Friday, October 29, 2010

Cowboy Morality

The anti-hero has always been a compelling figure for me whether it has come from the Westerns that I have watched (John Wayne/Clint Eastwood and a slew of others) or from Comic heroes (my favorites of course are Batman and Wolverine).

The typical scenario for these figures is to do the dirty work because the "good people" of the town or city are incapable of it. It was not until reading Kotsko's short review of Milbank's and Zizek's debate in their recent book that the "light-bulb" turned on. Zizek's ethics I would argue are anti-hero ethics. The anti-hero is different from two other types: the Fascist type of heroes become totalitarian whereas Liberal types only put band-aids on the problem while giving some kind of "we work within the boundaries of the laws" speech.

One of the best examples of this is when, for example, Captain America objects to Wolverine's additon to the Avengers because he is a killer. Iron Man (the flawed capitalist-pragmatist) responds that Wolverine will go were none of us are able. You never know, in other words, when you need someone to take the step in actually killing the enemy. Does that make Wolverine more unethical? Actually, as fleshed out in most good stories and movies, Wolverine and Batman are the ethical compass of the Comic world because they constantly stand in the gap between the Good and the Monstrous...They are often self-questioning in what they have become.

Where does Zizek come in? His whole point about his ethic is that it has to respond to the situation in its total cruelty. Zizek writes at the last section of the book of MC: "This is where I stand – how I would love to be: an ethical monster without empathy, doing what is to be done in a weird coincidence of blind spontaneity and reflexive distance, helping others while avoiding their disgusting proximity. With more people like this, the world would be a pleasant place in which sentimentality would be replaced by a cold and cruel passion." Here I see images of the Cowboy drifter who goes into a town to fix the problems of the town (usually by terrorizing the villains) simply because he sees injustice there and the people's cry for help (a kind of Shane/Paladin/Man With No Name who doesn't get paid). Is not typical morality suspended in this situation? Are we as the audience okay with that? However, the true anti-hero always leaves when the job is done. To stay would make him a tyrant; the people will hopefully adopt his stance in his absence.

A good example of this is the movie Warlock starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Richard Widmark. Here Widmark, a former villain, becomes the towns protector and has to inevitably kill Fonda because of the tendency of the hero to become a Fascist tyrant. Fonda has brought some order to the town, but has become in a sense consumed with power. Therefore, it seems the dirfter or anti-hero does the ethical action because something in his gut tells him to even thought his mind insists this is not his problem...

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