EXCLUSIVE: NYCC Interview with “Superherologist” Dr. Travis Langley
by MuggleNet · Published · Updated
Earlier this month during New York Comic Con, MuggleNet had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Travis Langley, professor of psychology at Henderson State University and celebrated speaker on the subject of psychology in popular culture. Dr. Langley is a celebrated author of books such as Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight, The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead, and – later this month – Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind. Dr. Langley also authors a column on PsychologyToday.com titled “Beyond Heroes and Villains.” Our conversation with him, which lasted for nearly an hour, is now available for listening below.
Dr. Langley continues to publish books that take a critical look inside the minds of characters in our most popular fiction. Two further books are forthcoming at this time, centering on Star Trek and Game of Thrones. They will be released in spring 2016. And while admitting that he would love to write a book on the Harry Potter series, Dr. Langley admits that the timing may not be perfect. There are, after all, so many things currently happening with the fandoms represented at conventions such as NYCC, where Dr. Langley regularly speaks.
Our interview with Dr. Langley reveals some of his feelings on popular culture today, including Game of Thrones and Star Trek, while also providing insight into his writing and research process. He quickly revealed just who it was that comes up with the subtitles for his published works and gave us a lesson (or three) on psychology itself and how his books use it to gain insight into all of our favorite characters.
You can listen to our interview with Dr. Langley below.
00:00 – Introduction
00:55 – Zombies
02:05 – Game of Thrones, Pt. 1
03:30 – Titles (and subtitles) of his books
04:40 – Psych terms
07:12 – Question: Why so dark?
13:14 – Breaking Bad
17:02 – Viewers’ relationship with fiction
19:38 – Game of Thrones, Pt. 2
26:54 – Dr. Langley’s writing preparation
30:24 – Star Trek, Pt. 1
32:59 – Book composition methods
40:40 – Star Trek, Pt. 2
45:15 – Question: Can psychology answer who will sit on the Iron Throne?
49:48 – Theon Greyjoy (Game of Thrones, Pt. 3)
Transcribed by Adam Leuenberger
Eric Scull: I want something like that for episode one of any zombie shows that I'm going to watch. I want to know what's being stimulated. What they did with Resident Evil - the first movie with the T virus - showing what it affected, it gives you a way to destroy them, headshot, or if it has nothing to do with the brain, if it's sort of a more classic, old-style zombie and you can kill them other ways.
Travis Langley: Or unless it's Return of the Living Dead, in which case it's impossible to destroy them. Return of the Living Dead II they electrocute them all away.
Eric: Yeah, or even Game of Thrones with something like the Hardhome episode, the most recent season where it's...
Travis: I have watched that repeatedly.
Eric: Me too. It's actually... so I do a podcast called Game of Owns. It's for Game of Thrones. And during the TV series, we're analyzing each episode as it comes out just from a general pop culture-view standpoint, as well as literary. Because we're also then in the offseason, we're going through the books and reading, so it's pretty cool.
Travis: Oh, that's a good way to do it.
Eric: It's been cool. But Game of Owns comes from the idea that there are always characters owning each other, in terms of anything from witty one-liners...
Travis: Thrones itself, everybody thinks that the "throne" part is referring to the Iron Throne, or whoever's on the seat. No, that's really about power in everybody's lives. All these characters, some of them, just want power over their fate. Every single character, their conflicts have so much to do with power. It's as simple as Aria wanting to be the girl who has fencing lessons; is that still just wanting some power over her fate? Where's the control in your own life? And that's just repeatedly throughout Game of Thrones. So that "thrones" part is so much more than just the Iron Throne.
Eric: Yeah, that's a really good point. Now, did you reveal the subtitle? Are you allowed to reveal the subtitle of the Star Trek book?
Travis: Yeah, actually, it's listed on Amazon. In Captain America versus Iron Man, the subtitle is not listed yet, which is going to confuse people because psychology will be in the subtitle. So until then, they're going to think it's a comic book or something.
Eric: Yeah, Captain America versus...
Travis: But Star Trek, it's listed online: The Mental Frontier. See, it's one of those that doesn't have the punch of some of these, but it works. It's not like The Mind is Dark and Full of Terrors. The fans? They get that. People light up on that one so much, too. Star Wars Dark Side of the Mind. My editor suggested that one. And my first thought was, "That's kind of negative." But I ran it by my writers, and they say, "No, it could be the unexplored side of the mind. The deepest..."
Eric: The sun is just not shining on it.
Travis: And there's a lot of Jungian psychology in Star Wars itself. George Lucas was having trouble figuring out his original story until he discovered the work of Joseph Campbell. And through that - the hero's journey, Carl Jung and archetypes, and Carl Jung's psychology - the shadow archetype is that the dark part of yourself, the part that's in shadow [is] not necessarily evil at all. The parts of you that are not out in the light. We go look at the unexplored side itself, or the Jungian meaning of that, like, "Okay, now I feel better about that." I just have to make sure I have the introduction and the afterward really bring in that, and everybody else liked it when we took that interpretation of it. So that's where we go on that. No, psychology directly shaped Star Wars.
Eric: That is fascinating. Now I'm recognizing the same word being used over and over again, which is dark.
Travis: I know!
Eric: Dark Side of the Mind.
Travis: The Mind is Dark and Full of Terrors.
