I'm...wondering about us. I'm not just wondering about a selective "us". No, this time, I find myself concerned about the collective "us".
Stop rolling your eyes. This is for your benefit, too.
Our stories are our mythologies. They aren't strict histories, but they are tales of us and our culture. They may be more telling now than any other time we know as we have not only local cultures, but grand global culture as well. Tales of the global culture have grown and changed over the last few decades, with creators and audiences finding comfort in exploring greater levels of detail and emotional depth.
We have largely foresaken simplistic tales for those deemed more realistic. As a result, we have populated our stories with protagonists and antagonists who find themselves sharing more traits with each other. Antagonists who wear the mantle of tragedy or show some quality making them worthy of redemption have become most interesting. Likewise, protagonists are heralded not for the heroic qualities they use to rise above crisis and conflict, but their own flaws over which they find triumph in spite of lest they be deemed lacking of sufficient dimensionality. While we are certain we have gained previously unknown richness in our entertainment, have we done so at too great a cost to ourselves?
We have given ourselves protagonists increasingly willing to embrace internal darkness as part of their nature rather than as a part of their struggle. Flaws have become less the uncertain footing for a hero to guard against and more the traction of his foundation. A character like Superman has been deemed "too good" by many with his heroic ideals considered to be something to which we can no longer relate. Many modern folk have come to champion Batman and Wolverine as examples of those with whom they can find greater comfort because of their darker aspects. What are we saying about ourselves when we find that we're happier dealing with a hero who's a brooding alcoholic willing to take a few shortcuts to win the day than one who's willing to put other people's needs ahead of his own and make the right choices even though they're hard choices? On what side of the line in the sand have we chosen to stand when we find more ready respect for a villain than a hero?
Have we lowered the bar too much? In some ways, it seems we have. I've become concerned for us because it has started to look like we are more comfortable with protagonists and antagonists who seem more realistic because of the challenges they don't represent rather than those that they do. An antagonist we can understand is one we can possibly talk with rather than fight. A protagonist who doesn't stand as too tall a role model, daunting us with lofty aspirations, makes us feel less inadequate but also gives us lower goals for which to reach. Sadly, we're left lost and confused.
Remember the TV series "Heroes"? It started off with decent energy, but lost its way as the most heroic heroes squandered their potential and became too flawed to function. As that went on, the show's most villainous villains had themselves more put together than the heroes to the point that the baffled audience no longer knew for whom to cheer. The show ended quietly, mercifully, as ratings fell along with interest. On this side of the TV screen, we've likewise been battered with years of ridiculous presidential failures. Some have been as simple as maligning English and the image of the office. Others been more blatant machinations like lying to Congress and We the People, having the audacity to question the definition of "is" to avoid answers or engaging in complex criminal activities while investigators and whistleblowers die off in curious ways. Flaws and shortcomings like these will apparently persist as long as we abide them. Are they what we want? We are the ones who've decided to hold people to a lowered standard.
I recently found myself ready to fight over one noted writer's notion that Superman was disliked because of his working-class background while Batman was loved for being a billionaire who beat up poor people, thus representing a wish fulfillment fantasy. My vehement response included a recommendation that said writer had at the least become a victim of his self-professed drug use and could do far worse than to submit himself for psychiatric evaluation. If surveyed regarding his opinions, I will obviously choose the "strongly disagree" option. I don't think we've gone so far afield yet that we've completely lost sight of the "good guys versus bad guys" basics.
In a time when many of us have become more comfortable with celebrating mediocrity and comforting underachievers, however, it seems to be increasingly within reason that we would succumb to this brand of socialism that has us seeking our lowest common denominator. That's the thing about socialism, though: you can bring everybody down, but you can't lift everyone up. It seems odd and sad that many of us have given in to weariness, since we have so long held that our reach should exceed our grasp and aspired to better ourselves. I know, though, that we know better than to merely surrender. Just as satisfaction comes from achieving our goals, it wears on us to fail. We have always set that standard of success as having the will to rise that one last time and to never stop striving to be more than we already are. That's the heroism that blossoms from within us. It fuels our strength to rise, our courage to be unselfish and our will to face our fears. It brings none of us down and can lift everyone up. That is a part of ourselves we must never relinquish or we resign ourselves to always being less than our best.
Oh, sure, a certain level of laziness, settling for less and reclining in comfort holds a basic physical appeal to us. We need it. This allows us to enjoy our rest from our efforts and relax. There's a limit to how much of that we can handle, though. That's the line where outright sloth begins. Reaching for more is inherent in our psyche, a basic part of driving us to improve. Looking at it closely, it still appears to be worth our efforts not to abandon anytime soon. Daring ourselves to dream means not lowering the bar. It means finding the strength to fight evils that are indeed evil and not merely misunderstood, just as it means allowing ourselves to feel worthy of heroes who are better, stronger and faster than we are so that we might learn to fly and continue to achieve ever-greater goals.