear THE LION KING played with such passion.
  5. The GLADIATOR was not the last piece, though, but it was, of course, one of the centerpieces of the night, with the great Lisa Gerrard singing on the stage. She wasn’t particularly happy with her performance, we could tell – and granted, it wasn’t her best performance for sure – but it’s Lisa Gerrard! I didn’t give a damn! I was happy to see her there! I’m a Dead Can Dance fan and a GLADIATOR score fan. It was a great moment!  Gladiator-Movie-Field-Wheat
  6. And then, when we thought the best had come and gone, we heard an amazing performance of Time, the INCEPTION theme. As you may know, INCEPTION is my favorite Nolan movie and this theme is also one of my favorites, it just prints a spinning toy in my mind. This theme was brilliantly played and it hid a special surprise – I will not spoil it for you. When it was over the whole room was screaming and shouting and clapping and going nuts!  833065-inception-top
  7. And finally, the encore. And for that, they gave us another surprisingly impressive rendition: the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN suite. POTC is not a series that I enjoy that much nor have I watched all of the movies. It’s just too comedic and absurd to me. And the score is also not one of my favorites. But the performance I saw the other night was amazing. What an orchestra! What a group of incredible musicians! Very well done indeed!

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And that was it. I couldn’t resist speaking about this experience. Maybe I’m just an old pathetic nerd who hasn’t been at a concert for too long. But what the hell… THE WORLD OF HANS ZIMMER is on tour around Europe for a few months and I definitely recommend it to all you knights out there. Go watch it. Then tell me what you think. Cheers.

Another Launch: A Batalha da Escuridão

Next Friday at the Contacto Festival going on on the 5th and 6th of April in Marvila’s Library in Lisbon, I’ll be launching the Portuguese version of the DARK SEA WAR CHRONICLES, called A BATALHA DA ESCURIDÃO, by the hand of publisher Editorial Divergência. It’s an omnibus, comprising the three volumes of the saga in a 442-page volume. It has a few differences from the English version, courtesy of hard work with editor Rui Bastos – making it a better book. If you’re into Portuguese, you can pick up your pre-sale copy here.

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The Festival will be an interesting SF/F literature event, with all kinds of stuff going on. Take a look here.  I’ll talk to you about it next week.

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Come and meet me, even if you don’t know me personally. I promise I won’t bite! I’ll be there for the launch on Friday from 7 pm to 8 pm, and for a round table on Saturday from 2 pm to 4 pm, more or less. See you there!

‘Hereditary’, Tropes, Clichés, Complications and A Creative Process

Recently I watched Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY horror movie. It’s a movie full of tropes: everything in there is something you’d expect and things you’ve seen in different horror movies all your life. Still, the film feels quite new and really different.

Screen-Shot-2018-03-13-at-10.11.03-PMThe other day somebody asked on Facebook the difference between clichés and tropes. It seemed obvious to me, but I had to think hard about it. A ‘trope’ is something familiar: like elves in a fantasy story, or the seductive vampire, or the quick-draw in westerns, etc. A trope is something people look for. In contrast, a cliché is something well… old. Something we’ve seen over and over and we probably are tired of. Like the perfect elf, or the ‘good-looking-good-boy’ vampire, or the ‘fastest gun in the West’, etc. A trope is something you can use and still have something fresh. A cliché is something stale that will not be interesting unless it is twisted and perverted – maybe we can use it here or there but at our own risk. If HEREDITARY uses clichés I didn’t notice them because the movie felt fresh: it surprised me, really. I really recommend it.

It also made me think about something else. We shouldn’t be complacent with our writing. Really. I see it all the time: people trying to write something in this or that genre and use a few tropes and in fact just ending up with a bunch of clichés. They make it too simple. And so it becomes uninteresting. People are drawn to what’s familiar, but also to what’s different. They want to learn something new, to be surprised. And so the unexpected is a writer’s friend. If it does not crush the hopes and expectations of the reader it is our friend, as contradictory as this may seem.

The unexpected happens all the time in life: we forget the keys, we run into a long lost friend, we drop the coffee cup on our lap, we trip on a dog. And so this could also happen in fiction. I would argue it should happen in fiction. It is our right and perhaps our duty to make things more difficult for our characters: because life is not simple. Here’s an example I sometimes use when I’m teaching: a man runs into a burning building to save the woman he will love. But if it is that simple, it’s boring. How many times have we seen the romance between a damsel in distress and the white knight that comes to save her? So make it more complicated: he comes to a door and it’s closed, he tries to smash it in and cannot do it; he goes back and sees a staircase, as he climbs it, the steps start to crumble, so he grabs the floor above and pulls himself up, but now the flames and the smoke push him into an empty room. He can’t see anything, maybe there’s no way out, but then he sees a cat slipping through a crack in the wall, and he goes into another room but then… Through the window he sees the woman he was going to save jumping down, killing herself: he was too late. Only later, when he meets the woman’s sister and she thanks him for his courage, will he fall in love. My point is: make it complicated. Complicated is the realm of fiction.