Eric: The Mind is Dark and Full of Terrors.
Travis: Dark and Stormy Knight.
Eric: Dark and Stormy Knight.
Travis: And Dark Knight is Batman.
Eric: Dark Knight is Batman. But he's also called The Dark Knight for a good reason. He tends to embrace the darker side, not an unexplored in that sense. But the more negative sort of...
Travis: And you can go Jungian or even not Jungian. With him, he's taking his anger and aggression and just the darker qualities of himself and using them in a constructive way. And Jungian would say, "Yes." He's very advanced psychologically, as they see it. Because you've got to go through the persona, the public mask, and confront that. [You've got to] get deeper into other qualities of yourself and confront your own shadow, and find a way to work with it, not against it. That's what Batman is doing. I'm not a Jungian. That's not my thing. But I can think that way. I wrote a whole Freudian - I'm not a Freudian - chapter in the Walking Dead book. Well, some of the areas where Freud gets more credit for defense mechanisms, tricks we play on ourselves, not being willing to admit that those pants feel tight because you gain weight, all those little defense mechanisms. So I go through characters in The Walking Dead, those who are using healthier defense mechanisms like humor. Those who are using unhealthy mechanisms or pathological mechanism defenses, like having a conversation on the phone with the wife who is not there. And so it's one of the things we're doing these, not taking any particular psychological point of view and saying this is necessarily how everything is. Bringin is that what do different areas of psychology say about different topics? I teach psychology, I'm a Professor at a university. So I'm accustomed to bringing up a lot of different areas of psychology without necessarily pushing my particular point of view over others.
Eric: Sure. Well, that's the way to do it. I have a big question. Feel free to answer in as many parts as you like. But it may border on sociology, and just in terms of the popularity of dystopian media, and you have a show like Game of Thrones, which is more often than not extremely dark. You have the popularity of this darker, more deep version of Gotham City in the new Dark Knight series, The Dark Knight Rises. And so my question is, how does that trend affect us on a personal level? So much of our fantasy, which is escapist, is dystopian or becoming dystopian. We're focusing more on anti-heroes than heroes and villains as lead characters in movies and TV. It doesn't necessarily feel like we're looking for solutions or hopefulness, we're just embracing the grit as our entertainment. Would you agree?
Travis: Well I don't necessarily see that being it. One, you talk about things getting so much darker you tend to be thinking in terms of what we call the age of communication. Let's go a little further back. Read Grimms' Fairy Tales. Read mythology. Go through all kinds of stories, Washington Irving, and so forth. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow does not have a happy ending. Icabad Crain, vanishes, possibly dead. There's a lot of darkness in stories throughout our history. Movies come along, and we got to create the family-friendly stuff, and it takes a while, but no. There's always been darkness in our stories. People have always wanted to understand the dark, not just be afraid of it. To know what's going out there and understand. And there are a lot of different examples. Some of it is going to be cynical, of course, but some of it is oddly hopeful. You're going to think, "How can it be hopeful when you're looking at something like this grim, brooding guy dressed as a bat? Or these people going through the zombie apocalypse?" You're hoping that they'll do the right thing. You're hoping that they'll find a reason to hope even when things look hopeless; you're at least hoping for hope itself. And you're wondering, "Can we find this [in the] complicated world we are in now? Or ancient times when survival was short, and life was not nearly as long as it is now?" People have always wondered what [it takes] to make it in the world we're in. Now we're at this point, this crowded planet that's going to keep getting more crowded, and there are all kinds of ways of wiping everyone out. People have been conscious of that for a long time. Long before there was an atomic bomb. People were ready for an apocalypse. That's been going to happen any day now for 2000 years. In the ancient Norse myths, their gods end in Ragnarok. And they have other versions of worlds that come and go throughout the entire history of our world. People have always been conscious of the end. Where are we? Or where are we going, maybe not just to the end, but something better, something catastrophic. And then renewal afterward. The word apocalypse is not about the end, it's about the change, the end of one era, and the beginning of another. And we're here in this world with 24/7 news that if it bleeds, it leads. They've got to throw bad news, bad news, bad news, bad news. And the more news you watch, the more you overestimate the likelihood you're going to be a victim of crime. It makes us think just worse about what's going on in our world. No bright, beaming God in a red cape is going to swoop down and help you. And you may realize it's not going to be a guy dressed as a bat, but you're there in the worst part of town and you are having a bad moment, you need help, you may be in danger threatened by somebody. Nobody in a cape is going to swoop down. But there could be somebody around, somebody to hear you shout. Somebody who is in that darkness itself. Those are the people who are going to have to be available to help. Batman is also the part of us that wants to frighten all the bullies away. He's the part of us that wants to punch them in the face and the part of us that wants to keep somebody else from going through some of the things we've gone through in our own lives. So, so many different reasons. Some of the interesting dystopian futures or apocalyptic stories [are where] we wonder where the world is going and wonder what's going on. Why zombies in particular? I did a radio book tour a few weeks ago - 30 radio interviews in nine hours - and halfway through I was like, "How am I going to keep answering this 'why zombies' question? I'm already sick of this question." I've had over three years of answering "why Batman, but it's like doing it all in one day. I think it's just a bit... and I like to say something at least a little different for every interview if I'm not giving the same thing. Fortunately, the next interview did not ask the question. So I got a little break from it before the one after that asked it. I get a new point of view. And then there was the guy who veered off into psychic torsion field stuff and I was like, "Okay, this is a different way of discussing interest in the zombie apocalypse." It's a weird conversation, but by gosh, it's a change of pace on these interviews.
