Thus Far? No. Further.
My biological father was a desperately flawed man.
A lot of my early life was shaped by his responses to his mental illnesseses and insecurities. His physical and emotional abuse of my biological mother, his self-hated and his inability to escape addiction had him appearing and disappearing from my life in odd spurts until I was removed from his life. He remained a presence until his death, but mainly as an exercise: could I forgive this man for what he’d done?
I was trying, at ten years old, to grapple with whether or not a man deserved forgiveness for his slow motion self-destruction having consequences on people he loved. Did the fact that he was a threat to include me in his self-destruction disqualify him from love and forgiveness?
Further did he deserve a chance for redemption?
Redemption is not a passive erasure of actions. It is not forgiveness or grace. The harm you’ve caused won’t be forgotten, and as the harms you caused get more extreme can’t be atoned for, but redemption is an opportunity for the person causing harm to learn new behaviors and repair hurts and become a contributor to society.
Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I was taught that divine grace was unconditional and that I was to seek to mimic that gift. So after a couple of years, despite lingering bitterness, I was able to settle on resentment rather than anger and, as I’ve gotten older and found my own mental illness more and more present, come to understand my biological father’s itch to use substances to remove himself mentally from situations.
I have come to believe that there is no line a rational human can cross that will make them irredeemable. There are people who are mentally damaged beyond the point of repairing holes that that have created in the fabric of society, but that is much rarer than we tend to believe.
If we draw lines of irredeemable behavior, and intend to not be hypocritical about their application, we move quickly to equivalences we don’t want to parse. But creating those line can be terribly tempting. We like our social frameworks as cut and dried as possible.
In the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival I played a role that on the surface is exactly that cut and dried. The producers of Stuck in An Elevator With Patrick Stewart II: The Wrath of Fandom asked me to play Daniel Jimmies and as the three of us as all geeks of a certain vintage (and two of the three of us now come equipped with daughters) we leaned pretty hard on our hatred of Daniel Jimmies and the underbelly of the internet he is the exemplar of.
See, Daniel Jimmies, is a Roosh V avatar. He is a black pilled Braincel doing his best to use his version of charisma to take revenge on a world that’s done him wrong. His particular brand of geek now comes with a badge and he uses that brief authority to rule his corner of the internet. His brokenness (from an honestly tragic family life) and his rage lead to the misogynist acting out we see from his type. It’s cannon to the play that he runs a YouTube Channel that are basically tutorials on how to run women (that you disagree with, natch) off the internet. He’ll dox and mob dissenters to his pop culture dogma and when his former girlfriend became his former girlfriend he SWATed her. Which means he called a fake emergency into the police to the address of an “enemy” so the police will bust into the enemies home and, whatever happens, happens.
The plot of the show is roughly that Daniel has called in another false report (even though he’s on probation) to recreate his time alone with his hero Patrick Stewart. He gets caught on the elevator with both Stewart and Miranda, both victims of abuse at the hands of truly toxic men. After a whirlwind tour of abusive behavior from the very broken Jimmies he is confronted by Miranda and his pleas for redemption are stomped out.
Daniel is a very bad person. He’s become the sort of person that is very easy to hate. But hatred alone makes for deadly theatre and honestly? Really terrible civil discourse.
That’s a response to Daniel Jimmies. That’s a direct response to our show. That’s a cheer to the line of thinking in the show uttered by the protagonist of the elevator subplot, Miranda in ending Daniel’s campaign for redemption. Miranda says:
I see you. I see you… and you are not
No. I won’t be your path to salvation. I’m
not sure you have one.
I really feel like we let this one get away. The emotion and shut down that Miranda is going through is spot on… but as storytellers modeling behavior in the world I am pretty uncomfortable with the idea that there’s no redemption for incels. I am very uncomfortable with our valorized characters declaring folks “not worth it”. Patrick Stewart has a line in the show (and in First Contact): The line must be drawn here, thus far, no further. He is referring to making a stand because we must at some point tell evil “no further” and fight. But we are seldom stuck in that binary when dealing with actual humans rather than characters.
Now, to be clear, Miranda and Patrick don’t owe Daniel anything. They most certainly don’t owe him the emotional labor of walking him back through all the harm he’s caused. But that’s the tack I wish we’d taken. That whatever his next steps were it wasn’t their job to fix him. Miranda and Patrick disempowering the toxicity, and having the strength to center themselves and each other rather than the loudest, most volatile, voice in the room is just as defeating of the goals Daniel had for the encounter as the triumphal shut down, without making exactly the same broadbrush mistake the incels like Daniel make about women, men, movies… everything really. Our not being responsible for saving any given abuser isn’t the same as them not having a path to salvation. I also think it’s important that any possible redemption arc be outside this story, because it’s not really his story, and his possible redemption isn’t a story this writer wants to tell right now.
I was jabbed over and again during this run that I only thought Daniel could be redeemed because I was playing him, so I was partial. I’m not. Not partial to Daniel anyway. I’m partial to redemption. Under that “Make it So” t-shirt I’m wearing a Redeeming Time t-shirt. The shirt I wore into Moose Lake Correctional Facility to help facilitate sessions teaching Shakespeare and performance to the incarcerated. I’m a big second chance guy. I get sad for Daniel, and for people like him because the road back to mental health for a person like Daniel is long and before he would be able to deal with the trauma of his family past he has to reprogram himself out of the cult-like cognitive dissonance of the misogynist world he lives in.
That path is familiar to me. I watched my biological father start down a similar path time and again until his mental health failed him and he’d slip back into addiction and depression until he ran out of time. Shuttling folks who want to be better out to runways where they can try is worth the effort for those who have the energy. And I will take that chance every day over throwing people in the trash.