Over the centuries, the types of stories that mankind shares have changed. We were obsessed some time ago, for example, of stories of how the gods affected the fates of men. Later on, we became obsessed by stories of virginal purity amidst debauchery. Later still, we became obsessed by stories of liberation.
In all of these genres, one finds a hero or heroes beset by difficult if not impossible challenges. Indeed, the more difficult the challenge, the better the story. The types of hero change and the types of challenges change, but it seems universal that mankind insists on being the hero who slays the villain. He fights against forces that would rob humanity of its … well … humanity. And most recently, we seem somewhat obsessed with the notion that to prevail over these obscene forces, men must become “superheroes”. We are obsessed by stories of great genius, resilience, productivity, and so on. There is an odd craving for fantasy here. Could it be, as Foster Wallace argued, that this is because fantasy is easier on the imagination?
My exhortation in this thread is to become a flea instead. What I mean is that one should play the hero role as a real flea rather than as a make believe superman. This implies a different sort of story. Stories that interest me most as a flea are those that challenge my flea status. Forces that would rob me of my fleadom. What are they? Quite simple.
The first is money. Fleas need money like everyone else. But we don’t have a salary. Or at least we don’t want earning a salary to be our main life adventure. So stories about how to make money without relying on elephants are quite interesting.
The second is capacity. As a flea, no one is going to help me do anything. My flea nature requires therefore a sharp focus on what value I can add to what others do. Looking for niches and stories about how to exploit these niches are quite interesting.
The third is connection. I have no institution to nurture me and I am too small as a flea to do much on my own. I must embark on the adventure of making my own connections. This is perhaps the most fascinating story of all.
These stories are more than just entertainment. Stories are what enable humans to make sense of the world. And fleas need stories too.