Eric: Yeah, and sometimes that's welcome. A welcome change.
Travis: It is. I also understand the celebrities who give weird answers, but you weren't asking that in particular. It is part of it. "Why is The Walking Dead the number one show on TV? Why are there all these other apocalyptic stories?" We wonder where the world's going, what we're doing, what will happen, and this fiction lets us think about or feel about some of the things that bother us or that we wonder about without having to look at the dark danger. Ebola Outbreak: The Animated Series is not exactly going to go over.
Eric: Yeah. So there are still lines that are not being crossed?
Travis: Or not as successfully.
Eric: Oh yeah. Yeah, there's that.
Travis: There's nothing fun about the Ebola outbreak.
Eric: Well, I want to talk about the popularity of another show, Breaking Bad.
Travis: I so wish I could do a Breaking Bad book, but I think the right time for that would have been two years ago.
Eric: Yep, possibly.
Travis: My publisher has the official Breaking Bad book but it's not the psychology book. And I think by two years from now when they might be open to another. [It] probably depends on how Better Call Saul does. If Better Call Saul... these people want Breaking Bad stuff. Maybe I'll get to do Breaking Bad book. I did not watch Breaking Bad until a month before the end. I've been hearing about it all along the way. And then I'd binge-watched. I like binge-watching. I don't like a weekly commitment. Okay, I'll do The Flash every week, but I don't like a weekly commitment to TV. And then Doctor Who when it's on and Walking Dead. So I have my exceptions, clearly, but I don't like the TV to own me any more than it already does. And with a series like that, you don't know if they'll get to do the end. You don't know if there's some other showrunner who will screw up the story - Dexter. You don't know if they'll get to finish. I got tired a long time ago [with] these TV shows that start with a really interesting premise, an interesting world, and they don't get to finish. So okay, a month before the end, I binge-watch. I caught up. And for that last month, I watched each episode as part of the worldwide communal experience. And I liked being part of that communal experience, knowing that there are other people into these things. And then we can Tweet about it, being careful about the spoilers. I don't consider the fact that Walter White died a spoiler; the whole show is about the death of Walter White. If you don't realize that, you've missed the point.
Eric: Well, I want to talk exactly about what people realize and what they don't. I mean, I think there are people out there who realize they don't realize...
Travis: Oh there are people out there mad I said Walter White dies, but leave it.
Eric: But they don't realize that Walter White is [an] evil, psycho villain. And he is.
Travis: He has his better qualities, but that I think that's one of the good things about fiction like that. We get to show that somebody who meets all our criteria for psychopath can also have some very human qualities. [He] can have things that matter to him, things that are interesting, that they care about in their way. We don't know what he was like previously, but you don't just suddenly - boom - become a psychopath. He became a meth creator, manufacturer, drug lord, Heisenberg, rather abruptly. But he'd had his simmering anger for a long time. He'd always had that ego. And he had his frustrations. A warm, caring human being does not become something like that, rather abruptly. And you think about the time being covered by the show. It's pretty quick when he gets to being Heisenberg.
Eric: Yeah. But even despite, all the things that he does that are villainous, you still see him as kind of a hero. Or, you'd say antihero, but you still see him as a good guy. As a viewer, you're in the stories being told from his perspective. So even though he's doing bad things, you are put in a unique position as a viewer to cheer him along almost. [Do] you want Walter White to live in a paradise? At least for some time? I think the ending was good and the music was superb. But there's still this cheering for a bad guy type thing that happens.
Travis: You understand everything he's doing. You understand it all. At every point. When he's looking conflicted right before it kills Jesse's girlfriend. But there's that moment of conflict. Is it? Is it that he feels guilty about doing it? Or is it just that he doesn't want to be the kind of person who does that? I think that's closer to him.
Eric: Ultimately it's about coming to terms with the badness.
Travis: And also with a show like that, there can be several things: what the Creator has in mind, [and] what the actor has in mind. You go, "Well, it's what the creator had in mind." Why? It's on-screen. You saw a different Breaking Bad from what I saw. You saw the one that entered your head, and you play with it and perceived and interpreted it in certain ways. And [then] somebody goes, "No, no, no, that's not what happened." That may not be what the creator intended, but your version could be better for you. So with every single one of these, we have a relationship with the fiction that is interesting to them. That's what people are so excited about by fans. Even the casual viewer who doesn't feel as invested in [it] at all, they've got their interpretation, what's meaningful to them, and what they're getting out of it. So there's an episode of The Walking Dead, in which Eugene pays Tara a compliment. And she says, "I like girls," and he says, "I'm well aware of that." And the actress said they did a couple of takes. He did one take where Eugene had not known that, where it was clear that Eugene knew it, and [where] they played it ambiguous. They use the ambiguous one. So I still don't know if Eugene knew or not. And that doesn't have to be an answer. What happened? It's fiction. There doesn't have to be a what happened. The movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie's movie. The ending is like, "Well, is he going to get the bag? Or is he not going to get the bag?" And people who don't know the movie don't know what I'm talking about, but I don't want to say more than that. But you're wondering, maybe, it happens a good way. Maybe it happens where you go, "Oh, those idiots" way. It's just that there's nothing that happens. Because the movie ends there. And it's the story. We all have our own stories. Grimms' Fairy Tales get published [in] so many different ways. The Three Bears get told differently by each parent, maybe. And it's its own story. There's not an official... It wasn't originally Goldilocks in the three bear story, it was an old witch. I know I'm getting off on a tangent here. To me, these things are fascinating. It's like where do these stories come from? What do they mean to us as people psychologically? And, well, I don't tend to talk so much about the fans in these books. We are analyzing the characters, which some people sound frivolous. I'm using the characters as an example to talk about psychology. Yeah, I am using psychology to analyze the characters, but I'm also using the character to analyze the psychology. So it's not The Psychology of The Walking Dead. It's just The Walking Dead Psychology, because it goes both ways.
