Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Moral Monk

Walk the earth, meet people, have adventures
... a simpler dream free of morally bankrupt economic need
We just watched The Wolverine and I came away from it noticing a strange parallel.  At the end of the film Logan leaves to pursue the life of a righteous man righting wrongs, and he dismisses an offer to help his love interest run her family business.  Something similar happens in Iron Man; Tony Stark walks away from his family business and leaves it in the hands of his former secretary/love interest.

Is this a new idea?  That the male hero walks away from the dirty world of business (and law) and pursues a monk-like life of moral purity?  That this fantasy speaks to men is interesting.  Forget glass ceilings and financial power, you can have it all ladies, along with the moral turpitude that goes with it.

Walking away from financial power is something I'm looking for in future films, especially fantasy pieces like super hero films that tend to sell based on an idealized idea of how to live - they try to appeal to a deeply seated wish in their audience rather than through a well constructed narrative.

Other superheros come at this in different ways.  Bruce Wayne is the playboy who never has to concern himself with financial need and uses his wealth to create that singularly focused alter-ego.  He treats the money with disdain while secretly using it to live a secret, morally pure existence.

The way violence plays into this is interesting as well.  It is legal and financial constraint that prevents us from violently confronting each other more than we do.  You are threatened with fines and imprisonment for violent acts.  Fight Club plays into this frustration well by focusing the urge to violence inward (radically inward in the case of the narrator).  As willing participants the fighters in the club are able to avoid the social ramifications of their violence while being able to express the urge, at least in the beginning.

The superhero character avoids economic sanctions on violence  through costume and alter-ego, though the more modern take on super heroes (the one where they simple state to the media, "I am Iron Man!") is neatly avoided by giving up all financial responsibility.  If you have nothing, they can take nothing.

Hero characters have always had a dark side.  There are the heroes that choose to step out of the social constraints we've made for ourselves, and then there are the heroes that choose this for everyone, making the ultimate statement about the futility of modern life.  I'm thinking of films like Cabin In The Woods, The World's End and one from a ways back, Escape from L.A..  In these films the hero does not just opt out for themselves, but for society as a whole.  This kind of dystopian toppling has a long history, though I suspect that there have been more recent examples because social norms are only getting tighter and tighter in an overpopulated world.

It's one thing when a hero opts out of the economic and social constraints we're all mired in to enact pure, moral action, it's something else entirely when a film's message is to give up on your society entirely because it is the dystopia and living in it makes moral action impossible.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Darkest Days

I have fond memories of Christmas as a child.  Before we left England I can remember massive family gatherings and much joy.  Once we emigrated my parents went to great lengths to surprise us and keep up far away traditions though our gatherings were never more than the four of us and reaching back to everyone else happened through staticky phone lines.

One of the more obvious frictions in post England Christmas is Santa Claus.  I started with Father Christmas who personified the season, but belief in him was never a requirement for presents, most of which were clearly marked with who they were from.  The lack of magical thinking never hurt my Christmas experience and it made me value the relationship with the person who got me the present.  The Santa Claus thing is still a foreign concept to me.

I enjoy the aesthetics of the season, especially the lights that hold back the prodigious darkness and the trees.  I have no trouble with icons of mid-winter celebration and I even enjoy it astronomically.  We're at the lowest ebb of light in the year; the darkest days.  After these weeks the sun begins its long journey back to us, what's not to love about that?

Today I was kindly let out of work a bit early to go and give blood and volunteer at my Lodge's annual Christmas blood donor clinic.  It's about the most noncommercial thing you can imagine.  Considerate, thoughtful people giving a piece of themselves to help out others with no expectation in return.  No one was fighting over parking spots outside, no one looked stressed out and frustrated.  The feeling in the room was lovely and the 'merry Christmas' wishes were genuine and heartfelt.  From that I rushed back having not eaten and given blood to observe the sugar fuelled extravaganza of my my son's school's Christmas pageant back in the real world.

I know the feeling
In the next week I'll have to brave the insanity of shopping.  One of these days I'll buy early, but that requires thinking about this season prior to it getting here.  It's hard enough to deal with it once, let alone throughout the year.  I love my people and I am happy to buy them gifts and do so throughout the year, but this week I'm buying them because of a calendar date, and competing with every other person who is doing the exact same thing.  That this wears me down doesn't mean I love them any less.

In the next week I'm going to go to a lot of family functions, none of them mine.  The family I wish I could see are far away (and I have no Christmas tradition with them any more).  The family who are close have fallen apart.  The glue that used to keep us connected ended herself.  That this wears me down doesn't mean I love my people any less, but it does often feel like I'm sitting in a room full of shadows, watching traditions that are familiar but foreign.

My work also feeds into this gravity around Christmas.  Kids who cling to the holiday tend to ram it down the throats of those who dislike or even fear it.  The emotional tension in the school slides up the scale as the holidays approach and the friction between the haves with their dreams of more stuff and the have-nots fearing two weeks of disappointment at home cause sparks to fly.  That this wears me down doesn't mean I love my job any less, though I wish people wouldn't be such insensitive jerks about the whole thing.

I wish Christmas had a little more grace and a little less insatiable need to it.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of time to ponder the return of light to the world at the darkest time of the year.

One of these days I fear the emotional weight of this holiday will tear something inside me.  Fortunately the days keep happening and it's soon behind me.  New Years isn't the social event it used to be, but I enjoy that chance to turn a page and think about all the potential of a year that hasn't happened yet.