But complicated is not enough: it should also be creative. Our solutions must be different. We must not be complacent: if the situations and the characters are not different enough, we must change them, upgrade them. And this is, in my opinion where we must invest much of our energy. And, in many cases, this is what leads to Writer’s Block – being unable to be different enough. If you want to know more about the nature of Writer’s Block, I spoke about it here.

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Now, when sometimes I need to spawn better and more interesting solutions I often do it through a particular creative process I picked up from 1940’s advertising agencies. First, though, let me speak to you about two kinds of thinking we have. Divergent thinking looks for many different solutions to a problem, as many as it can; Convergent thinking, however, looks for the right solution, the best solution. So if I ask you how many routes can I take from Lisbon to Madrid, you will use your divergent thinking and look for several routes. If, however, I ask you what’s the best route from Lisbon to Madrid, you’d look for the best route using convergent thinking. A Creative solution comes from a combination of both kinds of thinking. But if you look for the right solution, the best solution, when you should be looking for the most diverse solutions, you will most likely get blocked.

So this creative process I use goes through 5 different steps in order:

  1. RESEARCH – Go fetch. You need as much data and information you can about the Theme, Scenario, Era, Characters, etc. You need to feed your mind.
  2. FIND DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS – Let your mind go free. Go run, go to the beach, sleep, play, swim and… most of all, list the different solutions that come to mind about the situation you’re writing.
  3. FIND THE RIGHT SOLUTION – Pick the most interesting solution of all to the particular problem. Choose an idea.
  4. WRITE – Write the scene, go through the motions, put your character through the pain.
  5. REVIEW – Review, re-write, get an Alpha-reader to look at it if you find it necessary. If it’s not good enough, if you’re not satisfied, go back to step 1.

833065-inception-topI was watching my favorite Nolan movie the other day, INCEPTION, and I have to say I love the Final Image of the movie – the spinner on the table we never know if it’s going to stop or not. I just think it’s so clever! We can interpret it to death! At the same time, it’s really simple. It’s simple and complicated at the same time. And the image is cut at the absolute right moment. Sometimes, a single solution can change our take on the whole story altogether. But for that, we must not be complacent. We must not stop until we are fully satisfied with the solutions we use.

And that’s all I had for you this week. Hope it’s useful. See you around the next campfire, fellow knights.

The Fallacies About Capitalism and Why They Matter

So, I’m late again with my post. This weekend I was busy at a kick-off event for the multinational I work for. Thousands of people crammed up inside a theatre listening to tired old speeches about beating the market. I was not impressed. It is sad to acknowledge the deep problems of coherence many organizations seem to suffer from. As I think I’ve told you before, I don’t believe in the Left-Right Political Spectrum in today’s world. I made an XL table a while back listing a few political parties in the Western world and what they believe in. I ended up identifying the most with the American Democratic Party, even though that would make me left wing in the US and right-wing in most of Europe. But even this identification with a kind of liberalism is vague and somewhat incoherent as well: the great struggles of our day are not between Left and Right anymore. They happen in two different arenas: in the first we see the geopolitical fight of the Liberals, defending the ideals of the American Constitution (the Rule of Law, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion, Democratic Values, etc.), against the National-Traditionalists, defending a return to a more divided, nationalistic, religious-based kind of world. This struggle is the most urgent and scary, as defeat can take us back to the environment that gave us two disastrous World Wars – actually, three, if you count the Napoleonic Wars – and would also leave us helpless against such global threats as Climate Change.

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The other arena is a deeper and less obvious struggle. Along with the rise of Liberalism we saw in the last 200 years the rise of modern Capitalism. True capitalism, no matter what some people may say, has been here for millennia. In the ancient world, some landowners would ‘lend’ their properties and cattle for others to work them, getting back most of the ‘profits’ of that deal. Ancient Roman Empire, as recent studies show (it seems there were more stores found in Pompeii than actual homes), was based on an intricate system of international trade. Ancient Chinese Emperors had to ban interest-taking for the massive impact it was having on the unregulated economy. And some authors suggest that the Magna Carta would have never been possible in England if it was not for the rising merchants emboldened by some liberalization of financing.

GettyImages-748344213-5bca50f646e0fb0026e39d63Still, modern capitalism with its limited liability companies, public shares, banking system and innovative drive is a considerably more sophisticated animal. This animal has accompanied Liberalism through its journey, inspiring an economic rise of Humanity that was unthinkable not long ago. It has also been blamed for much of the misery going on in the world. Left and Right political stands have been judged by the way they viewed Capitalism. For some, the ‘capitalistic spirit’, or work ethic is too opportunistic, materialistic and egotistical. For others, it is called ‘The American Dream’ and is almost synonymous with happiness. In my opinion, both these views are based on actual fallacies, undermining the true value of Capitalism and blinding us to what actually are the illnesses of our society. Let me speak a little bit about these.

