Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who’s Side Are You On? (Loyalty Check!)

I must warn you ahead of time that this post may turn out to be a rant. Ready… get set…

Two days ago my husband showed me a clip of a TV show that had been posted on hulu.com.

In this episode, this guy chronicles his efforts as a fledging villain trying to take over the world, with songs thrown in at various intervals. There was, I think two instances of profanity and two instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Otherwise, it was technically well done and emotionally cute. We see this guy taking letters from people who insult his ability to be evil and he refutes them.. in a timid, humorous way that implies, “Come on, I’m still learning the ropes here; give a guy a break!” We find out his nemesis is a certain Captain Hammer. And along the way he sings a song about the girl he has a crush on at the laundromat, and his yearning succeeds in building more sympathy for his plight. (Viewer gut reaction: Poor, unnoticed, lovelorn villain!) Then he gets a letter from a super villain who is considering his application to join his.. I don’t know.. villain posse? There is much excitement. He decides he has to pull off a heist of some sort to help his application stand out.

So he plans to rob an armored car with an elaborate apparatus that allows him to take control of the vehicle and drive it by remote control. Right as he is beginning to steal it, his love interest comes up and wants him to sign a petition to help her in her efforts with a volunteer nonprofit of some sort. (Viewer gut reaction: Put down the remote, you idiot!) His attention is torn, and rather than listen to her fully, he tries to do both car controlling and listening at the same time. And of course fails at both. Then Captain Hammer shows up—a really huge buff guy with mounds of confidence—and smashes the controlling device on the armored car. (Viewer gut reaction: How annoying! This hero is butting in right when and where he is not wanted!!) This causes the car’s steering to go haywire so that it heads straight for the girl. Captain Hammer saves the girl and villain looks on in chagrin and poignant envy as Captain Hammer and girl sing to each other with that “I’m yours” look in their eyes. (Viewer gut reaction: How annoying! Hero is stealing the girl from the villain!)

As I started watching this show, I was a little disturbed at how the story line and presentation and point of view was implicitly asking me to look at villainy as a funny thing, and how it was asking me to be amused as someone’s efforts to become a super villain. But hey, who hasn’t joked about taking over the world at some point? It’s a favorite geek fantasy. I made an effort to suspend my discomfort and get into it a little more.

Seeing the song about the love interest made me more sympathetic. Who hasn’t had a major crush on someone who doesn’t really notice them?

I was a little bothered by the efforts to pull a heist. But again, I tried to suspend my discomfort in order to get into it. I was irritated that the guy didn’t just drop his remote control in the middle of his plan and give the girl his full attention when she was talking to him.

Then when the super hero showed up, foiled the heist, saved the girl, and I found I was expected to be angry at that hero, I finally woke up to what was happening. This show expects me to be on the villain’s side and be mad at a super hero for stopping a heist and saving someone’s life and getting the girl! NO!! This is WRONG!! What I am I DOING??!! I was thoroughly depressed and irritated at the show and myself for being taken in.

Why was my reaction so strong? Because I suddenly saw the super hero as a type and shadow of Christ, who would suddenly appear right when least expected to stop the evil and save the innocent and punish the guilty. My point of view had been messed up in this show by degrees as I gradually consented to suspend my moral abhorrence for what was wrong in order to be entertained by what I was watching. What if I saw so many shows with a similar twisted point of view to the extent that I sympathized more with people who did wrong things and no longer sympathized with people who did good things and instead detested them? What if when Christ comes I find myself on the wrong side?

The issue of point of view is an interesting one. Filmmakers and authors and photographers know it is possible to totally change the feeling of a work simply by changing the point of view.

But they don’t do this just for the sake of art. They also do it to sell their work, and in order to distinguish themselves they are always looking for novelty, a new approach. But what kind of art is this that by giving the bad guy more character development and screen time makes the bad guy into the object of our sympathy and the good guy into the object of our contempt? Are we supposed to believe the subsequent implication that good and bad depends only upon our point of view?
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
The Book of Mormon gives us a nice example of a people who had this brand of moral relativism.
And thus the Lamanites began to increase in riches, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren. (Mosiah 24:7, emphasis added)
“Do whatever you want, just don’t do it to me, my family, and friends.” That was their attitude. They were into making money. Who doesn't enjoy making money? They wanted to be great. Who doesn't want to become great? They had a good secular education, cunning in the wisdom of the world. Who doesn't want to be educated and smart? They were very much like us.. except they also delighted in all kinds of wickedness. Unless it affected the fam and the buddies. (That villain in the show was the same way. He had hopes. He had dreams. He was trying to get ahead and become great. He loved somebody. But... he was doing all the wrong things.)

So watch how the Lamanite attitude plays out.
35 Therefore they did not fear Ammon, for they supposed that one of their men could slay him according to their pleasure, for they knew not that the Lord had promised Mosiah that he would deliver his sons out of their hands; neither did they know anything concerning the Lord; therefore they delighted in the destruction of their brethren; and for this cause they stood to scatter the flocks of the king.
36 But Ammon stood forth and began to cast stones at them with his sling; yea, with mighty power he did sling stones amongst them; and thus he slew a certain number of them insomuch that they began to be astonished at his power; nevertheless they were angry because of the slain of their brethren, and they were determined that he should fall; therefore, seeing that they could not hit him with their stones, they came forth with clubs to slay him. (Alma 17:35-36)
These verses show something contradictory. How can the Lamanites delight in the destruction of their brethren and then be angry because of the slain of their brethren? Point of view. They liked killing other people, but they got terribly angry if others did the same thing to them, and they never stopped to consider the idea that what might be wrong for someone else to do to them might be wrong for them to do to someone else too. So of course they don’t think that Ammon is right to keep them from stealing the king’s flocks. They don’t see anything wrong with stealing when they are the ones doing it.

And those robbers weren’t the only ones that had this point of view. King Lamoni had it too, though he was on a different side from the plunderers of his flocks.
Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right; nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in slaying his servants; (Alma 18:5)
Right and wrong suddenly has become not just a point of view, but the reality presided over by the higher moral authority.

I have to give Ammon a lot of credit for seeing beyond the point of view of being a servant and the loyalties implied by that role. He was firmly committed to doing the right thing by following the Lord, whether it was what the king or the servants or anyone else wanted.
I say unto you, what is it, that thy marvelings are so great? Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do. (Alma 18:17, emphasis added)
Ammon, though he would seem to be soundly on the king’s side because of his protection of the king’s flocks, expressed that he reserved the right to refuse to do something that he did not think was right. We can certainly imagine that if the king ordered his shepherds to go plunder other flocks and ordered Ammon to use his great power to help, Ammon would certainly have taken a stand against it and we would have had a different story in the Book of Mormon, but one no less miraculous and instrumental in mass conversions.

Well, this post is winding down and I can feel digression fomenting, so I guess I will end by saying that I have learned from my experience that I must guard my loyalties just like anything else. I want to be on the Lord’s side. I want to be fully in harmony with His commandments. I want to see things as the Lord sees. No more am I going to allow myself to suspend my scruples in order to “get into” something. Good things don’t make you check your moral beliefs at the door, they reinforce them and improve them.