Tuesday, July 29, 2008



Sort of a gripping title, isn't it?

Last night, a large group of us (31) went to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. It was pretty awesome and has earned its place as the highest-grossing (in the first week) film of all time. Kudos.

On the way home from the movie, I was musing about what its success reflects in "our" (broadly interpreted) culture. One can see in recent popular movies such as Munich and The Incredible Hulk and even Shrek and The Incredibles a tendency away from the Good vs. Evil, black and white divisions of hero and villain that were perhaps more characteristic of an earlier time. Some of the most popular (and understandable) heroes have very significant flaws and are considered by some to be villains. What does that say about our times?

I think it's definitely a reflection of our insecurity in our own self-righteousness. For a long time, it was okay to feel like the good guy in the Good vs. Evil matchup, but I believe that people have become more cynical (realistic?) over the decades? In the Dark Knight, for example, Batman is ostracized for inadvertently causing the deaths of innocent people; for many, including himself, it's easy to see him as the agent of death in the city of Gotham. (In many ways, comic book movies of late like the Spider-man and X-Men series have been exploring this outlook.)

So, we're insecure in our ability to do the right thing. And still, we want to believe that that tortured, misunderstood hero is still good. We still want to believe that no matter how many wars we fight and how many countries we economically bully, we're still good. But can we have it both ways? Can we have peace and prosperity? It seems to me that, if we were really going to treat the rest of the world fairly, we'd have to give up a great deal, and I very much doubt that most Americans are willing to do that. We'd much rather pay $12.50 to see a movie about a person who really does inadvertently kill a lot of people but, after all, he [spoiler ahead] gets the bad guy in the end.

But let's take it out of the movies. We may pat ourselves on the back for a righteous moral battle well hypothesized-about, but when it comes down to it, how secure are we? Even while riding the bus back from the theater, I'll admit to feeling fear as we stopped next to a bulldozer. And today, when a man told me while I was hanging up my laundry not to worry about the package he was leaving at the top of the stairs - he'll be back for it later - I looked inside the bag to make sure it wasn't an explosive. Is this what moral self-congratulation has bought us?

Now, on the one hand, it's easy to say the following: "Sure Daniel, you say you'd like to do the right thing always, but that doesn't have an impact on society. And, were you in a place where you could impact society, you wouldn't be able to act according to your conscience." And there I actually do have to disagree. There are good people in this world, and they have done good things. It is not impossible to have leaders who pledge to follow a moral code, and it's also not impossible for that moral code to align with others'. Further, the greatest strides of peace that we have yet to attain will have to be taken by people who agree to act together for the betterment of humankind.

So, the post didn't exactly go where I anticipated, but that's the beauty of this "stream of consciousness" gig - it can lead all sorts of exciting places!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them....

Continue your belief - and your pursuit- of right action, no matter what anyone else might do.

You are the creator of your own universe, and in the world you are creating, the good guy DOES win, and does not create tragic consequences through those actions.

Truth and compassion are powerful allies in this world.