Friday, November 25, 2005

what is wrong with the world part 2: moral philosphy comes from watching movies and tv

Short Intermission ...
God hates me. I know this because he conspired to take away my hot water the morning I'm flying to Wellington for a meeting with [Government Department who would prefer to remain nameless]. Cue 5:30am "shower" that involved a lot of wincing and muttered curses. Contrary to what you might think, cold showers don't really wake you up, they just mutate sleepiness into grumpiness. And they make you feel as if you aren't quite clean, which is not what you want when are going into a meeting full of impressive monkey-suited bureaucrats (I should point out I was in a monkey-suit too, but I only countenance to wear it to weddings, funerals, and meetings with bureaucrats-in-monkey-suits - I'm too low down the feeding chain to wear monkey suits on a regular basis). Praise be to landlords who fix these things by the time I get home.
Intermission Ends

So, to recap: Good guys in movies don't kill bad people in cold blood. Case in point - Seven. If you haven't seen Seven then I'm going to spoil the ending for you, but I'm not apologising because if you haven't seen Seven yet you deserve what's coming. At the end Detective Mills (played by Brad Pitt) is tricked into shooting serial killer John Doe (played by Kevin Spacey) while John Doe is tied up and kneeling in a field in the middle of nowhere. They are out in the middle of nowhere because John Doe is going to reveal the location of the remains of his seventh victim. The seventh victim turns out to be Mills' wife, that fact being revealed when a FedEx van arrives with her head in a sealed courier box. Mills, not surprisingly, kills John Doe. But before he kills him he actually agonises over it (and the agony is palpable - not a bad effort from Pitt; though the movie is really a tour de force for Morgan Freeman).

Now one of the reasons he agonises is because he knows that John Doe wants to be killed ... but more than that he agonises because he knows it is the wrong thing to do. It is the classic dichotomy that you see in a million cop dramas - the tension between duty and personal feelings - and while we sympathize with the personal feelings, we also understand that duty should win out, that the good cop holds to the law and follows duty, and the weak or bad cop does not.

Sorry if this is all beginning to sound a little Yoda-ish.

Now I should be careful to say that I am not equating good and bad with attractiveness. Let's face it - really good people, people who never bend the rules, never have a harsh word to say about anyone, and live pure and full of grace, those people make our teeth hurt, especially on film or TV. Hell, we hate the bastards for showing us up. And we often like bad people because they are able to do whatever the hell they like and damn the consequences (when you are raised a catholic you know for damn sure we are all very, very bad people, barely held in check by our baser instincts to rape, pillage, murder and seduce priests). But whilst we may be rooting for the bad guy (Robert De Niro's character in Heat comes to mind), we know that he is bad.

So good guys follow the rules or have a code. Where the code come from is a little hard to work out ... so I'm going to ignore that problem for a little while. I should point out that if you read Terry Pratchett (esp Night Watch), you probably already have an outline of the code in your head already.

Other bits of the code:

Thou shalt not torture, though you can threaten people with torture, and pretend to torture ... just never go through with the actual deed.
Thou shalt save women, children and small furry animals, at the risk of your own life, the lifes of others, and the entirety of western civilisation.

I'm sure you can all think of others, and that is what the comments box is for.

Golly. Looks like this is going to be a 3-part post. Lucky you. But before I go, I'd like to quote a conversation from one of my favorite comics - Cerebus (just in case you haven't come across Cerebus, it's a sword 'n sourcery piss-take, who's hero is a barbarian aardvark). Because it's going to have bearing on some stuff later:

Magician: The balance of good and evil is difficult to maintain ... with your co-operation I can create a mighty magical weapon that will tip the balance in favour of good ...
Cerebus: And how does Cerebus know that you aren't evil ... trying to trick him?
Magician: Because I am in tune with the universe! Because I seek growth and light! Because I endure all in my pursuit of a long and fruitful life!
Cerebus: So does the average tree.
Magician: (hmm! think! think!) Aha! I'm good because the magician I'm guarding against is EVIL!
Cerebus: But that's another question you can't answer ... what makes him evil?
Magician: What makes him evil?! He weras black all the time! He talks with his mouth full! He never brushes his teeth! He stays out all night! He never finishes his vegetables!
Cerebus: You don't need a magical weapon. What you need is a babysitter.
Magician: A magician's life-span is five or six thousand years ... either you help me or I'll keep you here debating until your fur turns white ...

Interesting Discussions:
US author lauds suicide bombers

You always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask:
Was there really a fascist plot to overthrow the United States government?

Book currently giving me nightmares:
The Right Nation: Why America is different, by John Micklewait and Adrian Wooldridge. I'm not far enough into it to verify whether these guys are as non-partisan as they claim, but even if they are biased it's a bloody good history lesson so far.
Best quote:
The man who did most to transform neoconservatism from an impulse into a movement was Irving Kristol ... Kristol combined a sharp intellect with a wry sense of humour (he once defined a liberal as someone who thinks that it's alright for an eighteen-year-old girl to perfom in a pornographic film so long as she is paid the minimum wage) ...
golly. It's true too (if you don't believe me, swap "pornographic film" with prositution) ... should I feel bad? I should probably add that they should also get OSH inspections, redundency provisions and proper training (I am currently seeking sponsors to create The New Zealand Institute of Negotiable Affection; featuring classes in small business ownership, marketing, drama and, um, physical therapy. Apathy Jack will be the Vice Chancellor)

Blog set to the following tune(s):
The Best of Miami Vice - Jan Hammer
Unfortunately it is the remastered version, so I'm probably going to have to shell out for this as well, dagnabbit.


Apathy Jack said...

"God hates me."

No, no - God doesn't hate you. I hate you. God hates your parents.

"Thou shalt not torture"

To analogise this to popular culture, as is the style here:

Did you see that episode of Lost where Sayer was holding out on asthma medication that would save Shannon's life. Jack and Sayeed (indesputably the two alpha-heroes of the show) torture him for the location of the medicine.

On the one hand, it was acknowledged that what they did was wrong, but on the other hand, as they saw it, they didn't have a choice.

Is there ever a morally clear reason?

span said...

ok so i was wrong, it's the fifth post that is the kicker.