20 May 2011

Somebody Should Do Something

For this month's "Make-Your-Own Challenge," I adopted a theme of movies and TV shows based on comic books.  A few nights ago, we streamed Kick-Ass, which asks a very simple question:  Why hasn't anyone actually tried to be a superhero?  Even before Superman's debut in 1938 there was the Scarlet Pimpernel.  Clearly, we as a society have a fondness for the idea of an individual taking it upon himself or herself to act on behalf of others when no one else will.

Look at his face.  That's why there's no real-life superhero.
The appeal of Bruce Wayne is that even though most of us have never witnessed the murder of both our parents, we identify with the idea of an avenging victim.  The truth is, a real life Bruce Wayne would be the feature of a reality show on Bravo, cashing in on his drama to develop his "brand" so he could in turn fuel a life of self-destructive, jet-setting partying.  The closest to a real life Bruce Wayne in our times has been John Walsh, who parlayed the heartbreaking loss of his son Adam into a prolific career exposing the wrongdoers of our world.  It's astounding that Walsh has even become a functioning member of society, much less one of our champions.  Had he the resources, though, would he have ever become a real life Batman?

I suspect not.

John Walsh, America's Bruce Wayne.
The truth is, there is no upside to being a real life Batman, no matter how much we as a society think we would admire and appreciate a Caped Crusader prowling the nights.

Time and again, we have each witnessed injustice and declared, "Someone should do something about that!"  But we don't.  We might become active if we are personally wronged, but even then the most outspoken and passionate of us form non-profit groups and organize political action committees to lobby for legislative changes.  What keeps us back?  There's no shortage of stunning stories in the news of people snapping and doing extraordinarily cruel things; why has the pendulum not swung wildly in the opposite direction?

I suspect that the truth is, for all our talk, most of us honor and obey the Social Contract and have trust that something can and will be done.

One of our most public champions has been Erin Brockovich, known to most people through the film starring Julia Roberts.  Brockovich was, for all intents and purposes, in entirely over her head as a legal clerk when the community of Hinkley, California needed a champion.  Brockovich rose to the occasion, too late to prevent the destruction to that town but fought doggedly for retribution.  Has the litigious payout been sufficient to offset the damage?  I doubt it, but what other recourse was there?  Even working within the system--honoring and obeying the Social Contract--no expense was spared to thwart Brockovich in her quest for justice.

Look, kids: this is what the "environment" was, once upon a time.
The Erin Brockoviches of our real world can't hide behind a costumed alter ego.  Their identities are known, endangering themselves and their loved ones.  Clark Kent wears glasses and ducks into a storage closet every time things get hairy.  Real people can't get away with that, and rather than stand by those who stand up for us, we all too often place new barriers between them and the justice we claim to desire.  The first wave is mockery: "What, you think you're going to change things?  Make a difference?  Get real."  Those who aren't immediately discouraged are met with cowardice.  "Don't you think you should just leave this alone?"  Next is active resistance.  "This isn't your fight."  Then comes hostility.  Want to know why no one has ever tried to be a real life superhero?  Because we as a society would never allow someone to go that far on our behalf.

In our society, our government is not an arbitrary institution imposing its will upon us.  It is a manifestation of our collective will.  It is of the people, by the people, for the people.  We work through our legal system to express our values and to address the wrongs within our society.  That isn't naivety on my part.  That's the very essence of our society, despite what your cynicism may have taught you.  There's a cynical, even paranoid, suspicion of government agencies among many Americans but the truth is those agencies exist because we willed them into being.

In the late 1960s, for instance, Americans declared they had had enough of business practices that decimated our natural environment and the manifestation of this cultural backlash against destruction was the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  For forty years now, it has existed to see that the air our children breathe does not poison them.  There shouldn't even be a need for an E.P.A. because no one should ever have the temerity to establish a facility in the United States that would knowingly release toxins into our air, but the truth is that this "cumbersome bureaucracy" is our best defense against destructive behavior.

The 112th Congress has aggressively gone after the E.P.A., some going so far as to declare the entire agency ought to be abolished.  The E.P.A. exists for one purpose alone: to stand against those who would otherwise engage in practices that would decimate the world in which we live--with us in it.  Not to go all "you're with us or you're against us" on this, but there's really only two sides to be taken in this matter.  Either you're against being poisoned or you're for it.  This is not a debate about economics, religion or even liberty.  It is about something far more basic even than that.

Give in to the anti-government rhetoric, and know this: you are not defending freedom.  You are actively supporting people who intend to poison you tomorrow, and the only reason they haven't poisoned you yet is that the very agency preventing them from doing so is the one they wish to destroy.  Want to know who desires de-regulation?  It's these guys:

One's a psychopath.  The other is a real villain.
If superheroes are too trivial for your taste, then I leave you with the words of Edmund Burke, who wrote in 1770's Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents,
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
There can be no question that those who would seek to amend the Social Contract to permit them to conduct destructive behavior are bad men wishing to combine.

5 comments:

  1. I first read this during one of my random periods of wakefulness while I was attempting to sleep. The first thing that came to mind was another reason there are not people acting as superheroes. I think that if someone were to step up and try to stop some of the injustices that they would have a rather large target on them and their families. One of the major problems in eastern Kentucky, and the surrounding areas in Ohio and West Virginia, is the illegal use of pain pills. I think if someone were to try to stop the trafficking of it, someone would kill them. If someone were to stand up to, let's say the big pharmaceutical companies, I believe that the companies would have no problem ruining the reputation and lives of that person. Maybe I'm being a bit pessimistic about it all, but that's just my thoughts.

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  2. No doubt! I originally had a more explicit passage about that, but I felt that the discussion about Erin Brockovich sufficiently alluded to the kind of resistance that one can encounter when trying to make a stand. Of course, that allusion is much more clearly made if one is familiar with the kind of intimidation thrown at her in the course of her work.

    The prescription pain abuse problem is a larger issue that I intend to explore by itself later, actually.

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  3. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on that. And I might just have some input on the topic too.

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  4. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on that. And I might just have some input on the topic too.

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  5. I first read this during one of my random periods of wakefulness while I was attempting to sleep. The first thing that came to mind was another reason there are not people acting as superheroes. I think that if someone were to step up and try to stop some of the injustices that they would have a rather large target on them and their families. One of the major problems in eastern Kentucky, and the surrounding areas in Ohio and West Virginia, is the illegal use of pain pills. I think if someone were to try to stop the trafficking of it, someone would kill them. If someone were to stand up to, let's say the big pharmaceutical companies, I believe that the companies would have no problem ruining the reputation and lives of that person. Maybe I'm being a bit pessimistic about it all, but that's just my thoughts.

    ReplyDelete