Eric: Okay, I want to talk about Game of Thrones.
Travis: Yes. Okay, George R.R. Martin wrote a book, there are dragons, there are people, [there is] lots of crazy stuff.
Eric: Yeah. All right. Moving on.
Eric: No, Jamie Lannister is...
Travis: Yeah, he's an interesting character.
Eric: He is.
Travis: I started as like, "Just die Jamie," and later on when everyone's like, "Die, Jamie," it's like, "No! The show needs Jamie; boy, they need Jamie."
Eric: Yeah, well...
Travis: He's such a weird mix of qualities. He's the guy who dumps the kid to his death. He's like, "What we do for love." There he is doing his sister, toss, drop, [he] just pushes the kids to his death, murders a guy to try to escape at one point, and does it badly. But he also has people he'll stick up for, he has a wisdom of his own, he has a cynicism, he has insight, and [he has] so many things.
Eric: So is it just that we like a complex character?
Travis: He's a complex character. [I'll] say one thing, with some bad boys, some of the interest is you'd like to imagine they're complex. And they're not necessarily complex. He is. He's the bad boy who has a lot of complexity to him. And so he stays interesting and you don't know for sure what he's gonna do in a story. We don't know for sure how he's going to feel the next time he crosses paths with his brother. Because well...
Eric: His brothers created all sorts of trouble for him.
Travis: His brothers are still talking very favorably about Jamie, but I think Jamie is getting increasingly frustrated. He's like, "Oh, he killed dad on his way out? What?"
Eric: "Way to go." I mean, it creates all sorts of problems for him. And yet, I mean, for a guy who threw a kid out of a window we're giving him these second chances. The moments finding out why he's the king Slayer, finding out what exactly the king was like. In your head, of course, it's treason and punishable by beheading or inflammation.
Travis: And why didn't he do it a different way? They'll keep bringing that up.
Eric: But he's a character who does bad things, and we support that. But we understand, I think, the underlying reasons behind [it], and maybe that's what we want to be entertained is to...
Travis: And whether that kid lived or died. He gave him the same push-out that window. It was the same action, regardless of how it... man that is a high window on TV. He just falls; how does anybody survive that? They made that a tall window. Maybe gravity works a little differently in their world? Now we get into the science of why that's not possible. But yeah, that concept that if the child had died, I think people would have more trouble giving him a second chance. Maybe. If that kid lived or died, Jamie had no power over that. And Jamie wasn't the one sending assassins after him and stuff after that.
Eric: Well, it was surprising who that was. And that was very interesting. And unsurprising. It was almost as though as readers, George was still trying to make us okay with the fact that Joffrey had died. In the chapters in Storm of Swords, which is the third book, leading up to the events of the Purple Wedding, where Joffrey is poisoned and killed, there's a character who talks about a time when he visited, he was around the corner... It's Jamie. Jamie talks about giving... Joffrey realizes or sees a cat walking by, and the cat - it's Tommen's cat - is pregnant. And Joffrey wants to know how the world works. So he opens the cat up with a knife and kills it. Details like that are coming out surrounding the death of this character. And there's the entire wedding where he's horrible to Tyrian, who we love for very obvious reasons. And by the time it happens, you're almost meant to feel elated because certain characters are relieved. Tyrian is not one of them. Tyrion is the dutiful uncle.
Travis: Those are the circumstances.
Eric: Yeah, those are the circumstances. But it's almost as though there's an additional effort being made after Joffrey's death to make us even more okay with it. Oh, he was a bad character, he deserved to die. And I find that interesting. It's because not only is there a grotesque, shocking method by which he dies, but you [also] have this internal struggle in yourself as a reader. We're like, "Should I feel bad about this guy at all?" And I think most people wouldn't.
Travis: No. He's a sadist who made things bad for everybody else, who kept making things worse.
Eric: Is it okay to ever say that he needed killing?
Travis: Well, now it's a philosophical question. So if I think he needed killing - and he needed killing - you're outside the psychology area. You're moving philosophically, theologically.
Eric: Yeah. I mean, characters...
Travis: Although, psychologically, was he engaging in cruelty afterward? No. Was he feeling particularly angry afterward? No, his mood was probably much better afterward. So that's probably a good experience for him once it was over.
Eric: The absence of feeling is a good thing. Inherently.
Travis: Well it depends on who you are. He is off with you whichever set of Gods he would have gone to. Who knows, he didn't seem to believe in any of them.
