Who are we robbing this week?

Something is wrong about (modern) pop-culture, and how it had been wrong for a millennium.

Every time I watch a superhero movie, I feel disgusted by this ‘end justifies the means’ attitude that these masked vigilantes hold. I know I sounded like someone denouncing the superheroes from the movie Watchman (Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?) but we usually hold high esteem for those who work on the fringes of the society, don’t we? Let’s us plunge into that cesspool of misfits:

It didn’t start with Robin Hood (there was probably some Cro-Magnon man who clubbed the better hunters and give their goods to poorer gatherers) but he helped romanticizing this phenomenon. From Scott’s Ivanhoe to Green Arrow, there were parodies and pastiches of the famed robber and his Merry Men. Libertarian Ayn Rand made fun of this with a character in Atlas Shrugged. A pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld, a Robin Hood-like character, considers himself the complete negative of the Medieval outlaw. (Rand viewed the idea to rob the rich and give to the poor highly pernicious). Ragnar, a libertarian like his creator, attacks on government property and never touch private property.

Literature was especially permitting to these lawless activities. Dumas’ Edmund Dantes (better known as the Count of Monte Cristo) has a moral compass that is misguided if not entirely broken. He was on a personal vendetta, which made things a little different, but among the swashbuckling gentleman-thieves (fashioned after Rt. Hon. Mr. Hood) that I read and misguidedly admired during my youth include: Hornung’s Raffles, LeBlanc’s Lupin, and Charteris’ The Saint. Even that Victorian staple of moral uprightness, one Sherlock Holmes, Esq., permitted the murder of a serial-blackmailer in The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.

Some will say that Citizen Vigilantes like The Scarlet Pimpernel in fiction and gut-toting sheriffs of the American West in real life balanced (and reflected) the culture of the day, but what separate them from becoming monsters like Fantomas or various outlaws of the American West. They can justify their missions but saying those mail-wagons and rail-cars carried the bourgeois society’s riches but the bottomline is that they disturb the social order of the day. An unfair social order can be revolutionized through reforms and political awareness, not through assassinations and fermentations. I am looking at you, Captain America, Batman and the CIA assassination squads–which eventually served the same purpose.

Then, the worst of all–or the king of this misfit hill–is Dexter. Serial-television character and serial killer Dexter Morgan was the primary inspiration for this blog post. (real-life John Dillinger, who has been glamorized of lately is another inspiration; Dillinger stole from the rich and gave to the whores). In his show, whose opening sequence is a masterpiece, Dexter kills people who the justice system let go on technicalities with what wikipedia calls ‘a strict moral code’. It sounded like something from Michael Douglas’ Star Chamber. Well, no matter how hard we root for Hannibal Lector or those fighting against killer-on-the-loose Fred Krueger, even killing those who deserve is wrong. I feel funny saying that, being a proponent of death penalty, but no citizen should take law into his own hands. [A tangent clip about Michael Dukakis and death penalty here.]

Dexter is worse: he is a serial killer with a mission–to get rid of the bad guys. Who decides who is good and who is bad? In the real life, these mission-oriented killers exist, “ridding the world” of “undesirables” (read, homosexuals, prostitutes, minorities or Catholics). We should not be glorifying them; it is akin to glorifying Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber”, who had a modus operandi too, in targeting universities and the airline industry.

I don’t usually agree with Parent Television Council, but here I will have them the last say: “The series compels viewers to empathize with a serial killer, to root for him to prevail, to hope he doesn’t get discovered”. It is about Dexter, but substitute ‘thief’, ‘robber’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘murderer’ instead of ‘serial killer’ and you will have accurate description of my sentiments about above fictional and non-fictional people. It is one thing rebelliously admiring their carefree lawless life (you hippies) but it is another idolizing them.


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