Vivien Reid And Environmentalism

Carlos Albuquerque
Sep 13, 2018 · 3 min read

When it comes to media with an environmentalist media, I think our society’s reaction is frankly terrifying. The sheer vitriol against things like Captain Planet, Ferngully or even Once Upon A Forest, the sheer labeling as “preachy” regardless of how the messages are handled, the fact that the antagonists in these pieces are regarded as heroic for sticking it to the annoying protagonists, all are hideously symptomatic of conservative spite and hatred. Sure, I’m not going to defend Captain Planet as an artistic masterpiece, but when TV Tropes describes Princess Mononoke as a “good environmentalist flick” precisely because its “more anti-war than anti-environmental” you know something is fishy when it comes to nerd culture and their reactions to education.

Which brings me to something that made me feel this sort of edgelord mentality.

Debuting in Core 19, Vivien Reid is a planeswalker character in Magic: The Gathering, designed as a mono-Green planeswalker who was slighted by Nicol Bolas. Personally, I think Samut would have been a good enough option, since she is also Green-aligned and we just witnessed Amonkhet’s collapse due to Bolas’ cruelty, but whatever. To debut this character, the Unbowed trilogy of short stories was written by horror writer Cassandra Khaw.

The trilogy as a whole evoked mixed feelings, with generally a more positive reception on the Tumblr and Twitter MTG communities and lukewarm to negative in MTGSalvation, No Goblins Allowed and Reddit. There is a lot to be said, but I’ll focus on the trilogy’s conclusion, which I linked to previously.

Vivien, having managed to absorb the essence of the tortured monstrosaur and outwit the vampires holding her captive, proceeds to go on a rampage across the city of Luneau, using her magic to make the animals imprisoned in the royal menagerie grow in size and wreck havoc on the city. We’re treated to scenes like a child-like vampire being decapitated by a “pet” raptor, a description of a cafe owner witnessing this destruction and rather chilling descriptions of how a civilisation, a culture, is being destroyed forever.

Given Cassandra Khaw’s specialty, it seems likely that she intended this apocalyptic scenario to be somewhat off-putting, if not a legitimate sign that Vivien Reid is an antagonist or at least morally ambiguous character. In between the Legion of Dusk being portrayed as more cartoonish than usual — remarkable, really -, its human population joining the rampaging wildlife in joy and the general sense that Vivien is in the right, however, this appears to be unlikely. The is a possibly intentional sense of irony since Vivien repeatedly describes Skalla’s apocalyptic destruction and is basically shown to be a hypocrite since she both uses technology and sees the world in very scientific terms in spite of her anti-civilisation stance, but it is drowned by the justifications of Luneau’s fall as it is a “decadent” city with “libertine values”.

This does not seat well with me.

If it was a legitimate statement on the character’s tragedy and flaws, it would, but the unironic praise of this situation concerns me. Consider for instance the language used to justify the collapse of Luneau: attacking “liberal” values, claiming that self-indulgence is inherently malicious and must be punished with death. That the Vivien fandom is blind to this is borderline atrocious.

Ironically this describes the Legion of Dusk’s ideological attacks on the cities of their continent according to the planeswalker’s guide, as typical for, you know, a theocratic society based on the thing “Deus Vult” types worship in the real world. Which leads to another problem of this trilogy in general, trying to square peg the Legion of Dusk into cartoonish villains when they’re usually portrayed as ideological menaces. Alludes to real world practises, but it is handled with so little subtly that at best you do not take this seriously and at worst (and most commonly, it seems) you side with the violent maniac.

So, in summary, the Vivien Reid trilogy really brings to mind the strawman of environmentalist media, intentionally or not. On the plus side, it makes me appreciate the comparative subtlelity of Captain Planet even more.