My good friend, Don Moore, taught me the three essential parts of any successful narrative: the victim, the villain and the hero. The narrative needs someone who ends the suffering of one, to whom something bad is being done, by someone else.
All a writer needs to do, to promote his or her frame, is identify who will play the role of each of those actors. Once that's done, the rest falls into place.
Well, it's not that easy. You have to figure out the personage of each. Me? I like reluctant and accidental heroes. I like tragic heroes. I like damaged heroes.
I like real heroes. Sophocles' Oedipus, Richard Condon's Raymond Shaw.
In my last column, "The Manchurian Candidates," I had in mind my victims (Bloomington city residents), my villains (cynical, vested and established real-estate interests and the rigged nature of local politics) and my heroes (City Councilmen Dave Rollo, Andy Ruff and Steve Volan).
Heroes, yes. But tragic heroes, damaged by a process (the rigged deliberative process inherent in local politics) that they struggled to get out of. Manchurian heroes.
They didn't like it (that's the understatement of the year). They didn't think I'd been fair (I disagree). But that's because I don't think they understood what it means to be a real hero.
Real heroes are always damaged.
The measure of our success
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made." On that basis, my heroes are doing the right things. Who else is doing the right thing, who else is making the right enemies?
It's a political season, and candidates are putting themselves up for the ultimate popularity contest — an election. But with whom are they popular?
Mainstream newspapers act as repositories of establishment values. That's a quite different thing than acting as a repository of community values.
Establishment values are those values inculcated by the power structure and, as I've driven home ad nauseam, local power structures all deconstruct into contests about land.
Newspapers act as repositories of the values held by the dominant real-estate interests — of the Growth Machine interests. They act both to promulgate those interests and to sit in judgment with regard to how members of the community support or subvert those interests.
G. William Domhoff wrote in Power at the Local Level: Growth Coalition Theory, "There is one other important component of the local growth coalition: the daily newspaper. The newspaper is deeply committed to local growth so that its circulation and, even more important, its pages of advertising, will continue to rise.
"The newspaper's publisher or editor is deferred to as a voice of reason. Competing interests often regard newspaper executives as general community leaders, as ombudsmen and arbiters of internal bickering."
For politicians, that judgment comes in the editorial pages, particularly in the newspaper's political endorsements. My tragic heroes have not been, and never will be, endorsed by the establishment media (they have been endorsed by the alternative media, this newspaper in particular).
As Homer Simpson would say, it's unpossible for anyone who dares question, much less apply the brakes to, the Growth Machine to get endorsed by the machine's megaphone.
The lack of endorsement is also a badge of honor, one that Rollo, Ruff and Volan all wear proudly — alongside every other progressive office holder, and seeker.
The machine candidates
See if you can identify any nascent heroes this political season. Start by taking a gander at who got the establishment nod, and who did not.
Politicians have two kinds of supporters. Those who support them by voting for them, and those who support them by providing the resources necessary to get the voting supporters in the first place.
In other words, who gives them money? And you can tell of whom you've made enemies, the measure by which you should be judged, by who isn't giving you money.
Look at the contributors to political candidates. To whom is the real-estate establishment, the growth coalition, giving money? And to whom are they not, or who is being offered, and rejecting, it?
"Perhaps the key ideological prop for the growth machine, especially in terms of sustaining support from the working-class majority, is the claim that growth 'makes jobs,'" Harvey Molotch wrote in "The City as a Growth Machine," American Journal of Sociology.
"This claim is aggressively promulgated by developers, builders, and local chambers of commerce. It becomes part of the statesman talk of editorialists and political officials. Such people do not speak of growth as useful to profits — rather, they speak of it as necessary for making jobs."
My three heroes campaigned without the support of the growth coalition, and none of them will ever garner the newspaper's endorsement because of that. It's no different now. Virtually without exception, from the judicial offices to commissioner to county council, those candidates, those heroes, who denied the growth premise and refused, or were not offered, the growth coalition's support were also denied the newspaper's endorsement.
On the other hand, the contributor's lists of those who did garner an endorsement look like a veritable who's who of the Growth Machine. Compare Sue West's contributors to Vic Kelson's. Francie Hill's to Val Haughton's. Marty Hawk's to Mark Stoops'.
That's not a coincidence. Victims. Villains. Heroes. Where are the grass roots? Where the special interests?
"Trees do not read newspapers," the publisher of the San Jose Mercury News said when asked why he favored converting that city's orchards into freeways and business parks.
On Tuesday, vote for the Manchurian, not the Machine, candidates. We can be heroes, if just for one day.
Gregory Travis can be reached at email@example.com.