Eric: No, but characters are acting on all sorts of things, including philosophy, and including the fact that this magic has laid dormant, which is now coming back into the world and affecting these characters in such unique ways. I'm blown away by all the different types of magic there are in the Game of Thrones universe, from whether it's Melisandre birthing a creature that's going to kill a rival King or the resurrection of Thoros of Myr by Beric.
Travis: It's almost like a Dungeons and Dragons mix of incompatible magic systems somehow existing in the same setting.
Eric: Yeah. And I find it interesting to speculate what religion is real. Are they all real? Are they all bits of real? Because you...
Travis: There are some signs that Martin is treating the gods as if they exist, somehow, whatever they are.
Eric: I mean, you have people brought back to life. And you have...
Travis: Yep, and it's like, "Oh, he gets up, and he's died again." And in the books, you have more of that. And we'll probably see a little more of that in the upcoming season. But it depends, did they die, or did they come back? That's an issue. If the Hound shows back up, he didn't come back to life, probably. He managed to bind the boo-boo. Aria didn't know that he got up afterward.
Eric: There was a doctor around the corner around that rock, a physician around that rock like you see in the show.
Travis: If Jon Snow gets up, the common theory, the logical theory because the red woman just showed up there...
Eric: Yep. And I subscribe to that. Her bringing him back.
Travis: Jon Snow, definitely will not be there this season. That's not saying he's dead to stay. He's dead. That's still not saying he's dead to stay. And why hasn't Kit cut that hair?
Eric: Yeah, that's what I want to know.
Travis: And well, it's nice not to know. Sometimes there are some shows where somebody says, "Oh, there's this news about this actress." I don't want to hear it. There are other certain things where I'm not following the spoilers. The ones I'm working on the books, I do, because it's good to find out if there's a sign that something's coming up, that will contradict one of the things we're saying in our book.
Eric: Exactly. Especially due to the time it takes to publish a book, even after it's been written, you want to make sure you're as up to date as possible.
Travis: When I did the Batman book, I had one thing in my favor. The big thing in my favor was that the producer of the movies wrote my foreword. And he saw my book before The Dark Knight Rises came out. So the part where I'm speculating on the kind of things that need to be addressed based on where the films have been going, and what we know from trailers and clips and whatnot, I could have found that more but I didn't want it more than was publicly available. So I wrote my part on The Dark Knight Rises, the psychological issues that needed to get in there for Bruce Wayne personally, and thinking, "How do I word it in a way that this will still hold up even after the movie comes out?" And Michael saw the whole book ahead of time; I hope Michael will tell me if I said something that's going to sound stupid. There was one thing I did bring up. I said here's a topic, is this still okay? "Yes, that topic is okay." And that said, other than that, that was the only thing I got confirmation on. I am very grateful to Michael Uslan for having done that forward for me back then. I did not know him as well then - he's a friend now - but I know him as well. And he just told me, he's very grateful that it was somebody who's taking the source material seriously, bringing the real psychology into it, knowing what they're doing, and not just slapping something together. I had the idea for that first book several years before it did it. I knew I needed to do certain things I need to build up, get to know common scholars, publish in some common scholars journals and get to know people in the industry. And I knew that I've got a three-year plan, which became a four-year plan because of Ledger's death. And I was concerned to me Batman in psychology was such an obvious concept that I was worried someone would slap something together. And on these others, I didn't get to do the second book right away because Wiley sold that division. Oh, that hurt! I had their best-selling book for that division. And it still sells well, week after week, three and a half years later. But last year at New York Comic Con I ran into my old editor, two minutes after I mentioned to her the friend that was with me, I said "This is the editor I was just telling you about the one doing the For Dummies book". She said I'm not doing that now, I'm doing popular culture. "Wait, you need popular culture titles? I've got promo proposals ready to shop around. Do you remember that Star Wars book I wanted to do? It is time." I give them the Star Wars proposal, barely tweaked it because I had it ready to go to [the] publishers, and the series proposal, which is The Walking Dead as the main example. And within two weeks, it was, "Do you want to do them both?" "Yes." And the progress on both of the books was going along really well. To me, especially based on the timing, I think Game of Thrones should be the third book, and it seems too early to bring it up. We're not even finished working on these. But it was going well, and the publisher was excited, and my editor emailed me back and said, "Would you be willing to consider a Game of Thrones book?" It's like, "That is exactly what I think the third book should be!" And I finally got my Star Trek book, which was going to be my second book.
Eric: I want to talk about the Star Trek book. There [are] a couple of series to choose from. There are a couple of periods to choose from. The original series, Roddenberry's, [is] very utopian. We've cured hunger, we've cured capitalism. Versus [Deep Space] Nine, there are still other races where capitalism is the thing. The Ferengi.
Travis: Yeah, there is so much capitalism in DS Nine.
Eric: So much of that. And it's like, "Have we, or haven't we? How far have we come?" And I think it tends to be the more optimistic look of the future. We're here on this ship, which would realistically cost millions of billions of dollars to build. We're traveling with limitless resources because of technology. We've developed technology that's going to allow us to survive in space, perpetuate our race and our species, and [travel] to an infinite variety of new worlds, exploring a new life, new civilizations, that with this hope that we will join together in a Federation of unity, to live and to learn and to further our own experience. And that's a very interesting premise, to have a Federation as the backbone for a TV series. We want to know you, strange alien race, and we want to bring you in, and please don't kill us. And there's enough drama living in space that it doesn't necessarily need to be dark, or the characters themselves don't need to be negative, necessarily. They're facing adversity, that is almost external. As much as it is internal, or it doesn't need to be too heavy sci-fi, it doesn't need to be too dramatic. Does your book focus on, say, a particular series? Or are you...
