bonny_kate: (cinderella)
There seems to be a strange lack of women in the Star Wars universe.

Now, this comes with a huge caveat. Princess Leia. Leia is a great character that I've always liked. Watching Episode IV, I realized that she is just as amazing as I remembered. She comes up with a plan to get the Death Star schematics to Obi Wan. She doesn't give away the Rebels even when being threatened by Darth Vader himself. When her home planet of Alderaan is threatened, she thinks on her feet to try to save it. She comes up with the idea of diving into the garbage shute. And so on.

Leia was such a big influence on me that in high school when we had a superhero day and I couldn't think of any female superheros to dress up as; I went as Leia instead.

It is rare to have female characters like Leia even in present day action adventure or sci-fi movies. (Although tv series seem to do a better job, but that is another post.)

But Leia is practically the only female character we see in Star Wars. After watching Episode IV, the only other character I can think of is Luke's aunt. Looking only at characters who are given lines, there is a wide variety of male characters: Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke, Han Solo, all the generals and admirals and such on the Death Star, everyone we see in a uniform on the Death Star, all the Rebel pilots who attack the Death Star, even all the Storm Troopers seem to be male.

This is troubling because it makes Leia the female perspective in the movie. We see a range of men, but when it comes to women, there's really only Leia. As awesome as she is, she is still the exception in a movie dominated by men. We don't get to see a woman seduced to the Dark Side of the Force, or a woman who is a wise Jedi leader, or a woman who comes from Luke's home planet and is killed flying a fighter against the Death Star, or a woman as a mercenary pilot with a snarky heart of gold. I wish that we had these perspectives because the film would be richer for it.
bonny_kate: (doctor and rose)
I am endlessly fascinated by the relationship between heros and villains. It fascinates me because I can't think of a single superhero movie that involves a superhero but not a villain. There are surely things that the superhero could save the world from, such as a meteor hurtling towards earth, or an experiment accidentally gone wrong, or any of those catastrophic accidents that happen. But in the world of superheros, there's always a villain planning the meteor crash, or the hurricane, or the flood, or whatever it is.

This makes sense from the standpoint of secondary creation. Give your characters superpowers, let them fly, or change their shape, or manipulate the elements, and some of them will use it for good, and some for evil. It just wouldn't make sense that only the good guys can use whatever power this is. But I think that there is more to it than this. It isn't just that there are good people, and there are bad people, and some of them have different powers. It is not just that they are using the same power differently. Heros and villains propose different worldviews.

The worldview of the superhero must ultimately be centered around that of humanity. The hero saves people, from accidents or villains, and lets them go on living their life. His concern is for people; for the ordinary people who don't have any superpowers. He is generally concerned with keeping the social order, and only catches the villains or criminals who have placed themselves outside of the social order. The superhero is usually democratic.

Contrast this with the villain, who wants to uproot the social system. He is trying to work outside of the social system in order to create a tyranny. For whatever reason, the villain desires to upset the system, and usually does this in order to rule the world (although there are some instances where the intent of the villain is to create chaos, but this is another form of tyranny, even if it not really organized tyranny).

I think this is the reason that America really likes superheros; it is often a discussion of democracy versus tyranny. It is the fight for justice and the worth of every individual against the injustice of one individual who claims inherit superiority.

Now, regarding Dr. Horrible )
bonny_kate: (castle)
I've been thinking a lot lately about superheros. It has to do with the class I'm not taking; Heroes and Saviours, which includes such texts as The Republic, She, Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, Unbreakable, and Superman Returns.

Why are there superheros? Or, more precisely, why are there stories about superheros? To understand why superheros, we must first understand what they are. Superheros are defined by two characteristics. They are good, and they are powerful. Superman wouldn't be much good if he was ordinary, and he can't be evil (that would make him a villain). Simple enough. Yet, we identify strongly with superheros, even though we are not that good, nor that powerful (think of the iconic picture of the child in cape). It is because we are, through the means of the story, giving that part of ourself which is most good, the most power. Superheros have the power to do good that we want. They are our best selves. We know that if we could fly we would rescue the kitten from the tree, stop the train from derailing, and save the world. That is the primary appeal of superheros; to have the power to do extraordinary good. Superheros are not always good, but they are essentially, that is in essence, good.

