[Part 3] The Future Legacy: Why Zeratul Reads the Writing on the Wall

The glimpse of Protoss that we get in StarCraft II (until the release of Legacy of the Void) is through the experiences of a single Protoss mystic, Zeratul. Zeratul is on a sort of spirit journey to understand ancient prophecies about the end of the universe. He believes that understanding these predictions will give all three races the direction they need to avoid apocalyptic catastrophe. For the Protoss (at least this particular one), power begins with knowledge and understanding, which directs further efforts at power.

Rather than rushing into power to subjugate enemies or create even greater power, Zeratul wanted to know how power should be used and what should be done. He wanted mastery over context and direction, and certainty in his goals. Zeratul relied on writings from the past about the future to know what to do in the present. This optimizes his context and understanding, as it allows him to see the direction of forces by understanding the causes of their shapes. By understanding the origins of the Zerg, he understands the potential for Kerrigan to become powerful enough to thwart the overarching threat to the universe. By understanding the tensions between the three races, he understands the risk of Kerrigan’s destruction that would make possible the end of all things. For Zeratul, this view—brought by knowledge and understanding—is the most important resource. He wishes to begin at the beginning, and understand what should be understood.

Misunderstanding Irony and Satire Leads to New Culture

People argue a lot over the meaning of the word “irony.” It is one of the key words or terms to describe a great portion of my generation, and yet we seem very lost as to its meaning. Some would say that the combination of the overwhelming importance of understanding the meaning and the widespread disagreement as to its meaning might constitute a sort of irony. I won’t attempt a perfect definition here, but I will point out that irony, as a device, often requires a (sharp) contrast between metamessage and message (or prima facie message or face message).

Irony requires bouncing or reflecting something off of a current idea, more, or status quo. If the audience does not recognize the original idea that is the subject of the irony or satire, the audience may think the ironic image is the actual image, either embracing or hating it while missing the point being made about the intended subject of irony. Interpretation, readership, authorship, and communication theories bear on this.

But who would miss commonly known social mores and ideas or fail to notice references that are core currency of cultural thought, much less fail to completely grasp the subject before them that is the present component of the irony? Children and adolescents are prime candidates for being just such misinterpreters, and are also all the more likely to mimic and adopt what they perceive as the outlook, view, approach, conception, interpretation, etc. that is being “promoted.” I recall when The Colbert Report was new to television: many conservative teens blogged about their new hero. They failed to grasp the satire and irony at work (at least initially).  This is one way a culture can evolve: older generations reference notions that are well known to them but not the younger generation, using advanced or complex mechanisms unfamiliar to the younger generation, and a misunderstanding or misinterpretation is adopted.

This can also hold back social progress. Suppose I make satirical or ironic comments about racism or patriarchy. I may be seeking to undermine the authority of these ideas or institutions, but an audience without the same background as myself might misunderstand my statements by taking them at a literal face-value and interpret them as promotions of what I seek to undermine. In this case, those who share my actual sentiments might denounce me as their opposition as my arguments against a thing are seen as arguments in favor of it.

Artists (poets, writers, painters, film makers, critics, etc.) often use tools beyond the on-the-face-message to emphasize their points.  Audiences often neglect to examine the less obvious parts of a text presented to them -the overall structure, the timing, what is absent- and consider how those impact the surface of the text’s message. We don’t miss some non-essential, fun, bonus feature when we don’t critically examine a text- sometimes, we read the text backwards and upside down and take exactly the opposite meaning away. Perhaps that doesn’t always have to be bad, but it’s worth being aware of it when it happens.