The current cultural contention is that the patriarchy and misogyny have so infected our society that men must be programmed to be less aggressive. This perspective has affected our entertainment to the point that good men are too weak and wicked men are too strong but do not have a clear distinction for ‘why.’
Morality is expressed best in contrast to malevolence. The strengths in writing formidable men are either writing them to be consistently virtuous, or surprisingly honorable. Heroes, likely or unlikely, draw individuals into the idea of being better than who they currently are. That is ‘why’ superhero movies do so well. Now, for obvious reasons, there is a fantastical element that keeps the heroes out of reach, or out of touch. That is where hyper-realities find their place in the action-adventure genre. They are a little more grounded and relatable.
Because heroes in hyper-realities are human instead of superhuman, the question always comes down to “how flawed does the man need to be?”
The character that has come under great scrutiny is James Bond. If there ever was a hyper-masculine man, James Bond is one that would be one of the most mentioned. His field agent experiences are filled with collateral damage: security breaches, dead assets, severed allies, ruined women, and devastating resources. The most recent adaptation depicted by Daniel Craig is, by far, the most relatable and the least ridiculous. He is rebellious and prideful, yet he manages to ‘do good’ by those who favor him. James Bond may not save them all, but he nearly kills himself trying. He receives honor for defending the seemingly defenseless.
Now, is it possible to build a more virtuous man who is not overtly egotistical? Can a man be ethical in the way he chooses to live his life among a pack of wolves?
That man would be similar to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. He is consistently virtuous even when he is wronged by ‘trusted’ peers or established adversaries. Jack Ryan undergoes undeserved persecution, trauma, and nearly insurmountable pain. Jack Ryan is a clean-cut elite. He succeeds in every environment he is situated in while being highly underestimated by his opponents. Jack also often underestimates himself. Jack’s unsoiled countenance seems easy to tarnish. It is usually easier to suppose that someone will eventually fall due to their hidden frailties. Jack’s enemies all receive their comeuppance in due time while Jack becomes bruised, but he remains morally unscathed.
Culture continues to blur that line between darkness and light in order to seem sympathetic to human frailty. By doing so, we are losing the distinction between our heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. Competence and notable goodness are minimized to the point of making characters uninteresting. It reflects in our society as well. Virtue matters and having it being portrayed as exceptional is just as important.
Rosemary Dewar is a commentator for Athens Now, Red Alert Politics, and a friend to this blog.
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