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Is Fiction doing our Thinking for us?

February 3, 2010

Is Fiction doing our Thinking for us?


We would like to believe that society is full of objective and educated thinkers. That people so well informed that they understand that complicated international crisis have complicated causes and effects. We would love to believe that the people who are in positions of power, despite having differing viewpoint, have our best interests at heart. We would also like to think that television and film producers are responsible people who are only trying to entertain us, not influence us to some extreme agenda.


How do some Hollywood film makers like to silence their ideological enemies? They do this by blowing them away in the most spectacular fashion possible. Not only must they blow the person away but they must also justify the viciousness of the protagonist’s actions.


Near the conclusion of ‘Conan the Destroyer’ there is a scene where some of the heroes are arguing with some of the villains. “Enough talk!” Conan belches out and promptly flings his sword in to the enemy’s chest. In the earlier film of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ the unarmed leader of the cult is not just killed but has his head hacked off with several blows. The message was simple: Revenge belongs to Conan not because of his grievances but because of his strength. Conan the hero and symbolic of us is doing what we all should be doing?


The original ‘Die Hard’ was another film where violence was not just a means to an end but also tried portray a cop who was reluctant to kill as having a mental disease. As the desk bound streetwise cop blows away the last bad guy we are led to believe that he has finally overcome his ‘killing phobia’.


The ‘Rambo’ movie collection was a big hit and the second film was also a mouth piece for Sly’s own views. He was on set each day rewriting dialogue to promote his message of what went wrong in Vietnam. If only he didn’t mumble so much the message may have been heard. The plot of Rambo 3 was about trying to smuggle Stinger Missiles into Afghanistan to help the Muslims overcome the occupying Commies by giving them high tech weaponry. The early scenes of this film has Rambo stick fighting to earn money for a Buddhist temple renovation. The message is that it is okay to pulverize someone with sticks as long as the cause is noble. This is a message that few Buddhist scholars would condone, but Rambo somehow manages to resolve the hypocrisy well.


Post 9/11 television has seen the explosion of terror alert television series, where instead of reds under the bed we have Jihadists, Sleeper Cells and Terror Plots. The vanguard of the television onslaught has been consistently won by the series ’24’. Our hero is the new no nonsense post (9/11 John Wane) called Jack Bauer, a man who knows what to do and just does it. He is a man not above torturing suspects to extract information that will somehow save million. We are convinced that despite the unsavory nature of his business we should be thankful that we have ruthless people like Jack? In an episode Jack executes a person brought in for questioning the proceeds to search the man’s pockets. It’s okay because he was really a bad guy who was jerking Jack and us ‘the audience’ about.


The messages are not benign plot twists but a point of view based upon fictional evidence. Thousands of other films and television series produced could easily make the same point I have here. The messages of accepting a new morality based upon a plot twist is rarely subtle. Would executing an unarmed prisoner be seen as acceptable outside the contrived situation in ’24’? And here is the point, fiction regardless of how well it is written and whose side supports, it is still fiction. The situations are all contrived and carefully staged; the events are predetermined and the consequences have been invented to match the agenda. Brutality by the hero is justified because the author has written circumstances in such a way that we are forced to accept their conclusions. Mass murder by your government is not murder because the fictional enemy can be written as subhuman, fanatics and unwashed. Killing them is little more than pollution control.


We, on the other hand, are the ones who deserve every chance to survive, and need our brutal protectors. We are written as noble, educated, informed, wise, caring and loving people who are being hated because we are good. Accepting this fictional version of ourselves, our nations and our governments is a terrific way to avoid complicated self examinations. Morality is reduced down to our side ‘good’ your side ‘bad’. If only the real world could be made accept this fictional version of ourselves.


Are we turning to fiction to avoid the difficulty of thinking for ourselves?

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