6
$\begingroup$

I have a setting that is intended to be set in the "present day" (i.e., whenever the reader is reading it) set in the United States which involves a secret society of supernatural people with superpowers who have protected people from other factions of supernatural monsters for centuries. The society is led by an immortal who has been around since the turn of the 20th century and grew up dealing with the political upheavals of the early 20th century (1918 Flu, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, etc.). The organization has ties to the U.S. government where the superhumans keep the monsters suppressed and police themselves in exchange for the government helping them maintain their secrecy.

Most of the people with powers live more or less normal lives among humans (think pre-Krakoa X-Men more than Harry Potter) and hence can't just retreat to a hidden world where muggle socio-political issues aren't their concern like the Wizarding World does in Harry Potter. The supernaturals don't have a strict cultural identity (e.g., contrast with depictions of vampires who see themselves as "above" and apart from human affairs) that would encourage them to see human issues as "not their problem" and ordinary humans can become supernatural rather than it being strictly inherited (and hence have more ties to the mortal world).

The organization has a strict non-interventionist policy in muggle affairs. In-Universe the reasons given are that the superhumans don't want to create a system where a caste of demigods rule over humanity, and they're afraid of persecution. The nature of their powers (they're creepy to look at and have side effects that could be creatively misinterpreted to paint them as a danger to society) means they're really vulnerable to bad PR, and they have a history of persecution (think witch-hunts). Perhaps most notably most (but not all) of them could easily be killed by sufficient humans banding together and shooting them with high-caliber guns, so there's no "god-like mage somehow being oppressed by mere mortals" trope. Out-Of-Universe it's for the simple reason of maintaining verisimilitude, since we don't have superhumans running around IRL. I want to have a setting where the supernatural is hidden at the start of the story so I can have the typical "discovering the supernatural world" plot.

This explanation for why the supernaturals weren't exposed to the public by getting involved in human affairs worked pretty well up until the last year or so, given that most of the 20th century post-World War II was relatively politically stable, at least compared to pre-World War II history (i.e., no open warfare in most western countries, no massive wars but lots of little ones). The Cold War, of course, was going on but the defining feature of that was it played out as back-alley espionage, proxy wars, and high tension over MAD but it never actually got "hot". However in recent times there's been a massive rise in authoritarianism, violent extremism, and general hysteria in the West, as well as an increasing sentiment of "burn the whole system down" and the destruction of the idea of Western culture in general.

Because of this, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to justify why this supernatural organization was able to avoid getting directly involved in current events (assuming that the reader is reading this in some post-2020s world where "present day" is closer to pre-COVID normal). Specifically I am finding it hard to swallow that this immortal character, who lived through World War II, saw the horrors that totalitarianism and extremism brought, fought on the side of the Allies against the Nazis, and grew up in America and hence has that super-patriotic mindset typical of the World War II generation that is no longer common place today, would just sit idly by and watch what they might perceive as history repeating itself in their home country.

There's also the issue of increasing radicalization among the younger supernaturals because the supernaturals, like everyone else, have a diversity of opinions on any given subject. There are likely to be supernaturals who ascribe to the increasingly popular belief among young people that American/Western society is fundamentally and systematically bigoted and oppressive and must be destroyed or changed through violent action, and all of a sudden they have the power to do so. To paraphrase what I said in a previous answer, imagine what would happen if a disaffected member of a marginalized group or ANTIFA protestor fed up with American society decided they were done being non-violent and joined in the riots: just one individual making this choice would potentially blow the masquerade wide open and likely cause huge amounts of death and destruction before finally being put down because of their superpowers (not to mention that is a political can of worms I do not want to open). Not to mention right-leaning and left-leaning supernaturals just plain slaughtering each other in superbrawls or an outright civil war over disagreements, especially since one of the side effects of powers is increased aggression and tendency towards violence (which is, again, why they have a non-interventionist policy). Some of the radical supernaturals may even see the masquerade itself as one of the structures of systemic bigotry oppressing them in the first place, because it forces them to hide their true selves and support the status quo. This exact issue happened within the backstory of the story during the early 20th century and the immortal character fought against it, and hence would be more sensitive to these issues than the average person.

Even if the older supernaturals tell the younger generation to knock it off because they'll out everyone and get then killed, younger radicalized members might just write them off as just being tools of the white, cis, heteronormative patriarchy (or have internalized bigotry if they belong to a marginalized group), and hence write them off (or rebel violently against them). It's easy to write the supernaturals as quietly taking out the extremist members of their group behind the scenes (and this is what likely happened with similar supernatural right-wing extremists given the form those tend to take), but less so when everything is in chaos and the violence is more public (werewolves rampaging in CHAZ, anyone?)

Earlier events I can more easily handwave that the supernatural may have been present it was just never publicly known, a la X-Men: First Class, but that's mostly because these events occurred before social media (hence a lot of chaos to keep things obscured), were events where the superhumans really couldn't do anything (MAD in the Cold War, Chernobyl), or were out of the public eye enough to handwave it. It's much harder to say "well the system designed to suppress the supernatural caught it" when the issue is potentially that very system breaking down.

