Photo credit here.
BY KEVIN KLEVJER
I read an article recently called “Five Questions to Prove Someone Isn't A Real Comic Book Fan” written by Kato Guzman. In the article, Guzman discusses how much he hates that today’s hugely successful comic book movies have drawn many to pretend they love comics in order to look cool. He writes, “Nowadays being an actual comic book fan is hard and not only from a financial standpoint. We are constantly bombarded with posers, hypebeasts and hipsters all pretend[ing] they know as much as or more than us loyal fans and it pisses us all off.” From there Guzman lays out five questions that one can use to prove whether someone is a genuine comic book nerd or not.
While most of the article is hilarious (and informative), it reminded me of CS Lewis’ essay entitled The Inner Ring. In it, Lewis warns against the temptation we as humans often feel to try to ‘make it on the inside’ of exclusive groups, or “Inner Rings.” This temptation is almost everywhere we turn: in our classrooms, on the playground, in our workplace, churches, and even in our homes.
Photo credit here.
Lewis explains, “It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called ‘You and Tony and me.’ When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself ‘we.’ When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself ‘all the sensible people at this place.’ From outside, if you have [despaired] of getting into it, you call it ‘That gang’ or ‘they’ or ‘So-and-so and his set’ or ‘The Caucus’ or ‘The Inner Ring.’”
In Guzman’s article he suggests ways to protect the exclusivity of his Inner Ring. Yet Lewis would warn against all such pursuits. He writes:
“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.”
Lewis argues that we must reject the desire to get into or to cling to Inner Rings. He points out so poignantly, “The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic.” It is a profitless pursuit that promises more than it could ever deliver. Instead, we ought to simply pursue our passions and live in a way that befits the task at hand. If you work hard for the sake of doing the job well, you create the only "circle" that matters. Similarly, if you are passionate about comic books, then simply read and enjoy! By trying to protect the exclusivity of being a comic book fan, you force an effort that will only detract from the very thing you delight in.
Lewis continues, “To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of ‘insides,’ full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no ‘inside’ that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction. It is like the house in Alice Through the Looking Glass.”
Life is about more than just trying to be on the Inner Ring, and it is also about more than trying to protect the Inner Ring you are in (even if it is the only Inner Ring you are in because it is Comic-Book-Nerddom and—by some ironically cosmic turn of events—the whole world thinks comic book characters are cool right now even though they beat you up for thinking they were cool in high school). We mustn’t try to join or protect these never-satisfying traps. Like Alice inside her looking glass - who kept trying to reach the distant hill but continually ended up back at her house - if we “walk the other way,” as the flowers inside her mirror suggested, we may just find the contentment we were searching for. Upon reaching the hill Alice was aiming for, she exclaims it “succeeded beautifully!” I find a surprisingly similar message in Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 16:25-26, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
What "profit" is your Inner Ring promising that it can't deliver? How might it benefit you to stop pursuing the Inner Ring? What would it look like for you to "walk the other way?"