December 12, 2012

“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
-Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) 


Literary Alignment

Robert Louis Stevenson, in the late 19th century, wrote a piece of literature that played on fears that have been prevalent since the dawn of man. From the moment man formed his first thought, “Good” and “Evil” have been cornerstones in the dilemmas that constitute morality. Stevenson took this predicament to heart. His story, starring Mr. Gabriel Utterson, painted a dark portrait of man’s inner struggle with good and evil by showcasing the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the story, Dr. Jekyll creates a serum to separate himself from his darker tendencies. Jekyll sought to cleanse himself of his “evil” urges. In doing so, however, he took the role of “God” and, as was popular at the time (like in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley), his meddling with machinations of god led to disastrous results. The evil Mr. Hyde, his alter ego, began to take over his life. The struggle with his selfish, immoral desires led to Jekyll’s eventual death. 

The Moral Lesson

Extreme allegories such as these often show extreme outcomes as well. Overall, though, this is a story of repression. Every human struggles with repressing his or her inner urges. When someone slips habitually into self-service society tends to shun and label derogatively. That is our defense mechanism. Our nature is to fight against dark emotions and thoughts. We, as a species, have come to accept that there are moments in which we must not act upon our feelings. This is no clearer than in moments of anger. In protection of loved ones, emotions easily overcome rational thought. Knowing that there is someone who exists, despite every atom in your body crying for their end, that has emotionally, physically, or sexually abused someone you love is what drives some to cross the threshold of insanity. It seems so easy to let these people know that no matter where they go, no matter how they hide, you will find them and you will skin them. Their pain is your pleasure. The sadism boils into your blood and the images form as an unbearable desire in your mind. These thoughts, however, are the ones that are suppressed. These thoughts, if acted upon, would be the undoing of society. That is often the end result of any lesson in morality. The “greater good” often means the continuation of our society or species. Life, above all, must be respected. 

Feeling Ayn Randy

Ayn Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness wrote, "Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.”

Life, as she writes, and anything that allows for man’s survival is what is “good”. Often in literature, however, a villain’s goals are for the greater good of humanity and the protagonist seeks to reestablish or maintain the status quo. This is an easy literary device to artificially construct sympathy in the characters. In fact, depending on how you spin a story, the hero could be easily seen as the villain. Disney took full advantage of this many times, but an easy focus is The Lion King.

Taking Classes with Disney

Taking story cues from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and an old Japanese cartoon about white lions (Kimba, The White Lion), The Lion King includes “evil” hyenas that are essentially the muscle of the movie’s main villain, Scar. Scar hires the hyenas to assassinate Simba and his father, Mufasa, to ensure his place on the thrown. When viewing this movie the way Disney intended for it to be seen, the hyenas are nothing more than villains that seek to destroy a majesty that Mufasa created as king of the land. In reality, though, the hyenas agree to Scar’s plan because they are banished from the kingdom and left with no food to eat. They are desperate and hungry. They cling to the ghetto in which they are forced to live. They are a broken people that have been oppressed. The movie never fully explains why the hyena’s were banished and we are left to assume that it is simply because they are hyenas. Forced to live in an elephant graveyard, the hyenas eventually succumbed to Scar’s plan to take the land back when he uttered the phrase, “Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!” 

Manga Morality

This is the way morality can easily be skewed. Good and Evil are reflections on outcomes and not necessarily the means to an end. In Death Note, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, the main character is an intelligent young man who discovers a way to create a utopia. The only downside is that in order to create this utopia he must kill any that do what he sees as evil. He judges from his bedroom as he watches the news flicker across the screen. The people he judges as unworthy of living are immediately overcome by a sudden heart attack. He, alone, stands as judge, jury, and executioner. The power is enough to create the delusion that he is a god. This leads to one character saying: 

“Nobody can tell what is right and what is wrong; what is righteous and what is evil. Even if there is a god and I had his teachings right before me, I would think it through and decide if that was right or wrong myself.” 

The character is the voice of reason and essentially the story’s “good guy”. He stands for the right to discern the difference between right and wrong for one’s self. Interestingly though, the motivations of the characters are flipped from conventional use. The villain (and main character) of the series only wants to change the world through an evil method in hopes of building something better in its place. The hero of the story only cares about proving that he is right and avenging the death of his mentor. His intelligence shines, however, when he describes how morality is viewed in the public eye. According to him, only the winners are seen as righteous. 

The Struggle

That is the biggest key to morality. It is a struggle. It always will be. Good can’t be good if not for evil. That is the purpose of the repression. Sacrifice. The process of acting on good tendencies includes negating anything evil (or “immediately gratifying”).

Current Events

When, on December 14th, 2012, a gunman killed 27 people (including 20 children), FOX News took the lead on blaming the incident on "video games, Facebook, and reality TV", they effectively took personal responsibility away from the equation. Many studies have been conducted to link violent behavior with violent entertainment, but most of these studies have been horribly flawed (not to say that there isn’t any truth to the claim). Gerard Jones’s book, "Killing Monsters", values fantasy in youth to bolster healthy growth. He argues, with the support of a plethora of psychologists, that violent video games, music, comics, and movies provide a safe fantasy for children to become familiar with and control the more frightening emotions. 

Seduction of the Innocent

In the 1950’s, Fredric Wertham wrote a book called "Seduction of the Innocent", and sparked a US Congressional inquiry into the Comic Book industry that eventually led to the destruction of EC Comics as a viable comic book company. During the investigation, Wertham frequently claimed that comic books were dangerous to children and led to juvenile delinquency and homosexuality. In order to refrain from government intervention, the now-defunct Comics Code Authority was established to censor content. This led to EC Comics having to cancel nearly all of their horror-inspired titles (words and concepts such as “terror” and “zombie” were banned from appearing in comic books due to the CCA), and left them with one saving grace: MAD Magazine. Eventually Tales From the Crypt would be revived as a series of movies and an HBO television production, but MAD kept the company in business long enough to be acquired by Time Warner and DC Comics. 

This is Your Spider-Man on Drugs

Several stories, such as the infamous "drug issues", of Spider-Man, were allowed to be carried by retailers even though they were refused the CCA stamp of approval. The comics were refused the approval on the basis that they made reference to drug use. If, however, one were to read the issues, it would be made abundantly clear that the issues are very ANTI-drug use. One character nearly kills his self because he is too high on LSD to know any danger and another, Spider-Man’s friend, ends up in rehab.

Making a Choice

Somewhere along the lines, repressing undesirable urges (such as murder) stopped being a personal choice and, as a society, we allowed others to choose what is ethical. The result, in more than just this instance, is that several decisions became less sane. Personal freedom was taken away. We became slaves to what others found undesirable. This isn’t the same as making an ethical choice. Morality has very little to do with any of these decisions because they aren’t our decisions. Censorship and forcing morality onto others is nothing more than bullying. For something to be ethical there has to be a choice to do something good over something evil.

That is the problem with the assertion Fox made about the killings being a result of anything other than a choice of the one responsible. There needs to be accountability. Without that choice, there is no morality in play. Human beings must stand accountable for their actions. They also must be held responsible for their intent. Life is a series of choices and it is a constant struggle to choose the right ones. Certainly there will always be factors that lead to such tragedies, but, in the end, it is always a choice that is made. 

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