Sunday, May 25, 2014

Have Your Cake and Eat It: False Christ in American Action

I recently watch the new Godzilla flick and overall I like it, but there's something in there sci-fi lite action bits I can't get past.

  • We are almost universally handed a WASPy protagonist
    • Bonus points if they're involved with the military
  • Who meets a call to action
  • Does some heroics
  • Lives through said heroics (however improbably)
  • Attempts to make a big sacrifice for the betterment of others
  • Doesn't actually die through said sacrifice
World War Z

Pacific Rim

Godzilla, 2014 
Earlier we had protagonist who would defeat the enemy through standard action things. Think to the 80s-90s where the enemy could almost always be defined by an actual group of people.
Are enemies these days feel almost too grandiose and larger than life (giant monsters, giant monsters from another dimension, disease, a nuclear bomb, or just all of society).

Tony Stark, Brad Pitt, Optimus Prime, Batman, the white guy in Godzilla, and the white guy in Pacific Rim all get ready to become martyrs for the good of mankind/the surrounding city.
At first glance we get ready to accept a hero who did all he could and died in an effort to do so.

Heroes All the Same

Not to get to academic, but I want to touch on Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which, he explores the heroic archetype across stories and culture. And as it turns out, hero stories across countries tend to feature some remarkably similar structuring.
  • An unusual birth
  • Call to action
  • Does something with the supernatural and/or gains wisdom
  • Shows off skills
  • Helps his people
  • Dies while/or after helping his people
If you live in North America and much of Europe, these effectively means Jesus.

In the West, Jesus wasn't the first savior, but he is the most widely recognized. A self sacrificing character in literature is called 'The Christ Figure' for a reason.

So What?

Today in mainstream media you can choose between two protagonists; anti-hero (Walter White from Breaking Bad, House of Cards' Frank Underwood, everyone in Game of Thrones) or a generic hero (Spider-Man, Superman, Professor X).
An anti-hero is fascinating for their personality. They can be both heroes and character studies.
Generic and altruistic heroes are enjoyed for their heroism, and most importantly their sacrifices.

I enjoy both kinds, but if you're going to have a more generic hero, they need to either have a strong personality OR die.

Why you ask? A hero who is willing to make a sacrifice is undermined if his deed is cut short.

All sacrifice is diminished if you remove its cost.

Without cost, they loose even more character and the hero is only a place-holder for deeds.

This get more strange when we consider how often this involves water.
Batman  and the white guy from Godzilla have to drag a nuke into the sea. The white guy from Pacific Rim emerges from a deep undersea trench.
 If these are the saviors of mankind, you can make your own connections to baptism. But perhaps here I'm stretching.

I think that the Dark Knight Returns is the best example for this paradigm. Batman decides to blow himself up with a nuclear bomb in order to save Gotham City. To do so he must take the bomb to the sea.
The entire mythos of Batman is pillared in his self-sacrificing, city-saving nature. Throughout the series he gives up his own happiness and psyche to become something greater than an individual and become a symbol.
Which was grand, but his final sacrifice is entirely cut short and really leaves it meaningless.If Batman is willing to die but doesn't he should be willing to return again.

Gotham needs a hero...but I'm done with all that

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