Travis: I've gone through that. How do you do that? We've got over 700 hours of material. Five TV series, six, if you count the animated series, and a couple of people do cite some episodes from that. So really, we have six series. Then there are novels. No, we're at least going to stick with what's on film. I even told the writers we had over 700 hours of material. With Star Wars, we veer into some of the other material because otherwise, you only have six movies, or six movies and some animated series. But if what you need to say can be better told with a movie example, use the movie example - more people are going to know that - and it can be better told with an example from an expanded universe novel, cite it. Just remember, most of your readers won't know that. You're going to have to say it in a way that will make sense to them. With Star Trek? No, don't use... Yet, I did have one guy cite something from this album Roddenberry had where he talks to Spock. Okay, I think there's one exception. But it's such a weird exception, too, because we're getting into Roddenberry. We have five series, do you do just the original series? You could easily do that. The original series, Next Generation, and the movies, because they all tie together. Those two series are related to the movies. And you do something on the others and then it's, "Oh, the other series." But no, we go across all the series. It has to do with what topic [you're] talking about. And when you're talking about leadership, well, why not compare the five captains, or five captains and Spock? And some others. Why limit yourself to one series if what you want to talk about is the psychology of leadership? Outgoing behavior, conflict negotiation. So it's by the topics. Although, some things are going to be more specific to one series or another. If somebody is going into an analysis of Data - although I did tell him very broadly - try not to limit yourself to one character. Somebody wanted to analyze Picard in a certain quality. Let's compare him to certain other characters on these qualities. And I said, "You could be the other captains," and he was like, "Well, what about other captains he encounters, like Klingon captains?" Okay, that makes sense; that works. We've got too many characters to just do it about one character. There's one very much about Data's emotions. Okay, that one's throughout [the] Next Generation series and some movies, and it ties into other forms of AI. We've got a whole chapter on AI. We got some special features. Gene Roddenberry's son, Rod Roddenberry, interviewed us. I've got to mix that. There's the interview, and now I've got to add in some psychology sidebars to reflect some things he's talking about. It worked well in the Star Wars book. We have an interview with Sam Woodward who voices Darth Maul in the animation, and he voices several characters in video games, and he's very sharp. He talks about the psychology [that] goes inside your characters. Late in the interview, he refers to the psychology term self-actualization. Somebody asked, "Did he say that?" Yeah. With the way he talks about this, I can build the psych part that I'm framing around self-actualization. And with Roddenberry, I've got to go back to read the interview. I have looked at it, but, still, [I've] got to read the interview that one of my writers did and think in terms of what psychology story can I tell them to build around this stuff that he's talked about. Don Glut, who did the novelization of Empire Strikes Back. He was going to write our forward. But when I got it, this doesn't work as the forward. But it could work as part of a chapter, and I can build some psychology around it. I even get into the psychology of why people care who shot first. Ultimately, that ties into some of the things he's talking about novelizing [in] Empire Strikes Back. So in addition, every chapter has at least one psychology professional working on it. But we do have other people working with us on these, and people who know the field of psychology, or know Star Trek, Star Wars, so forth. Journalist Jenna Bush, journalist Alan Kessler, and some others, they've co-authored chapters. No chapter goes without a psych pro. Because otherwise, you're moving in the area of being one of these other anthologies of so much other stuff. And some of the anthologies are great, but I don't want this to be a stack of essays. You [are] bringing in the psychology of these things. I write things at the beginning, middle, and interstitial tissue throughout, to give it a voice and a sense of how to tie these things together, as we're making sure we're talking to the general audience. That is so important to me. There was an author of a book about an old comic strip - I'm not gonna say what it is; somebody can eventually add up what book I'm talking about - who he sent me his book, not the manuscript ahead of time, I wish he had. He sent me the book to ask me for a review. And very quickly, I had to write him back and ask, "What's your intended audience here?" And he's like, "General audience." You're writing it, but the tone, the diction, the level of the way you're speaking. "And now we take a look at," that's like you're talking for your fellow scholars. And he said, "Yeah." He acknowledged that he did get caught up in thinking about how the other scholars are going to look at this. It's like, "Yes, we do want the scholars to respect what we're doing. We hope they do and [that they] get the point of what we're doing. But I'm far more interested in talking to people in general." So many scholarly works I look at, you could have said the same sentence, slightly differently, conveyed the same information. You can use jargon. I was telling my writers, jargon is good, depending on how you use it. As long as you're not hitting, "Bam, bam, bam, jargon, jargon," and people have no idea what you're talking about. If you use a bit of jargon, make sure they know what you're talking about. Don't go too quickly to some other piece of jargon and expect them to keep track of these new things, these definitions, you've just given them. Use them. Even if you use this jargon early in the Chapter and use several other things before you get to the end, don't expect them to remember that original definition. How are you having a conversation with this person? There have been a few - it's not from my main groups - people, some grad students working on [something] where I have to say, "You're not writing a journal article." Or some, where I say, "You're not writing a blog, either. Think more like a magazine article in terms of tone, and you're in the neighborhood of what we're doing." My two main groups of writers: people I've done convention panels with or Psychology Today bloggers. And I've expanded some other blogs recently, too, but the reasons for those groups? I know what they say about psychology, about the popular culture topic. So for some of them, I know that they know what they're doing. I know they know how to do it for a general audience. And with the bloggers, I know they knew how to do it quickly. That's important when we're doing the pace with these books. How can you get six books done in a year? Well, I'm not writing them all by myself. There are times when wrangling two dozen psychologists feels like it would be easier to write that part by myself, and there have been moments where I did write that part by myself. But [these] kind of people, they're fans of so many things themselves. They're bringing the love of it while also bringing the psychology, objectively, into it. "Okay, we got two months to get this book done." And some say, "No, I can't do it during that time," but there are enough who say "Yeah. If somebody gives me nine months to write a chapter, I write it the ninth month anyway, so why not skip the first eight months." And these are people who get that kind of thing, too. I like the hectic pace. I like getting the work and just getting it done. There's something very nice about [it] as opposed to, "Okay, you [have] got two years to do this book." Your life is tied into that book for two years, and you're doing that with multiple books. The Batman book was my only book for a long time. It [was] three years of it being in my head. [It would] take a few weeks each [to] write the sample chapters, to get my agent, and then get the publisher, and then three months to get the other 12 chapters written.