But this doesn't fully explain superheros. There is still, for instance, the question of secret identities. It doesn't make sense from a pure logic perspective that a bit of a mask can hide someone's identity. But the point is not the size of the mask. It is that we want the possibility, or even the idea, that the person in the cubicle next to us, or more truly, that we ourselves could be superheros in spite of our mundaneness. Everyone overlooks Clark Kent, because they do not realize his true nature. It is a consolation that even Superman can be overlooked when he isn't saving the world. It opens up possibilities. We know intellectually that we can never be Superman, or even be bitten by a radioactive spider, but we fell on some deeper level that perhaps we can be. This brings us to the next point.

Superheros are connected to Plato's Republic (nearly everything is). At first I thought that the superhero was part of the cave analogy. (The story of the cave, in case you don't know, goes like this: Picture that there are some people in a cave, facing the wall. They are chained, and can only see shadows. They have only ever seen shadows. What would it be like if one of them were to see reality? They wouldn't get it. They would think shadows were realer than the objects. They would eventually realize the truth, and see the beauty of objects, and finally, the sun. They would go back down to the cave to rescue the others.) I thought superheros were the ones who came back down into the cave to rescue us. But, this can't be right. If it were so, our primary response would be a desire to be rescued by them, rather than a desire to identify with them. We want to be the superhero. But this is a step in the right direction, for it eliminates an obvious answer, allowing us to move on to a better answer.

We can understand the deep connection between superheros and Plato's Republic by asking a simple question. What do superheros stand for? The answer is not, as I first thought, a form of rescue. It is Justice. This is true not just for a modern definition of justice (making sure the bad guys are punished), but the more rigorous definition presented in the Republic. Justice is at the heart of the Republic, in the discussion that forms it. It is shown through a picture of the ideal city, where the philosophers rule wisely. The great threat to this ideal city is the tyrant. He rules the citizens by brute force, doing whatever pleases him, and causing destruction and chaos. Sound familiar? Yep, it's the villain, who the superhero is sworn to defeat in the name of Justice. But while the superheros defeat the villains, they are not the philosopher-kings of the Republic. When have they ruled us?

To understand fully our fascination of superheros it is necessary to go deeper into the Republic. Plato reminds us that the entire point of creating an ideal city is to understand what justice is in the soul of the individual. It turns out to be a sort of rightly ordered soul. Similarly, the superhero is a means of rightly ordering the city. But what does the something that is superheros correspond to in the Republic? Not reason, for superheros do not rule, but not quite imagination, nor anything else. To go further we must turn to Dante.

In Purgatory, Dante has a dream. He dreams of a hideous Siren, who grows beautiful as he looks upon her. The Siren is recognized by a lady who turns to Virgil (Dante's guide) to unmask the Siren. In her notes on the text, Dorothy Sayers writes that the lady "symbolizes something immediate, instinctive almost automatic: one might call her an intuition, or perhaps the reflex action of a virtuous habit, whose instant warning puts the soul on the alert and prompts it to think rationally about what it is doing." Aha! This sounds familiar. In much the same way, the superhero is often the only one to comprehend the villain (and their plan). They understand the evil of the villain, and recoil. But they also have the power of Virgil; the power of action. They have the superpower which enables them to defeat the villain, but the reaction against evil that always sets them against the villain. Superheros, then, resound with us because they are an image of the instinctive action of the soul empowered by reason.

We want to fight evil, save the world, and fly. We want to be superheros.
bonny_kate: (Default)
What kind of person would kill Mary Jane? A villain, you say. Very well, let me complicate the question.

