How the Evil Dragon Becomes the Hero:
The Texas Tragedy and Hollywood’s Celebration of the “Anti-Hero”
As situations like what happened to 19 innocent children and two teachers in Uvalde, south Texas this week, the blame game begins. While the left often claims that guns are the problem, the right decries (in part) the violence displayed in movies, television, and video games. The truth is that these issues are intertwined and incredibly nuanced, but there is a condition that I haven’t heard yet, that sets up a portion of responsibility in a different way.
It’s easy for those in Hollywood to quote the following line from singer/songwriter Jack Johnson when it comes to their culpability in any issue of real-life violence:
“It wasn’t me said the media man, I’m not the one who came up with the plan. I just point the camera at what the people want to see, it’s a two-way mirror and you can’t blame me.” (Jack wrote the song, “Cookie Jar,” AFTER and in RESPONSE to the Columbine shootings).
Two days prior, I was listening to an interview with the late and prolific Joseph Campbell. For those that attended any University in the last forty years, it is no doubt you read one of his books, from The Hero’s Journey, to The Hero with a Thousand Faces to The Power of Myth. Campbell’s rise to fame came on the understanding of story as the metaphor and methodology to human life, and how we crave the need for Hero’s in our stories, that we then emulate and assimilate into our own lives and character.
In the interview (well over 30 years old), the interviewer of Campbell mused, “you know when I was younger, we had movies like “The Dragon Slayer”, or “Conan the Barbarian,” where the Heroes slayed the dragon, which is a metaphor for our fears and our deepest subconscious issues.” Campbell then asserted, “of course. Story is all about going into those areas of darkness (such as the lair of the Dragon or the belly of the whale) and coming back out victorious.” Campbell then cited a few movies (starting with Star Wars) where this metaphor takes place.
And then it hit me.
I heard this interview three days ago. Yesterday was just an example of the condition, and in part, the responsibility. There has always been violence in movies, television, and video games. To attack the entertainment industry for the AMOUNT of violence in its artistry is a shallow straw man that Hollywood can easily refute. It’s not the main problem.
The problem — and cultural condition — is that Hollywood has shifted from the Hero being the one slaying the dragon, To the Hero being the DRAGON itself.
As Hollywood introduced and promoted movies with the “Anti-Hero” — the central character that often slaughters, robs, rapes, terrorizes, tortures, etc. the secondary and tertiary characters of the films, it was more than a movie plot. It IS what the culture then assimilates as its Hero motif. It is what the culture, however subconsciously, begins to accept… and emulate. Let’s let Wikipedia define what an “Anti Hero” really is, because if Campbell is right, this becomes our model to define and model our lives after:
“An antihero (sometimes spelled as anti-hero) or antiheroine is a main character in a story who lacks conventional heroic qualities and attributes, such as idealism, courage, and morality.”
What we see, has the capacity to impact our psyche; what we view as our hero’s can reorder our very lives as we seek to “become” the nature of “heroes.” The anti hero, as a phenomenon then creates a potential of psychosis for those that embody the characteristics of these heroes, and a sense of schizophrenia for those that want to embody something better, but have little reference points for something truly heroic, idealistic, courageous, and moral, to use the words in the Wikipedia definition.
This is not some moral clamoring either, it’s a neurologic reality. It is often referred to as “mirroring” or “the Chameleon effect.” Where the more we view something, the more we are neurologically inclined to act it out. But the anti-hero and Campbell’s understanding of how we cling to these characters in our own lives, shows how addicting this phenomenon is. But it goes one stage deeper, and darker.
Remember how Campbell stated that the human condition includes going into the lair of the dragon, or the belly of the whale, to enter the darkness, and triumph over it. But as we embrace the anti-hero, not only do we emulate the character and condition of dragon…
We are encouraged to REMAIN in the darkness.
This is where the despair and nihilism abound; Hollywood’s celebration of the anti-hero, goes against the very fabric of human existence. It says, you don’t have need to triumph over darkness, you can effectively live in it. Heroism, courage, and transcendence occurs when we slay the dragon. We come out of those moments wiser, more empathetic, and more connected to the world and its citizen’s around us.
Hollywood has literally f-k’d the whole system of human existence up. And this generation has taken the brunt of it.
Yes, there is more going on with a shooting like the one in Uvalde than gun control, violent video games and a single disturbed individual. It’s also transcendent on entire generations that Hollywood has told to celebrate, emulate, and remain in the darkness. To go against the very fabric of human existence, according to Campbell.
Hollywood loves Joseph Campbell, in fact if you are a fan of Star Wars, Lucas’ greatest influence was Campbell. They were friends, and much of Star Wars was based on his thoughts and writings. I wonder what Campbell would speak of today, and how Hollywood would accept it.
If you are over thirty, chances are your movie history is only slightly fragmented with a few anti-heroes, but for THIS generation, it’s almost all that Hollywood is producing today. Is Hollywood culpable? Culpability only manifest through education. Whether it’s accidental or deliberate it can hide in the dark, until we speak up about it.
It’s YOUR turn to turn the tide.
If you are over thirty, you may have kids, and you certainly have influence with your money and your voice. One thing about Hollywood is that runs perpetually, the flywheel spins faster and faster, unless something comes up against it. Yesterday can be one of those moments. Yes, the answer to yesterday requires more gun control, and yes there is violence in games and films, but there is far more happening culturally and neurologically than Hollywood realized. Maybe they will take some responsibility, and pivot for the sake of humanity, and the human collective condition.
Maybe a few true heroes can step up and change the tide.
At least that is my hope.