Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vilifying

I have recently been thinking about vilifying. I tend to view things as either black or white. Not a lot of grey, if any. This is not to say that I am always correct in my associations. I'm not. I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes take a while to shift my position when it is incorrect, but I do feel like I shift when I discover what I thought was white is black or vice-versa. I just mention this so you know a little bit of where I am coming from and why it might be to question the accuracy of the villain label.

Villains are great in fiction. They act as the antagonist and give the protagonist (often a hero) someone to measure up against. In a created universe it is easy to paint a villain as either one-dimensionally bad or maybe just seriously misguided. I think that we are too quick to apply the label of villain in the real world. There may be some who actually deserve it, but I feel like almost all groups make villains in order to either have antagonists or scapegoats.

I really started to think about this a while back when I was looking for LDS films on Netflix. Eventually I found States of Grace. A more familiar description of it to most mormons would be God's Army 2. Richard Dutcher, the director, pioneered modern LDS commercial cinema. I have not yet seen States of Grace, but I found the first film thought provoking and fairly well done. It was definitely hyperbole, but that's Hollywood.

I was a little shocked to discover he had left the LDS church a few years back (letter announcing his departure, second follow-up letter, interview at the beginning of this month). Like God's Army, a lot of what he said stoked my brain. In particular I enjoyed his apology of Thomas Marsh from the second follow-up letter. Thomas Marsh really is reduced to a one-liner Sunday School lesson. There has to be more depth. He was the chief apostle, after all. A similar apostolic example is that of Judas. Do you think Jesus would pick him just so he would be in a position to fail? That is not very charitable. I think Judas must have been a valiant disciple and good apostle, at least at the start. I have heard that Jesus Christ Superstar deals with this theme more, but I have never seen or heard it (but I did wiki it).

Continuing on the mormon theme, what happens when we apply this line of questioning to characters in the Book of Mormon? While I think the order of Nehor, the King-men, and the Gadianton Robbers, are difficult to justify, the Lamanites are often painted negatively. Especially in the beginning of the book. There are times, when this depiction is obviously unjustified. Jacob calls the Nephites out by pointing to the fidelity of the Lamanite husbands. The sons of King Mosiah lead an extremely successful missionary effort about midway through Nephite history. Numerous dissenting Nephite groups are accepted and embraced into Lamanite culture. I propose that the issue is all are about how the Nephites looked at their Lamanite brothers. Nobody likes being viewed as ignorant villains.

One of my favorite scenes from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (the movie) is when Faramir turns over the fallen Southron and says:
The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he comes from, and if he really was evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home, and would he not rather have stayed there... in peace? War will make corpses of us all.
In other words, he ponders if the Southron is really a villain, or if maybe the Southron even viewed the men of Gondor as the villains.

The last aspect I want to touch on is that of politics. The modern political scene in America is a horrible example of vilification. Each side of the aisle tries to make the other look like the bigger villains, while neither seems to care about actually making progress. Television ads, news stories, campaign debates, and strategists/pundits all focus on talking points and slander instead of the actual issues. People are fed up with this behavior in Washington, with the unfortunate result of a bunch of crazies (the TEA party) gaining a foothold. See! Even I can't help it. I made them into the villains.

I'll end with a clip from this past Monday's Daily Show about the firing of Juan Williams:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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