What kind of person would kill Mary Jane in order to save the world? This question is a bit harder, a bit more complicated. Spiderman loves Mary Jane (let us assume, for the sake of this thought experiment, that we all like Spiderman and think he is cool). Maybe he couldn't kill her, even to save the world. But a hero might. A hero might have to kill the one person poor Spiderman loves in order to save the world.

It wouldn't always be evil to kill poor Mary Jane. It depends on the particular circumstance. If you want to do it in order to have revenge on Spiderman, you are obviously a bad person. We, as the audience, will boo at you. We will enjoy when Spiderman justly defeats you. On the other hand, if Mary Jane has suddenly turned into a very destructive evil thing that intends to destroy the world (in other words, she is a villain), then she ought to be stopped. It is very sad, especially for Spidey, but she ought to be killed (and Spiderman can deal with the angst later).

Simple enough so far, right? Let's complicate things. Suppose that you can see the future (with a machine, or in dreams, or by drinking a magic potion; it really doesn't matter). You look into the future, and see what sort of person Spidey will become. You see him go up against Ultimate Evil (a cyborg, a supervillain, or mad scientist perhaps), and he loses, dooming the entire world. This is even more terrible because he almost won. At the critical moment, at the precise instant when he could have defeated it, he faltered because of Mary Jane. He chose Mary Jane over the world.

Now we still haven't finished this thought experiment. You now look down a different future; a possible future rather than the actual future. You ask yourself, would it be enough for Mary Jane to die tragically? But strangely, Spidey still falters. At that most critical instant, he remembers Mary Jane. The Ultimate Evil in some way reminds him of her, and how much he loved her, and how sad she would be at what he has become. It doesn't matter whether this is true or not. It distracts him just enough. Our world falls.

Desperate, you search out another possible future. The fate of the world rests on your hands. It was not enough for Mary Jane to die tragically. Spiderman needs a stronger motivation. What if Mary Jane betrayed him? You look into this future. Spiderman is angry, he is bitter, there should be nothing to hold him back. It isn't quite enough. You push him even further; Mary Jane has betrayed him, and he kills her in order to save the world. It works. There is no longer any indecision on his part. He has already faced his greatest personal evil, the Mary Jane who tried to take over the world. He knows the precise cost of indecision. He will not falter. You are exuberant because you have finally saved the world.

You talk to Mary Jane. You show her the future (on a computer screen, in a crystal sphere, or in nightmares). You convince her that the only possible way for her Spidey to save the world is for him to believe that she betrayed him, and to kill her in the midst of that betrayal. She accepts this, because she believes it is necessary to make Spidey into the sort of hero that can save the world. She does it, and Spidey saves the world. What sort of person are you?

You aren't a hero anymore, even if you really, truly, saved the world. If this is the only way to save the world, then you shouldn't save it. The end (saving the world) is not justified by the means (causing Mary Jane to betray Spidey). It never is by someone who cannot see everything, or know everything. It is never justified to use Mary Jane, or Spiderman, in this way. You cannot do great evil that great good may come of it, because that very act of doing great evil will always be harmful. You ruined Mary Jane. You quite probably ruined Spidey. But even if you didn't, the damage you did to your own sense of right and wrong, to your own soul, would be irreparable. Now what? If the world is in danger again, what will you resort to this time in order to save it?

Finally, in this thought experiment, you have misunderstood something. You wanted to make Spidey great; you wanted to make him invincible. You saw his love for Mary Jane as his greatest weakness. But true love is never a weakness. It would have been better for Spiderman to hesitate because of his love for Mary Jane, because then he might have been saved. Her love would have kept him as a hero. The Ultimate Evil would not have hesitated for love of Mary Jane. That is the problem. It should have hesitated. Perhaps the answer lies, not in stopping Spiderman from hesitating, but in giving the villain a reason to hesitate. But even if you couldn't, even if it was inevitable that the world would be destroyed, it is better that it is destroyed because of a last act of love, then to be saved in such a way.

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bonny_kate: (Default)
Kate Saunders Britton

April 2017

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