[personal profile] wingedbeast
Full disclosure: Though I was raised Methodist, I am an atheist. My opinions about religion in general and Christianity in specific are those of a former believer and current outsider.

That said, this isn't about religion, but about a problem in fiction.

Having been born in '78, my ideas about the most iconic of superheroes were formed in the 80s, with the Super Friends. Flight, heat and x-ray vision, super strength and speed, this was all a part of the basic framework of Superman to me. That and constantly taking battles out of the city in order to avoid collateral damage and people caught in the crossfire.

Some of you already have a clue as to where I'm going with this.

Before we go there, let's go back farther, to the origins of Superman, back to a time when jumping over a tall building was still impressive of Superman. He couldn't fly. The exclamations of jumping over that tall building, being faster than that speeding bullet, and being stronger than that locomotive weren't just exclamations. In a way, they were the limits of his super power.

And, Superman, himself, wasn't just less powerful. He was less worshipped. This wasn't a perfect man and the icon to which all superheroes should kneel. He was an immigrant orphan, raised by American farmers, who wanted to make his home a better place using what he took with him from his place of origin. It's now a joke, but Superman is an immigrant and when he fights for Truth, Justice, and The American Way... that American way is the fact that he was not born of us, but he is one of us.

At least that was the way it was in the beginning. As I said, my first exposure to Superman was in cartoons in the 80s. By that time, he was the first among superheroes and the good guy by definition.

Now, in that time, good guy by definition meant that he would never do the bad guy things. He wouldn't steal. He wouldn't kill. He would save the life of his enemy, because standing by and letting even an enemy die would be the same as killing them oneself.

But, by this time, we're also getting the first set of movies, with Christopher Reeves and with Marlon Brando playing Jorell. "They can be a good people, they wish to be. They only need a light to shine the way." We're into Jesus Mode, now. And, this is a problem.

The problem is that Superman's goodness, up until very recently, hadn't come from his Kryptonian heritage. It wasn't an inborn instinct of just being such a great guy. It was John and Martha Kent that raised young Clark to care about people, about the law, about empathy, and never to respond to a question of letting people die with a "maybe".

This all becomes setup for two movies, Superman Returns and Man of Steel. Both of these movies present a superman that shouldn't be given the credit that the writers give him. In Superman Returns, Superman does return (let's give the movie credit for fulfilling the title's promise), and instantly starts to harassing Lois Lane into carrying back with a relationship that he had abandoned. Oh, and he's framed as being loving and caring for having no relationship at all with his biological offspring, who is being raised by, arguably, a much better man than he is for being there to raise said child.

Man of Steel has deliberate property damage and petty, truck-wrecking revenge. Again, this is framed as stuff the good guy does. Heck, the neck-snapping is less objectionable.

That is the Jesus Problem. And, you can see it in modern depictions of Jesus, too. For a big example, check out Fred Clark's deconstruction of Left Behind. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/tag/left-behind/

The Jesus Problem is that once you identify a character as inherently the good guy, the relation of actions to good guy changes. The thing a good guy needs in order to be a good guy, as it should normally be, is to do the good thing. That, by the way, is a tall order. The good thing isn't easy even with the full range of Kryptonian super powers.

But, the Jesus Problem takes that normal relation and reverses it. The actions are good because the good guy is doing them. Superman is a good example. So is Jack Bower. And, for an amazingly blatant example, look for the unaired Wonder Woman pilot.

Moral perfection is a moral hazard.

Date: 2014-12-24 03:55 am (UTC)
smurasaki: blond person (neutral)
From: [personal profile] smurasaki
I struggle with this as a writer. While I don't set my characters up as paragons of goodness, they are meant to be the good guys and there's a limit to what I want to portray "the good guys" as doing. Because it does matter. If work after work of fiction portrays something as okay for good guys to do, then that thing can seem just a little more acceptable in real life. And I don't want to lose sight of that and end up promoting bad things as "totes okay when the good guys do them!"

Date: 2015-02-04 07:02 pm (UTC)
amarie24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] amarie24
This is just PERFECT. This is so-totally the Jesus Problem. Like, to a T.

