Saturday, October 27, 2007

Imperfect heroes: the Perfect Villain?

From seminar this week, it is a peculiar thing to encounter, from within Western civilisation, expressions of praise for works of art or entertainment that "deconstruct the myth of the superhero."

As I detailed, the notion that a hero is perfect and needing a critique to reveal his flaws is a freakish one in Western civilisation. The idea is introduced virtually ex nihilo by two 19th Century philosophers -- Nietzsche in Germany and Thomas Carlyle in Britain (the latter being, strange as it seems, by far the more influential) -- who promoted their own invention, from springs hardly untainted, of an elite human being, the Übermensch ('Overman'), who exists entirely beyond the criticism of the herd, and then the playwright Bernard Shaw, at the end of the 19th Century, popularises the overman idea in plays like his Man and Superman.

The comic book Superman, which of course encoded this idea deeply into popular culture, has, as we now know, an intriguing, and mitigating, justification in its creation by two North American Jews in the 1930s who subverted the Nazi's Aryanism by throwing an American super-Aryan back in their faces.

In the entire rest of the Western tradition, which is, for all intents and purposes, all of it, heroes just are flawed. It is hardly an exaggeration, in fact, to say that 'flawed' is part of the very definition of 'hero.' In the Judaic stream, their great national hero is King David: his figure fills the space that in other cultural stories is occupied by a semi-mythic incarnation, but in the Hebrew scriptures is flawed to the point of broken. In the Greek stream, their demi-gods and deities, more than flawed are odious: petty, vindictive, mean, jealous, capricious.

I offer you to think of a hero, real or quasi-real, (King Arthur my choice); reflect on his or story story; and ask if they be perfect or flawed. The answer, I wager, is always 'flawed.

Yet, a complexity arose in one seminar. My confident story threatened in its stability by the discovery that perfection indeed exists: but not in a hero but in a villain. To wit, George W. Bush was presented to me as absolute Evil - perfect in malevolence, infinite in reach. Lucifer in Gaiman's Sandman is read as being morally ambiguous; nay, Milton's Satan I am given as a very hero. But George W. Bush has no shade of good, no remittance from pure and total Badness.

From the seminar, I was reminded that George W. Bush caused Islamic terrorism and recently acted with a veto specifically to prevent sick children from receiving any medical care. From the news, I am told that George W. Bush caused the current death and devastation by the fires in the State of California. He also started the Iraq war so he could send kids off to to get their heads blown off for his amusement. And from the blogosphere, a DailyKos direct quotation: "George W Bush is a conscience lacking, cold blooded murderer who enjoys seeing innocent people killed."

It seems to me, then, that there is no evil in the world for which George W. Bush is not personally responsible. This certainly screws up my tidy theory that Western culture does not typically deal with people in absolutes; preferring instead shades, mixtures, development.

For myself, I'm not American and so have no special investment in Mr. Bush one way or the other. In the interests of my developing scholarly ideas, however, I welcome the opportunity to have my theory debunked fully and mercilessly.

So, please add a comment that gives a specific item as evidence of the total and perfect evil of George W. Bush.
Update: predictably, part of the blogosphere is satirising the configuration of George W. Bush as Absolute Evil.

1 comment:

Korla said...

This isn't unique. Reagan got the same demonization, from intentionally causing the AIDS epidemic to neocolonial expansionism into South America to causing terrorism in Beirut.