September [< Latin septem = seven] was the 7th month once, but for most of us it’s the first month of the real year. Beginnings prevail: in school or work; brisk, bright weather; new TV shows; colorful fashions; the football season; upcoming holidays; Congress back in session. This year, though, it’s also about a new hope: that the new year will be a better one for us and our country.
The media give few chances of escaping burial in plastic straws or drowning in melted glaciers. Democratic countries seem to have chosen antidemocratic leaders. Alternate facts get the same respect as actual facts. The internet spies on us. Our prospects for personal happiness and world peace sound grim and dark these days.
In 2017 science fiction writer Alexandra Rowland announced a new idea with a new word: “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk.* Pass it on.” The idea has erupted (Google yields 64,600 results) and its popularity is not limited to the Science Fiction & Fantasy stories which were its original reference. People are w-e-a-r-y of grimdark.
Ms. Rowland said that grimdark, till then the prevailing spirit of SFF writing, implied that “every one is inherently a bad person and does bad things…looking at human nature and saying, “The glass is half empty.” [Consider the overwhelming success of “the world as it really is” grimdark shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and The Wire.]
For Rowland hopepunk means “The glass is half-full….we’re all a messy mix of good and bad….We’ve all been mean and petty, but…we’ve also been soft and forgiving and KIND. Hopepunk says that kindness and softness don’t equal weakness…in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism being kind is a political act. An act of rebellion.” [Hopepunk examples include Harry Potter & friends vs. Voldemort, The Handmaid’s Tale, Sam helping Frodo in Lord of the Rings, and TV shows like The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and God Friended Me!]
“Why is hopepunk so quintessentially Catholic?” posted Jesuit Fr. Jim McDermott six months ago in https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2019/02/01/what-hopepunk-and-why-it-so-quintessentially-catholic: “Hopepunk insists there are streams of life-giving water all around us….Our very faith is built upon such a story, one in fact so ridiculously unafraid …that it chose to make the moment of its most horrendous loss the icon of its hope. Death on the cross, a personal choice to continue to love and give and believe even when your life is at stake, is the beating heart of Catholic hopepunk. So is Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God as a banquet where all are welcome and called to kindness [and] Pope Francis [when] he hugs refugees and the sick [or] kisses the feet of prisoners.”
Rowland again: “Hopepunk isn’t about moral perfection….You get grubby when you fight and you make mistakes….You get up, and you keep fighting, and caring, and trying to make the world a little better for the people around you. You get to ask for and earn forgiveness. And you love, and love, and love.” [This must mean TRUE love]
Like Faith and Love, Hope (and hopepunk) depend on personal decisions. If you’re ready, you could start hopepunk very simply. ‘Next chance you get, just decide to hold a door open for a stranger.
* The Merriam-Webster dictionary website reports that 1. the -punk suffix is used to identify an idea that rebels against current cultural authorities, and 2. hopepunk is not yet in their dictionary