To be clear, this question isn't plot-specific because the story doesn't revolve around the supernatural community dealing with current events of the 2020s at all. What I am trying to do is figure out how I can justify how the supernatural can still be considered a secret in a "modern-day setting" set at whatever year the reader picks up the book (i.e., post-2021), without turning the setting into a pre-2020 period piece, given that the supernatural community has several strong, in-character motivations to break secrecy and use their powers to try and openly influence human society. I don't want the supernatural to be revealed prior to the story because removing the masquerade destroys verisimilitude(i.e., we don't have supernatural beings as public figures or known phenomena IRL). This is something that isn't just unique to my issue, but is going to be a major plot hole for any story that involves immortal or supernatural characters living in secrecy among humanity post-2020. Given this, how can I justify why the supernatural and people with superpowers didn't get exposed due to current events and why the supernatural world didn't try to get involved in recent politics?

$\endgroup$
1
8
$\begingroup$

Your superhumans operate at a different perspective level

Did you know there are still active genocides going on today?

I didn't, and I wouldn't be surprised if most people don't. While people in the United States might not be super heroes, we could do stuff like send food aid, medicine, green berets to those protecting these people. But we don't because for the most part it is far away and not really something people want to think about.

The super heroes are immune to most issues

Black super humans don't get shot at traffic stops, and if they do the bullet bounces off of them and the lean into the police man and say "No on will ever believe you" and drive off.

Super humans don't care about wealth inequality, they can make as much money as they want with their super powers.

Super humans don't become Nazis to join the "master race". They have seen the actual master race and it is divided over all ethnicities and religions.

Super humans can see the whole world and are more likely to be educated, which fights prejudice.

They could overthrow the government, but the one that might replace it could be worse, and who cares about that when supernatural stuff is trying to take over?

Anything I have not covered they can probably still negate in some way.

They have different problems anyways

Maybe they do actually have something more important to be worried about. Fox news has been harping on the "cancelling" of Doctor Seuss for something like a month now. If the superheroes are trying to stop vampires from taking over they probably don't care about that and would prefer to debate which kind of stake is most effective.

They might have some reflections of our culture in them, but that might mean that super heroes are canceling a super hero for marrying a girl who travels backwards in time and will be under age in 30 years. Or there is a controversy over weather super heroes with disguises can participate in the miss America pageant if they identify as male. Or people questioning if we should ban laser eye usage from above 1,000 meters at ground targets in the war in Transylvania. We can't way what matters to them for sure unless we know more.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ "We can't way what matters to them for sure unless we know more." I agree with this, though I'd say they would at least be interested in the stability of human society if they live in it. If for no other reason than people like stability. Clark Kent still cares about what goes on in Metropolis, after all. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Apr 19 at 0:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised the link to ongoing genocides doesn't mention the Uyghur situation. Anyway most of these get regular news coverage (roughly monthly to a few times per year) in the handful of Western European countries in which I keep in touch with people. Most people will not be able to list all of these, but everyone is aware of the fact that there are a couple of (attempted) genocides going on at any give time. $\endgroup$ – user85059 Apr 19 at 8:18
5
$\begingroup$

Prior events had supernatural connections. Recent events do not. It is a major victory for your supernaturals!

The Nazi genocides had behind them some serious bloodthirsty ancient entities. The supernatural war was fought alongside the known war. Similar entities were behind the Rape of Nanking and then later genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda. Several ecological disasters have had different but no less supernatural forces behind them and these also warranted involvement of your superhumans.

But not all major doings have supernatural forces at work. The dissolution of the Soviet Union did not but the overthrow of Romanian dictator Ceaușescu did. The Arab Spring and subsequent Syrian revolution did not, although lesser supernatural beings always take advantage of chaos to advance their agendas. No hurricanes are supernatural. Brexit was not supernatural. The advent of Donald Trump was not from supernatural machinations.

Your supernatural heroes are actually quite pleased with the doings of recent years in the US and Europe. It is just people doing people things, sorting out their differences in messy people ways. There are no angry nature elementals, no ancient blood gods demanding sacrifice, no entities from Beyond that want their plane back. It is so normal. The supernaturals consider the last 10 years a triumph on their part. People have been left free to be people.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$
  • The members of the secret society don't agree on who should win. Getting involved in politics would cause a violent schism.
  • They have a suspicious and carefully-watched truce or detente agreement with an opposing secret society of villains/monsters (who may be quite happy with either winner).
  • Their "ties to the U.S. Government" make them subject to the Hatch Act.
  • They must work through fronts and shills...who DID get involved, but were drowned out by other interest groups.
  • They must work through fronts and shills...who were supposed to get involved, but somebody stole their funding. (shakes fist) They are still looking for it.
  • Blackmail
  • Intrigue
  • Time Travel
  • Fighting on Mars during most of 2020
  • In hiding from old girlfriends/boyfriends or avoiding paternity suit servers
  • Replaced by a robot double for most of 2020.
  • Stuck in The Village trying to figure out Who Is Number One.

