Saturday, September 10, 2016

Worm: Cauldron and Privilege

Worm is not particularly good at depicting class. Yes there are *plots* going on regarding characters' position in the class structure (New Wave, Grue), but they aren't *aesthetically* drawn based on their class. We have a couple deliberate class-defined characters (Bitch, Grey Boy) but by and large most of the characters don't show these traits. Does Tattletale (upper class) talk differently or have an appearance in contrast with Taylor (middle class) or Grue (lower class)? It's not Star Wars where you generally know a character's place in the class structure the second you see them.

That's fine because there's still some fantastic commentary on the power structures of society.

Most of this is laid out in the Interlude for Battery.

Trigger events are caused by moments of extreme trauma or danger, where the paranormal agent latches on to a human who needs help. The sudden realization of their power at this vulnerable moment is often as traumatic as the dangerous situation itself was (such as for Taylor.) This is used as part of the explanation for why so many parahumans go bad.

Except, we find out, there is a rich man's road to superpowers. The secret organization Cauldron will sell you a power - more power for more money - and provide a safe environment for you to acclimate to your newfound strength in. It will even cure any infirmities you have in the process.

Cauldron is actually doing this for what they feel are fairly pro-social ends. They don't need the money. But if people who have a lot of money get powers, they are the ones invested in the current state of the world. They are more likely to defend the world, than expend a lot of violence trying to blow stuff up. And according to their statistics, many more of their parahumans go hero than those through regular trigger events.

So we have this contrast between: poor people suffer trauma, trigger, and are likely to desire violent change in the world and rich people buy powers, trigger, and continue to defend the world as it exists. And these two groups are labelled villains and heroes.

This is fucking fascinating.

We're basically talking about the value of conventional morality (preventing death and destruction), but how it inherently supports existing oppressive structures. How being opposed to violence means you end up ignoring victims of violence. Having to choose between these two paths to power and the groups they've created would be a genuinely difficult moral choice. This is really epic stuff to write about.

(I admit at this point I predicted that the final conflict in Worm would be between these two groups and their perspective on the status quo. That's ok though.)

Even though the climax of the narrative didn't end up being "about" that conflict, it's just really great as a piece of complex world-building, showing the ways power, morality, and class structures intersect in the Worm universe.

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