  1. The Fallacy of Competition – it is said that Capitalism is based in competition and that this is prejudicial to most people. That is not true: Capitalism survives just as well in economies dominated by monopolies or oligopolies – meaning: with little or no competition. In truth, at the center of Capitalism we have collaboration. Before the 18th century, the chairs we sat on, the pens we wrote with, other tools we used, the shoes we walked with, they were all made by one professional or a small group of artisans with their helpers. After the Industrial Revolution and the advent of Modern Capitalism, a simple pen demands the work of thousands of workers around the world: the ones that designed it, the ones who made the plastic, the ones who worked the factory, the ones that did the advertising, the ones that transported them to the shops, the ones who sold them at the shops, etc. Maybe the main virtue of Capitalism is actually its ability to instill collaboration in the workers of the world. The fallacy of competition, however, suggests that dangerous competition is the cause and/or justification for all kinds of unfair disloyal cruel and inhuman practices. All in favor of profit. But profit as a need is itself a fallacy.nationalism-carving-up-the-earth
  2. The Fallacy of Profit – a very common fallacy is that the function of all companies is to create profit. That is a lie. Management theoreticians have known for decades it is not so. Peter Drucker, father of modern management said it: the function of companies is to satisfy the needs of their customers. Profit is the function of capitalists – it is what they aim for. But workers work for their salaries, customers want their products, suppliers want their pay – the profit of the company doesn’t really interest them much. The economy does not live off profits, no matter what people say. If today all the companies in the world awoke without a cent of profit the economy would still thrive for a long time, or at least solidly survive for a long time, as long as those companies didn’t have a cent of loss either. A ‘break-even’ world would still be a functioning capitalistic society – Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, for instance, is famous for never paying dividends, investors only earn with the valuation of their investments. Just as most countries in the world survive with deficits, many companies also survive and keep the economy going even though they do not have profits. And the fabric of our society, small or very small companies, often just pay the owners their salaries, not depending on profit for success. What is important is the health of the company. If the company is healthy, profit is a natural fruit and reward. This leads us to a third fallacy.
  3. The Fallacy of Growth – the owners of companies believe that if these do not grow they will perish. But, as with profit, growth happens when a company is working well, not the other way around. There are studied cases of companies that haven’t grown for centuries and still remain healthy and profitable – they are even legendary in their own markets. But the capitalist buying shares on the stock market wants to profit from the growth of the company after a few months, selling it again, without regard for the health of the company itself, jobs, customer satisfaction, strategic investment, etc. The pure capitalist will remain immune if the company falls apart after he departs – even if no one else will.
  4. And then there’s the Fallacy of Private Sphere against the Public Sphere – as if they are actually different and independent fields, putting in check one another and balancing the corruption of the system. I’ll speak of this last fallacy another time: it is the basis of the Left-Right Fallacy. Looking at successful integrated societies as the Nordic European countries, we wonder if we haven’t really cracked the macroeconomic enigmas already, overcoming this fallacy.

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Only when we understand that on the left and on the right we have been misunderstanding Capitalism for centuries will we be able to leave behind our blindness and be able to tackle what’s actually wrong with our societies: the debris of aristocratic thinking that plagues most organizations. We need sustainable systems, not greedy sociopathic ones. But ‘Small moves, Ellie, small moves.’ See you around the next campfire, fellow warriors.

Not an Ode To Women

First things first: I haven’t watched neither CAPTAIN MARVEL nor ALITA BATTLE ANGEL yet. I intend to watch both – and I probably will identify more with the latter because it is a story I know (see here) and love, unlike the Marvel hero, which I never followed nor have a specific affinity for. But the polemic about these movies, particularly the first, has climbed to a different level, far above the appreciation of this or that film. It is also not alien to the fact that this week we celebrated the Day of the Woman, and also to the fact that the Rights of Women have been gaining deserved attention in the last few years. I always thought of myself as a feminist of sorts, so here’s what I have to say about all this.

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In a basically unrelated matter, I have been having problems with my car. It’s in the shop, it has been for a month, and the insurance company has been dragging its feet to the matter. I spoke about this to a family member who basically said: ‘I should rely on the goodwill of people and just talk to them, the insurance company, and they would probably help me.’ I felt annoyed. In my experience, things rarely get solved that way. But I understood one thing: in the experience of that family member, doors are easily opened and knowing the right people will assure you will be helped and successful. What this family member does not understand is that she is privileged. Privilege in our society reinforces itself and makes the privileged believe that other people will do what is right for them most of the time. They don’t recognize that that is privilege itself: being naturally helped in situations where others would be ignored or nudged away. Privileged people even believe that this is their own merit – that they are able to be effective by doing things in a different way, in a successful way, in a positive way.