The list goes on and on.

Supers don't need bland, sensible reasons. The whole point of having supers is that the weirdest stuff happens to them.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Say Cheese!

For a start, let's take a look at Social Media and the advent of the video camera on the cell phone and their upswing in recent years.

Those two things combined make it very difficult to do anything in the wide open without being analyzed and potentially outed by those willing to believe in magic and the supernatural. It is a concern that is put into the curriculum of the supernatural world for the last decade or so -- Doubly so now that the technologies have really taken off.

Now I can hear the responses involving scouring social media and other online resources for those pictures or videos that would out them and delete them. My premise is that this is exactly the point. Resources have to be dedicated to handling this, leaving less of the supernatural world to take action in the mundane world, or investigate possible supernatural actions.

This could even be a plot of another faction -- using social media to limit the actions of other more active factions. By using social medial to draw attention to their rivals, they force them to react. And while yes, this risks exposing the faction that is doing this -- they have planned for that and have contingencies where the people that they are targetting might not. Now the faction might have a controlling interest in social media corporations, or it could be that they saw the potential of it and incorporated it into a plan of action that is paying dividends to this day.

With resources tied up in this, there are less available to actually look into other things and discern whey they need to apply their influence

The Investigation Continues

Depending on your time frame, it is also a possibility that it might be a supernatural thing, and some of the supernatural world are investigating things. Without clear unequivocal proof that it is within their mandate to interfere, they do not lest they begin the slope of becoming what they fear they will become. This is something your immortal founder would know about and likely always have in the back of their mind.

That others that are balking at the delays and the snail's pace of the investigations is entire part of the tension -- some of the supernatural community want action now and are basically barred from doing so by non-interference policies.

In the 50's, we would get our news through radio and the newspaper. If a super could influence people through those, it would be through the radio most likely. This limits the numbers of influential supernaturals that could, say, inflame extreme reactions in the masses by commands through media. Sure they investigate, but it was shorter and easier back in the day.

In the 2020's, TV is king. Whether your news is streamed off of the internet, read off the screen, or seen on TV, the visual medium is now the primary way to transmit information.

Now imagine if a supernatural entity is causing, or assisting with, the current polarization of Americans, or taking actions with the wealth inequality with intent to change the country's innermost workings. There is a long list of things to consider before knowing that they can meddle like:

  • Is this entity the sole cause of this, or are they just fanning the flames? How much can they interfere based on what they find out?
  • How is the entity doing this? Things from subliminal messaging to suggestive voices, or playing with the lights from the screen are all options. So how are they influencing?
  • Related to both above: Where are they applying their powers? Sure, the masses are inflamed, but are they actually being affected? Or is it possible that it is, say, some executive involved and they are passing purely mundane order to the folks below?
  • Where are they? With some cunning and a VPN, you can be in one physical location but appear to be in another.

In short, it's more complicated to find concrete proof of entities meddling in the mundane world than it used to be. And the immortal founder will not take action until they have it.

Internal Problems

Perhaps a faction of mundanes have discovered the supernatural and Do Not Approve. They have seen how they have fingers everywhere and influence everything, and they remain aware by being careful to the point of being paranoid.

Maybe, it's a parallel secret society with mundanes and disenfranchised supernaturals that want change and are willing to take the fight to them to do it. Perhaps it is a secret branch of the government that was originally a contingency plan and was activated for some reason.

No matter the reason, the supernatural factions are now finding themselves the targets of mundane actions. Sure, they can defend themselves, but messy deaths and disappearances will be noticed in 2020 ... mostly. With the supernatural world under active threat, they have turned their gazes inward to deal with the problems of their own. This leaves potential factions to do what they want in the mundane side with less eyes on them.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

It is very easy to justify that the described secret organisation is not involved in current political events. After all, this organisation is basically on the government's payroll and must abide by specific rules outlined in the agreement between the US government and the said organisation. Protection is a double-edged sword: A protector can easily expose protected or outright eliminate them.

However, it is impossible to justify that all supernaturals (as individuals) are not involved in current events. Unless every single one of them is a member of the said secret organisation and the organisation itself has the means of very tight control.

As you said yourself, there is no special cultural identity that all supernaturals possess and they live normal lives. Supernaturals themselves are a very new phenomenon, the oldest of them is only 100 years old, so there is no time to build a supernatural community with strict rules and traditions. Fear of exposure and voluntary self-isolation cannot take place since there is no history of systemic persecution. Laziness, lack of interest in politics, or ignorance also cannot work as justifications since they are not universal.

In other words, there will be someone who will disregard the non-involvement stance and start to act. If they are smart, they will be discreet. If they are not so smart or want to use shock tactics they will expose their powers. How much impact these actions have will depend on the government's ability to keep things covered up.

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.