Vengeance and the Nature of Good or Why I’m Over Batman

Taking a page from Kristin Nelson’s blog:

The Recluse by Cursive is on the ipod right now.

This summer I’m returning to the Joseph Campbell myth cycle in a Religious Studies course titled “The Hero’s Journey”. I don’t think you can throw a pebble in fantasy without hitting up against at least a portion of Campbell’s theory. Like the Byronic hero in romance, Campbell’s work permeates the field. Lord of the Rings? Star Wars? The popular fantasies of our times draw on it and the real kicker is how far it works backwards against religious myths.
If studying Campbell and Jung has done anything for me throughout my winding and neverending college career, it has taught me that nothing new under is sun is going to be written. Originality comes in twists and heroism comes in patterns.
This post is a commentary on the avenger hero pattern. I see it a lot in comic books and action movies: the hero isn’t motivated by altruism or simply by wanting to do the right thing. He’s got a grudge. He’s out for a hard justice that replaces the wife/girlfriend/parent/child he lost.
Let’s look at Gladiator. It’s a beautiful movie, made even more incredible by Lisa Gerrard’s vocals on the soundtrack. As golden images of Elysian fields go, it couldn’t have better excited my imagination but then our hero is well buried because he’s a “hero of Rome.” But he wasn’t, in the end. In the end he wasn’t thinking of the health of the empire or its future. He wanted to stop fighting and go back to his farm. Then his wife was killed. His child was killed and destroying his enemy was his goal. This post isn’t a comment on Gladiator, or Braveheart or Batman or the Punisher. Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s about a hero’s motivation.
While I’m on this topic, I don’t have a lot of love for Superman either. People with great power should do the right thing. They should protect the weak when they can.
I’m not interested in superhumans acting heroically because I feel they should. I’m not interested in the man who takes up violence in the name of justice to enact revenge. His heroism just becomes a constant cycle of revenge, always paying back the person who murdered his wife/child/parents.
I’m interested in the commoner, the person outside the power structure but still a part of the system. She’s the one whose heroism means something. She’s not doing the right thing to get back at the people who killed her loved one. She’s standing up, near powerless, against the wrongs around her. It might not be original but in our current popular culture it is a whole lot less common.

2 thoughts on “Vengeance and the Nature of Good or Why I’m Over Batman

  1. Anonymous says:

    I assume that you have seen the movie Erin Brockovich? Is this the type of hero your looking for? Although she had motivation to be working as a legal aid, her motivation for her actions against the big corporation were motivated by her outrage at the injustice of what they had done.

  2. I haven’t but that is exactly what I’m talking about. I might just be rooting too hard for the underdog but it’s an act of heroism to stand up against odds stacked that heavily against you. I’ll have to wikipedia her now, my new addiction, but from what little I do know her own family wasn’t affected, which isn’t to say that someone who has been wronged shouldn’t seek justice, but I think it might be nobler to seek it when you have little to gain personally.

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