Eric: Something I've heard about Star Trek - and this relates to Next Gen and probably The Original Series - is that one of Gene's wishes - mandates, rather - was that there could not be interpersonal conflict among the crew on the Enterprise. That was something that he was very adamant about in terms of if you look at The Next Generation, the early seasons, you don't tend to have characters who just don't agree with each other. They just don't like each other [for no reason]. Jordy, Riker, Data, [and] Picard have a working relationship, which is not hindered by their personality.
Travis: I don't know. You could see that when you look at the series, but I don't know. I've never heard that. Although I honestly think [in] Voyager, some of those people should have hated each other more for the sheer drama for the viewers.
Eric: It is with Voyager. But it's with Deep Space Nine, too, that you get something that... Gene Roddenberry died and he never had anything to do with Deep Space Nine.
Travis: He was involved in developing it. There were characters he wanted to do that didn't get there but showed up later on.
Eric: You have a series that then does the war. You have characters in Cardassians and Bajorans.
Travis: That show got a lot more exciting when that came along.
Eric: Yeah, Cardassians the Bajorans who don't like each other, and the Bajorans and the occupation. And the Bajorans, they're hateful of their oppressors for the longest time. But you have so much. It's almost more depth that you're getting, as a result of the conflict, the interpersonal conflict that exists aboard that starship, or aboard that station.
Travis: Well, Gene was taking the views like, "What does it take for the human race to exist in the 23rd century?" You'll have to overcome all kinds of things and grow as people. When Picard is saying, "We no longer view things this way," is one big example. He's talking about money, but he's not only talking about money. He's talking about all kinds of other things and points of view. He was like, "We're better people now." [That] is what he's saying. I don't know about that being a mandate regarding interpersonal conflict.
Eric: Okay. I would think that if that were true, would you think it would rob the characters of their humanity, or it's just he's telling us the story where...
Travis: There are so many other aspects of humanity. Yeah, interpersonal conflict is a great source of the story, but clearly, they had a lot of good stories, they have plenty of other people to have conflicts with. Why do you need a little soap opera at home? No, I don't think it can translate with any cases better. Are you telling the story? Where is the conflict? As long as there's a conflict of some sort, somewhere. In The Inner Light, the conflict is a different kind. It's the one where Picard lives a whole guy's lifetime in 20 to 25 minutes, and it's like, "Well, what's the conflict?" It's about the conflict of, "Am I really in this life or not? Am I committed to this family? These people? The world is ending, what am I doing about that? How do I tell people? Oh, they know." So it's a more subtle thing. You are trying to articulate what the conflict is, but it's there. And it's a beautiful episode.
Eric: I love The Inner Light.
Travis: There's a reason it won awards. Even when you can't quite articulate the conflict as obviously as when you're saying Khan wants revenge, every story has a man versus nature, the sexist way, that classic way of putting a man versus man, but I don't think it takes away from the story at all. Even if there's such a mandate, and I can see signs. McCoy and Spock always are like, "You green-blooded..." It's like he's being racist towards Spock. But it's more of an angel and devil on Kirk's shoulder thing. Although they flip-flop on who [they] call the angel and the devil. It's not always the one that looks like the devil. But which is the devil, the emotion or the logic? It depends on the situation and circumstances, and there's Kirk to weigh in himself or be divided in two over it at one point. But there'[re] a lot of angels and devils on Kirk's shoulders to the conflict between those two characters.
Eric: I like that a lot. I'll wrap it up with another Thrones question. Can psychology answer...
Eric: ... who... Oh, it can't answer? It can't answer anything? We have no answers here.
Travis: Can psychology answer who is Jon Snow's mother?
Eric: Can psychology answer who will sit the Iron Throne in the end?
Travis: Oh, yes. One answer. I know the answer from Stanley. It is whatever the writer decides. That's the answer.
Eric: Okay. What does psychology say? Who would you say, on a psychological aspect, is most fit?
