Hero or Villain: Which Are You?

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My friend Mike Russell and I had an interesting conversation recently after watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut. We talked about how in a weird way, Rutger Hauer’s character, the renegade replicant Roy Batty, was really the tragic hero of the film. This was a continuation of a conversation we’d had earlier about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where we both talked about the fact that the real villain of the film was Captain Kirk, and that in many ways Khan was justified in his homicidal quest for vengeance. It all depends on the frame of mind you use to view either film, but both are great examples of how point-of-view can drastically alter the perceptions that paint one as either hero or villain. Can you imagine a version of Star Trek II totally from Khan’s perspective? How about Blade Runner, as told through Batty’s experiences?

roy-batty-2.jpgA few nights ago, Mike, myself and Christopher Walsh went to the Bagdad Theater here in Portland for a special screening of Star Trek II, which once again raised the question of exactly who was the villain of the film. Sure, Khan (Ricardo Montalban) was out to kill Kirk (William Shatner) and the rest of the Starship Enterprise. But those of you up on your Star Trek lore know that fifteen years earlier Kirk left Khan and his followers stranded on Ceti Alpha 5, and never looked back. When the neighboring planet exploded, it shifted the orbit of Ceti Alpha 5, causing environmental changes that were devastating, and over the years, many of Khan’s people died, including his wife. So, it should come as no surprise that when the opportunity presented itself, Khan looked for a little payback. Would we expect any different from Captain Kirk?

In the world of pop culture, Star Trek is one of the better examples of the intricacies of heroism and villainy. Don’t get me wrong, because I really do like Start Trek a lot, but when you get right down to it Captain Kirk is a Western imperialist pig, and the entire Trek mythology is American propaganda. I know. I know. I know. The series is based on the concept of a better future where mankind has ventured out into the stars and is making the universe a better, safer place. But better and safer for who? I mean there’s that whole thing with the Prime Directive—not being allowed to interfere with the development of other planets—but Kirk treated the Prime Directive like the Bush administration has treated the Geneva Convention. I mean how many alien women did Kirk fuck? Tell me that act alone wasn’t interfering with the development of other planets. How do we know he didn’t leave behind illegitimate, half-breed babies? I mean we all know his sperm was good, as evidenced by his son in the second and third Trek films. And how do we know he wasn’t like the early explorers of the Americas, who spread deadly STDs everywhere they went?

The point I’m trying to make is that a hero is only a hero depending on your point of view. Muhammad Ali is now considered a hero, but it wasn’t always that way. People forget how much he was hated—first when he changed his name and converted to Islam, and then when he refused to be drafted. There was a time when Ali was one of the most hated men in America—a true villain who stood against so much of what America holds dear. Now, years later, after having been vilified, history has been rewritten. Ali is no longer a God-hating coward who refused to go fight in Vietnam; instead he is a courageous man who stood by his convictions for what he believed was right.

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Everywhere we look there are heroes and villains. But we do not see them the same way. Some people can read Frankenstein, and see the monster as the villain, where others can read the book and see the doctor as the villain, and the monster as the misunderstood tragic hero. It all depends on your point-of-view. Some people see General Custer as a hero, others see Sitting Bull as a hero. Neither is right and neither is wrong.

The older I get, the more I have begun to reexamine my notions of heroism and villainy. I do this with the films I watch and the books I read, because it makes the experience more interesting for me. But while it is interesting to alter your perspective enough to examine films in a slightly different context, so that the hero is now the villain, and the villain is now the hero, it is even more interesting to examine your own personal life in the same manner. The life of each and every one of us is a unique story unto itself, in which we have been cast as the hero (although oftentimes we are also unknowingly the villain in our life tales). In being the hero of our life, it is necessary to have a villain, for without an arch nemesis acting as a counterbalance, a hero is not really a hero at all. The villains in our lives come in many different guises, ranging from schoolyard bullies to bill collectors, upper management to ex-lovers. They are the people—and sometimes the things—that challenge us in ways we don’t want to be challenged. But what most people fail to realize is that the villain seldom sees him or herself as such. Few people actually think of themselves as the nefarious bad guy, but that does not mean they can’t be perceived that way. Magneto in the X-Men movies is a prime example. Another great example would be me.

Several years ago, I ran into this guy—we’ll call him “Woody”—who I had met about ten years earlier. Woody was a fairly well-known writer in the indie publishing/zine world, and I respected what he had done quite a bit. He had just moved to Portland, and we talked about getting together, but for a variety of reasons it never happened. As it turns out, another writer I knew was working on a story about independent media, and I suggested she interview Woody. I gave her Woody’s email address, and that was the end of that—or so I thought.

It turns out Woody was not happy with the story this woman wrote, and he blamed me. Keep in mind that I did not write the article, nor did I edit it, nor did I have any control over its publication in any way shape or form. All I did was facilitate the introduction between Woody and the writer who interviewed him, but clearly that was enough to get him riled. Nearly a year after the fact, I ran into him, and in addition to threatening to kick my ass and kill me, he also promised to fuck my corpse in the ass the way I fucked him in the ass. All of this came as quite a surprise to me, because up until this moment—in a very crowded public place, with this guy screaming in my face—I had no idea he was upset with me. And honestly, “upset” does not begin to cover Woody’s feelings. Woody was in a rage, and I thought for sure he was going to take a swing at me—which was both amusing and terrifying at the same time because I knew such an action would result in my foot deep within his ass. So, I stood there as his face became more and more red, as the spittle flew out of his mouth, and as he cursed me like my name was Orenthal and his name was Fred. He was standing so close to me that I could see how bad his complexion was, and I could see the dandruff in his hair, and I wondered how often he showered. I was surprised his breath didn’t smell worse, because he looked like the sort of person whose breath would stink of hot garbage. And as he yelled and yelled and yelled, I kept calmly thinking, “This motherfucker wants to die.”

