Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Joker and Penguin for President

Reviewing Hud, film critic Pauline Kael said heroes and villains both want the same things–it's their way of getting them that separates one from the other. From the standpoint of Hollywood movies, that's true. 

Actors like Bogart, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne play heroic characters who were just as worldly as their villainous counterparts. They'd be uncomfortable and unconvincing if they tried to play Christian characters. 

What sets them apart is their refusal to cross certain lines. Although the heroes and villains want the same things out of life–what divides them is that villains are willing to do whatever it takes to get whatever they want, whereas heroes are willing to sacrifice what they want, even what they most want, because they have a sense of honor. Their honor code exerts a measure of moral self-restraint. They won't take what they can get by any means necessary. When push comes to shove, they prioritize self-denial over self-debasement. Heroes have too much self-respect to demean themselves by stooping to the level of a villain. That puts them at a disadvantage. They'd rather lose with honor than win with dishonor. 

By contrast, villains have no sense of shame. They don't really think they've disgraced themselves, because they don't think we live in that kind of world. They are cynical. 

Secular heroism is unstable. The villains are right, given their shared viewpoint with the heroes. Since this life is all there is, nobility is a foolish inhibition. You won't be rewarded for your virtue. Why should you care what people think of you? 

From a Christian standpoint, Kael's distinction is a half-truth. Heroes and villains have the same natural desires. There are, however, things villains value that Christians do not or should not. 

Villains don't just live for pleasure. They live for power and prestige. They hanker to impress people. They crave status symbols. 

Those aren't Christian values, and it's not that Christians are suppressing natural desires. This isn't artificial piety. Rather, living for power and prestige is vacuous. That's not a meaningful life. It's pathetic filler. 

It's not surprising that with the progression of secularization, the distinction between heroes and villains has become very eroded. It's harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys. 

Some Clint Eastwood films represent a turning-point in that regard. And that's been taken further. 

Moreover, this isn't confined to movies and TV dramas. In 2016, both major parties nominated villains. The villainy of Trump and Hillary isn't even disguised. Many voters don't want heroes. Hillary is brazenly corrupt, while enough primary voted pulled the lever for Trump because they think it takes a villain to counter a villain. Hillary and Trump are villains, both in what they want and how they try to get it. And primary voters rewarded them. This is Gotham without Batman. An election between Joker and Penguin. 


  1. Have you seen the meme circulating that proposes we've got a choice of Trump as The Joker and Hilary Clinton as Two-Face?

    1. No I haven't, but that's certainly apropos.