Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Being the bad guy

(Disclaimer: This is NOT a post about 9/11. I scheduled this post without realizing what day it would come out, but this has nothing to do with anything political in any way.)
The other day I was watching a critique on the latest Mario game when the critic said this about Bowser and Princess Peach:
“There’s something intriguing about someone who identifies themselves as the bad guy. Society calls him evil but he wears their label. He reclaims it and that is why they will never get him down. If the options are good or evil then Bowser will take evil because he has seen what passes for good: An unelected ditz living in obscene decadence and bestowing privileges on a pair of mustachioed foreigners…” –Ben Croshaw (You probably don’t want to look him up, trust me.)
This got me thinking: What if some villains roles are not to be obstacles for the heroes to overcome but are actually critiques on what society views as evil or good?
Let’s take Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Here we have a story not told from the hero’s point of view but from the villains, who claims that the world is full of problems and “he needs to rule it”. Horrible says that he’s evil and yet lives by a moral code which he is reluctant to break, namely that he will not kill. Opposing him is Captain Hammer, a super hero that we learn is actually a self-serving misogynist who does heroic things not because they’re good but because it’ll make him look good. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Horrible and Hammer switch places of hero and villain, you can see why Horrible would feel justified to kill Hammer and not want to be labeled as good.
Overall what we see is that Dr. Horrible doesn’t necessarily want to be evil, he just doesn’t want to be part of the status quo, where people suffer needlessly and worship an egotist in gloves. The late George Carlin once said:
“I’m an outsider by choice, but not really. It’s the unpleasantness of the system that keeps me out. I want to be in, in a good system, but until then I am forced to choose to stay outside.”
Now I know the argument that “If you don’t like the system why don’t you change it instead of isolating from it?”, but that’s exactly what Horrible and other villains are trying to do. We see a similar pattern with Magnito from the X-Men stories. He sees how his kind is being treated and believes that while Xavior’s dream is beautiful and would be wonderful if achieved, Magnito can’t shake off the lessons of his own past to fully embrace the X-Men’s cause, so thus he must facilitate his own ideas in opposition to his friend. Here Magnito not only joins Xavior in their mutual critique of the status quo, he also critiques Xavior’s decision to defend humanity, rather than try to conquer them.
As much as Magnito wants Xavior’s dream to be a reality, he just can’t see it as a possibility, and thus must be the bad guy.
Is there a real life application of this? Of course. Several years ago, the writers of South Park tackled a controversial subject, one that had rarely been touched in mainstream media: Mormons. They had a Mormon episode. Name one mainstream TV series or movie that had a Mormon character, even for one episode before this. I bet you can’t.
Now South Park had already become famous for its irreverent tone and inappropriateness, so for them to take on Mormonism was scandalous to say the least. With rumor already about that the two main writers were ex-LDS, the heat was on.
So how’d they do?
Not bad actually.
The episode, though it has its moments, is actually clean compared to most of their work, and their depiction of LDS people, though silly, is sadly true in some parts. Their retelling of the Joseph Smith story form the angle that he may’ve been a swindler is borderline sacrilegious, but it does leave some room that it could’ve been true, which again is more than mainstream had given us before.
 My favorite part is the message. For those who aren’t fans of the show let me break how the show does messages down for you: Two groups of people will get on the extreme sides of an issue, usually taking it even further than what it is in real life for comedic effect, only to have to find a middle-ground, usually with a speech by one of the kids talking about a middle of the road policy. That’s exactly how it goes down in the Mormon episode of South Park. For a large part of the episode, the town condemns the new Mormon family for pushing their religion in everyone’s faces, and trying to show that their family is better than everyone else’s. This is emphasized when one of the non-Mormon families tries to live the Mormon’s standards and fails miserably.
Now for the best part: At the end of the episode, the Mormon kid, confronted with these accusations, spins the whole thing around on the town and the audience by saying that all his family did was live their belief, and that it was them who asked questions and wanted more. He then says that if his religion makes him happy it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not(Just go with it here, folks), and that if
someone doesn’t like how his family lives then… Well, South Park is known for expletives.
So what we have here is that the writers, representing “Bad”, critique “Good”, both in mainstream Christianity for judging the Mormons and in Mormons themselves who do try to say they’re better than others because of their faith, and condemning both by stepping into an element not part of the mainstream (Cable TV), and metaphorically clacking their heads together. I honestly don’t think the message would’ve reached so many people so effectively if it hadn’t come from a “Bad” source, namely a potty-mouth cartoon on cable. And I know Mormons who condemn the episode and the message for the medium by which it was presented, and I also know Mormons who praise it BECAUSE of the medium by which it was presented, AND I know non-Mormons who have a pretty alright grasp on our basic beliefs because the episode existed at all.

Here’s where my musing on bad guys leads to: while the reason someone does something is completely their own, and they may lie about their actual reasoning, it may be a good idea to try and understand what someone who opposes a system or idea may have to say. They may bring up valid points on how a system is run and why it should be different. At the end of the day there is a reason a person opposes a system, whether it’s for their own greed or ignorance, or because they do not want to be associated with a system they find objectionable, and their standing outside it is a direct protest to a status quo that may need to be looked at.  And I’m not calling for a change in church doctrine on anything, or that any group in particular is doing anything wrong, but it is good to be reminded of one’s own actions and how they affect other people, even if we believe we’re on the side of the “good guys”. 

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