What was fascinating to me was how everything Woody was saying sounded so rehearsed. It seemed as if he had practiced so many times in his head, and fantasized about it so much, that when it came out of his mouth after nearly a year, it was lacking in any sort of organic tenor. Sure, it was clear Woody was pissed off—the veins popping out of his head and the frothy white saliva that kept shooting out his mouth were enough of an indication of that—but he had verbally assaulted me so many times in his fantasies that this real-life thrashing felt more manufactured than natural. It sounded like he was reading off the scripted dialog he had written in his personal journal, and had practiced delivering it as he stood in front his mirror, wearing only underwear and a sneer. As the image of him practicing his attack on me flashed through my mind, I had to fight cracking a smile, because it was so amusing. But what was really amusing was the fact that I was not reacting in the manner Woody had fantasized about. I’m pretty sure that in his fantasy he had me doing something to provoke him into actually fighting me. But for me to do something like take a swing at Woody, a man with posture so bad he looks like a hunchback, would have been only few steps removed from beating up a blind quadriplegic. So, while Woody was freaking out and threatening me, I was remaining calm and being pleasant, which just seemed to make him angrier.

Eventually, the situation died down. I managed to talk to Woody in a soothing manner that made him no longer want to attack me, which was not unlike talking someone out of killing themselves. And to be honest, had Woody actually put his hands on me, it would have been the same as a suicide attempt. Of course I wouldn’t have killed him, but I would have fucked him up so bad someone else would have needed to come fuck him back down. So, it all worked out for the best.

After the fact, I went and read the article that had evoked Woody’s rage. There was nothing wrong with the article, I had done nothing wrong other than suggest him to the writer, and when push came to shove, there was no reason for any rational human being to be upset with me. The fact of the matter is that Woody was and is not rational. He is a paranoid, cocksucking little maggot of a man with no sense of self esteem, and in the story of his pathetic life, in which he was the 98-pound weakling hero, Woody needed some sort of bully to kick sand on him at the beach. He needed some sort of villain that he could use as motivation to get himself one of those Charles Atlas body-building programs that would make him feel more like a man. That’s where I came in. I was the bully kicking sand on him at the beach.

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Months after the fact I sent Woody an email in which I apologized for whatever it was that he thought I did, but I was very clear that I was not apologizing for what I had actually done, which was nothing. I went on to say that I understood the need for every hero to have a villain, and that if hating me made him sleep better at night, I was more than happy to play that role for him. I told him that I preferred people have a genuine reason to hate me—like I fucked their wife or stole their money—but that I was content being hated by him, because his feelings toward me had no affect on me. It was both sad and pathetic that he had spent so much time hating me over the past year, when I hadn’t even thought of him while wiping my ass. Honestly, I didn’t care that Woody hated me, or if he saw me as the bane of his existence. The sad truth is that there are people out there far more justified in hating me, and people who have far more justification in casting me as their arch nemesis.

It is important that I make it clear that I had no intention of being the villain in Woody’s life. And even though I enjoy telling the story, I don’t take any pleasure in being his villain either (okay, maybe just a little). The fact of the matter is that I was just going about my business, and I inadvertently did something—or was perceived to have done something—that made Woody’s life miserable. Now, I could present several compelling examples of things from this poor sap’s life that would make everyone agree that I was not the worst part of his life, but it doesn’t really matter. Woody feels how Woody feels, and nothing will change that, so I just accept it and live my life accordingly.

I don’t think that many people possess the capacity to accept their role as villain, and just move on with their lives. I’m not saying that my acceptance of that role makes me better than anyone else. In fact, there are some villainous roles I have been cast in that really bother me. There is at least one woman out there who absolutely hates me, and it makes me feel bad. Not because I don’t deserve to be hated—that’s all a matter of opinion—but because I don’t want her expending that sort of energy on me, because I’m not expending that sort of energy on her. I moved on with my life. She is stuck in hate mode, which is a lot like a record skipping.

 

What it all comes down to is that I know and accept the fact that there will be times when I am the hero, and times when I am the villain. And again, this does not make me better than any other person on the planet. I just makes me more aware of my role in the larger scheme of things, and how that role can be perceived.

If more people could begin to understand the complex nature of heroism and villainy, the world could be a better place. In this world there would be no religious crusaders convinced their god is the true god, or liberators fighting to free “oppressed” people just so they can control them. There would be no bombings—not in abortion clinics or mosques or synagogues or anywhere else. And in this world, people would give respect as well as getting it, and understand that looking different and having different ideologies is not a bad thing. But in order for that to happen, people need to understand that the hero is the villain, and the villain is the hero—the two are one and the same. It just depends on who is telling the story.

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