Friday, March 19, 2010

The way of the modern hero.

In response to the statement by Russell Davies that a writer should "Allow the bastards to be lovely, allow the heroes to be weak," some friends have written some interesting things, which transcend the comment form:

CL: Achilles is never weak, nor is Hector. They are perfect embodiments of the same virtue, Thumos.

Agamemnon, on the other hand, is clearly a villain. He is never represented as "lovely." That would undermine Achilles wrath, and the purity of Briseis.

The key here are the uses of the words "lovely" and "weak."

Weak heroes spend more time questioning themselves, their actions, and whining into the arms of each other that nothing ever gets done.

"Lovely" villains confuse the issue of what villainy is. The fact that Hannibal Lector came across as "lovely" rather than as realistic or flawed or compelling or interesting, is something that leads audience members to make nihilistic leaps of logic in support of him as a "positive good."

This is all moral relativistic clap-trap and deserves no place in the representation of "honest" characters.

Mel Gibson in Gallipoli is an honest character who is never "weak" in the virtue he embodies, adelphia, and his friend is not weak in adelphia, thumos, or patriotism. That is what makes the friend's death so compelling at the end. If he had been "weak," he never would have accompanied his friend in the first place.

The beauty and power of the musical Hair stems from the fact that Berger's sense of adelphia, maybe even agape, is so strong that he is willing to die that another may live. There is no weakness in his character, and his is a beautiful sacrifice.

Davies is recommending the passive weakness of the modern "complex" hero who worries about the consequences of his/her embodied virtue. That is the end of myth and the end of narrative fiction. It is the beginning of self-celebrating "sophistication."

DC: It's certainly true that neither Leonard nor Davies is writing heroic epics. A form as unlikely to be revived as representational painting. You could, however, write a story about a flawed modern man who struggles to embody heroic virtues, which might be more useful.

CL: My point is that there is a vast, universe wide if you will, difference between "weak" and "flawed."

DC: I would say that all flaws are in some sense weaknesses. Unless you mean something very specific by the word that I'm missing.

The argument between the traditional and the modern is fascinating: Conan or Elric? Connery or Craig? Buchan or LeCarre? Stagecoach or The Searchers?

These are not trivial attitudes or differences. The vast difference between 'weak' and 'flawed'? Achilles, the sulking baby in his tent, not weak?

Bring it on.


Generic said...

Not at all comfortable being typed as a modernist. Better than "traditional" vs "modern" how about idealistic vs realistic? Still not exact but closer.

Generic said...

Plus we can't really get started on a big new debate until we get that deep focus thing out of the way...

Generic said...

A stretch, perhaps, but you could also consider this earlier post as suggesting how contemporary notions of what constitutes drama/story"arc" militate againbst putting strong, fopcused characters at the center.

Generic said...

*sound of crickets chirping*