Being a white male in the Western world is being privileged. Women and black people and others have been trying to tell us this for a long time, but it is almost impossible for us to understand it. We just don’t experience it. I could understand in a world where the dominant individuals would need to wield a sword or push a plow that women would be at a disadvantage, as unjust as that may be. But today? When most jobs are not physically intensive and many rely on intellectual power? It is abhorrent to me that women are paid less for the same work – just because they are women. It is abhorrent to me that women have more barriers to climb the career ladders than men – just because they are women.  It is abhorrent to me that they find it more difficult to choose what they want to be, more difficult to be free – just because they are women. And this in the Western world alone. It is impossible for me to even imagine what a woman has to go through in other cultures.

Last week I had a meeting with a British investor, a man of Indian ascent (yes, I work for a living). I told him the negotiations we were engaging were difficult because we had eight people on the other side. ‘Eight?’ he raised his eyebrow. ‘You told me they were four.’ I shook my head: ‘Four brothers and sisters, plus their spouses.’ He sighed in disgust: ‘Their spouses? Why? If there are men who are married, their women have no business negotiating any deal – it’s the man’s job.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and the meeting went south from then on. This was last week, my friends, not in the 1800s. Sometimes we forget that it was only in the last few decades that the most advanced societies in the world gave women the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to decide on conjugal matters, the right to have a job, to go to college, to keep the money they made, to get loans, to get married to whom they decide, to make decisions on their own bodies, etc. In many other countries, these rights are not yet asserted at all.

votesforwomen

And this without even mentioning the abhorrent subject of sexual harassment and other types of violent behavior. Men suffer from sexual harassment and other types of harassment – these problems are hardly discussed and as they differ in nature from women’s sexual harassment, they are not in anyone’s radar. They are clandestine and ignored. Much as sexual harassment over women was so ignored for so many years. But the nature of harassment to women is for sure much worst, pervasive, perverse and grave. With the unveiling of characters as Cosby, Weinstein, Trump and many others, sexual harassment to women is becoming more and more obvious and fought against. It’s about time. And still, on the other hand, the large majority of victims of other crimes as domestic violence and sexual assault are women. It’s time to stop that as well.

A Saga de Alex 9I’ve been heard to say in public, and even in conferences, that I believe oppression of women is one of the worst problems affecting Humanity in its History, as every man has a mother and so everyone is affected by it. I’m not the kind of guy who goes to marches and walks with signs, but I’ve tried to address the subject in all my writing. Let me focus on my Scifi novels alone. In THE ALEX 9 SAGA, the hero who changes several worlds is a woman – Alex 9 is a woman, a powerful woman who still has doubts and flaws, but whose will no-one will be able to ignore. She seems to be in a story well beyond her comprehension and her destiny seems to be prepared for her by others – but still, she makes her own mind and her own decisions. In THE DARK SEA WAR CHRONICLES, the story goes on in another solar system, but the scenario mimics Earth’s WW2. So it starts by being chauvinistic, of course. World War 2 had a major impact on the role of women – they were so important for the war effort that things were never the same again. As the novel goes on, the role of strong women like Mirany Cavo becomes more and more crucial – in fact, she almost single-handedly wins the war (a mild exaggeration). When it comes to my latest work, LAURA AND THE SHADOW KING, women get an even more important role, from the child, Laura, to her impressive mother, Maria. I intend to continue to develop strong female characters, I believe, and, in fact, fall in love with many of them (resigned eye-roll).

This text is not an Ode to Women. That was the first title I thought of: Ode to Women; but then it came to me that women do not need odes dedicated to them – they have those in excess. Odes to women are mediocre clichés. What they need is for facts to be recognized, for discrimination to end. I still want to be chivalrous – I still want to hold the door for a lady. But I also do it for older men or my bosses. It’s a sign of respect, of deference, and I believe in that – in being humble and respectful – so I’ll keep doing it. It’s a sign of character, in my book.

Women are not equal to men. They will never be. As someone said: ‘Vive la différence!’ We are naturally unequal. But what has to happen – what has to be completely obvious – is that this difference does not imply superiority from one or another. We are used to saying: ‘Men are better at this; women are better at that.’ But these generalizations are basic, useless and for the most part prejudicial. Men are said to run faster, jump higher, be stronger – but I personally know a number of women who run faster than me, jump higher than me, and are physically stronger. That doesn’t make me less of a man: it just makes those generalizations more ridiculous.

The future holds a better world. I strongly believe that. So let’s keep fighting, fellow warriors. We have our work cut out for us. See you around the next campfire.