May I also add how this interweaves with Christian privilege & supremacy? In my experience, one of the most immediate benefits given from Christian privilege is the benefit of, well...what you just wrote out: no matter what you do, it'll always be seen as good simply because you are seen as good. And, on the flip side of that, whenever you do something so-bad-that-it's-seen-as-inexcusably-bad-by-the-system, then you're allowed to invoke your humanity & individuality as a way to still be seen as morally perfect, as infallibly good.

TW: teen pregnancy

The most vivid memory I have of this is waaaay back in Junior year of high school, in AP English class. Had a looooooot of Good Christian Girls. They were white, they were middle to upper middle class, they went to church when it was time to go to church and prayed before eating when it was time to eat.

And, as you can imagine, they judged the HELL out of everyone that wasn't them. Sometimes openly (for example, laughing next period about my friend's Wiccan religion) and sometimes not-so-openly (I'm pretty sure they spread rumors around that someone was drinking, another was having sex, etc.). So when one of them, Kelly (changed names for anonymity) got pregnant and began to show, I will never forget how she couldn't look at the class as she made the announcement, to paraphrase: "Guys, I am four months pregnant. And I know you all know that I'm religious. But I am human and I would appreciate it if you wouldn't judge me."

Now there's the obvious layer where you feel sorry for her. No one else would've had to make such an announcement because they stood outside of white Evangelical Christian pressure to be a girl and to be without sexual impulses/sex drive.

But there's the other layer: Wait...so what about all the other girls that got pregnant, that you SURELY dragged through the mud behind the scenes? What about them? Aren't they surely human? Aren't they surely just like you at the end of the day?

But...Moral Perfection. Good Just Because You Are. So I don't quite...think the cognitive dissonance ever resonated with her at the time. I don't think that she saw herself as one and the same with other girls that weren't raised in the same strictly religious environment as she was. I don't think that engaging in pre-martial sex, and then getting pregnant really rocked her world at the time as far as her self-perception against others because she would still look at other people (code: us) in the same way as before and she still spoke down to and about us in the same way as before.

That lack of cognitive dissonance she displayed is, I think, one of the hallmarks of Christian privilege and the Moral Perfection that comes with it. That is, whenever THOSE people have shit happen in their lives (ex. teen pregnancy), then it's indicative of just how truly morally bankrupt and unholy that they are. But whenever the same shit goes down in YOUR life (ex. again, teen pregnancy), then Everyone Goes Through Tough Times, We're All Human, No One Should Be Judgmental and so on and so forth.

You are a human that goes through human experiences, but they are morally bankrupt heathens that just can't get it together.

So, yes, no matter what you do it'll be Good because You Are, Therefore You Are Good. And any time that you do something bad that's just inexcusable by the system that privileges you over others, well then, you're Just Human While Others Are Not.

So indeed, Moral Perfection is a Moral Hazard.

Date: 2015-02-04 07:32 pm (UTC)
amarie24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] amarie24
Ohhhhh yes. They incorrectly and openly associated the Wiccan religion with Bad Evil Scary Witchcraft that'll come steal your children in the night...no matter how many times my friend patiently explained that that's just not the case for her religion as she practiced it.

Eek.

Date: 2017-05-19 03:54 am (UTC)
dragoness_e: Raven on the wing (Raven on the wing)
From: [personal profile] dragoness_e
Sorry about the necro-post, but I am reading your archives because you always have interesting stuff to say.

As I am currently re-reading Lord of the Rings,, the Tolkien-flavored Good Guy Done Right is, of course, Faramir. Faramir is tempted by the One Ring, yet has the wisdom, like Gandalf, to keep his hands off the Damn Ring because he can figure nothing good will come of using it. He is a Good Guy because he chooses to do the right thing when push comes to shove, and the choice is not without cost--his own father, the then-ruler of Gondor, believes he did the wrong thing, and greatly disapproves (to put it mildly).
Edited Date: 2017-05-19 03:54 am (UTC)

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