In a bygone age, heroes of literature had to be completely perfect—models of virtue and uprightness. Flaws, unless small and repented of quickly, were not tolerated, and nothing uncivilized occurred—unless, of course, the author was contrasting the saintly main character with the crude and heathen behavior of a lesser person.
I’m sure many readers breathed a sigh of relief when literature and movies began to portray characters who were more relatable by virtue of their faults. (Yes, I realize I just introduced an oxymoron.) We know that human nature is more gritty, more unpredictable, and more raw than the saintly heroes of past centuries.
However, one must wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Bear with me here: I’m not going to say we should all go back to the Victorian era. But I have to question the trend that blurs the line between the good guys and the bad guys.
Example #1: Peter Parker from "The Amazing Spiderman"
Peter Parker (from The Amazing Spiderman) is romantically involved with Gwen, the daughter of the local police chief. When the chief and Peter fight off the villain, the chief is mortally wounded. As he lies dying, he begs Peter to make a promise that Peter will not continue his relationship with Gwen, for her own safety. Peter promises. Later on, Peter sits behind Gwen in class. In a conversation with Peter, the teacher warns, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Peter whispers to Gwen, “But those are the best kind,” indicating his intention to renew the relationship, despite his promise to her father.
Now, I ask you: Would you ever want to date a man who not only cannot keep his word, but delights in flaunting the promise he made to a dying man? I admit, the promise, while well-intentioned, was a stupid promise. But the point is that Peter Parker is now an unrepentant promise-breaker. Heroic? Hardly.
Example #2: Batman from "Batman Begins"
In Batman Begins, the police pursue Batman in a high-speed car chase through Gotham City. Millions of dollars of destruction of public property ensues, plus the serious endangerment of the lives of anyone in their path. When a police car rolls violently, no injuries are shown, but reality dictates that someone got pretty badly hurt. When Alfred scolds Batman for endangering the public, Batman simply replies, “Rachel was dying.” Good point. Life was at stake. But if an ambulance driver made the same claim, I’m pretty sure a lawsuit and jail time would follow.
Good Guys or Bad Guys?
My question is: What separates the good guys from the bad guys? The motive to ultimately bring about good for the whole of society? A lot of the bad guys have that motive. Yes, it’s often warped, but warped how?
Most people would answer that it's because they kill people to accomplish their aims.
This creates a conundrum, because many modern-day heroes also kill people to accomplish the very same aim.
Bad guys lie, cheat, steal, womanize, and kill. Today, unfortunately, the good guys also lie, cheat, steal, womanize, and kill. So what makes them truly different?
When my brother decided to read the Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander, I was glad. The main character, Theo, has real problems. He sometimes makes choices that harm himself and many others. But throughout the trilogy, he continually fights to become a man of honor and honesty. He doesn’t always know how to do it, but he doesn’t give up, and sometimes his choice to do the right thing requires difficult sacrifices. I was glad that my brother would learn something about integrity and honorable masculinity from Theo.
All I ask is that our modern heroes offer the same thing. Shouldn’t we have heroes that not only realistically reflect life as it is, but also aim toward life as it could be?
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