Travis: Yeah, actually. We've got a couple of chapters on what qualities it takes. One of our authors is arguing that self-control is going to be a big determinate of who's going to be able to get the Iron Throne in the end and keep it.
Eric: Okay, I can immediately think of certain examples: Oberyn Martell, who allows his pride to interfere with his ultimate success. And it costs him his life. In a game where the stakes are so high that you could be killed.
Travis: Cersei has such poor self-control.
Eric: She does.
Travis: She makes so many bad self-defeating decisions. "Let's empower the High Sparrow just because they don't want this to happen." And oh, how that inconveniences her. And you can see a lot of examples where that argument would be the case. It's who should have the Iron Throne? Who's going to be the best leader? Who's going to be most concerned for the well-being of that world? It's going to have to be somebody that thinks outside themselves and their selfish interests but does have enough ego to lead the charge and do the things that need to be done. It takes a certain amount of ego to be the leader. And the person who [thinks] it's not about them at all, well, they're not going to lead. Right? It takes some ego. Whether it's just an, "I know I'm right." When Danny comes in full of attitude...
Eric: Danny is very selfish, but she has to be.
Travis: Tyrian can't do it. Tyrian does not have an ego. He's got his cynical view and how he thinks he's right. But he's so full of self-loathing, and there are ways in the Tyrion could be excellent in terms of realizing things that need to be done. He's very wise, much wiser than he even recognizes himself. But in terms of being the leader, not even aside from the physical things in terms of his personality, he doesn't quite have the confidence to do it. He'll have a lot of certainty about things but doesn't have confidence in himself. And how the world will respond to him.
Eric: Could he evolve confidence through experience?
Travis: He is kind of old to get that. That is the kind of thing [where] more of that level of strong confidence tends to come earlier in life.
Eric: You have Jon Snow - let's ignore the incident with the daggers for a moment - and just see a guy who didn't want to be a leader. But very quickly, he was pulled aside by Jeor Marmont to be made the steward because he saw...
Travis: Right? And when I say to have the ego, I'm not saying to be egotistical. Jon Snow is not egotistical, but he also has a lot of certainties that he's right about some things. And plenty of self-doubts, to not just push his without wondering about it. It's like he knows he's more right than that guy. He knows they're being idiots not to wonder worry about the looming legion of the undead. So he's got a lot of confidence. Not total confidence. You need to be able to question, to rethink, to reconsider strategies. So he's got a really good balance there. He can lead even better than he realizes himself. Why are they voting? As you know, he is a popular choice. A lot of people are hoping that he is somehow related to Danny, at least more so than if you go for an event. Who's his mama? Who is his dad? Who's his [biological] dad? Just because Ned calls him son... Then it says he's this blood, which, is that Ned's sister? She might be the mom [or] then somebody else altogether is. Maybe a Targarian as the dad? Again, it's whoever the writer decides.
Eric: But again, things like blood status also give people advantages and allow them to be...
Travis: Clearly in the magic of their world it does. So those are the kinds of things we love speculating about. We love thinking about this stuff. And we love thinking about, "Why do they do this? Why did they do that? What will they do?" When you ask "Why did that character do that," you're asking a psychological question. You may not be using jargon, you may not be drawing from some theory - Freud or Skinner or whoever - but you're asking a psychological question. When you speculate on the reasons why you're engaging in psychological speculation. We do this all the time. We all do this. I get to do it on paper.
Eric: Yeah. I do it on podcasts. I remember discussing Theon Grayjoy, who commits a terrible act of savagery, or so everyone is led to believe, but he's internally conflicted about [honoring] his father's wishes, even though his father is wrong, and it involved betraying those that he's been raised by. He ends up doing it and bumbling it, and it's not good. And then, of course, there's the prolonged torture that follows, which could be karma's ugly head. But, ultimately, the way I see Theon is almost [as] a perpetual adolescent. He's described early in the books as just having this constant shitty grin. He's grinning. What does he find funny about this? There's nothing funny here. Rob wonders. Catlin looks, "There's that boy, he's grinning again." But for me, he's almost underdeveloped in a really interesting way. In [that] he was not able to foresee the consequences of his actions in a really important way, which was super detrimental to him in terms of staying alive. But it's almost that ego. Like when he's with the prostitute, when he's with Roz, too, and when he in general just thinks that the sun is shining on him, and he takes everything he can because it's being given to him, even though he's not of particularly high birth. That was that struck me as being a very teenage thing to do, almost. It's like to have an overinflated sense of worth in the eye of like a fate or something like that. So I find Theon to be a very interesting character.
Travis: And we're all wondering where he's going and what's happening next with that guy. Some people thought he and Sansa leaped to their deaths in the TV version.
Eric: Well, you just see the lady smack, down, and then a second later they are jumping off from even higher.
Travis: Yeah. I don't know, someplace when they were kids. "Oh, we can jump in the snow safely from this spot." They didn't leap to their deaths. Come on.
Eric: I need more explanation. It was very Aladdin too. Do you trust me? She's like, "All right." But I think that's good, man. That's our time.
Travis: We went way over, but that's fine.
We certainly hope to bump into Dr. Langley in the future, where we can bug him again (and more forcefully) about writing a Harry Potter book! Additionally, be sure to follow him on Twitter at @Superherologist.