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Death Wish Fullfillment

I ran across this story this morning. Now, this isn’t a political blog, but the story has an aspect that I’d like to discuss. Here’s a link to the trailer, although it really doesn’t have a lot to do with what follows.


I think we’re all familiar with the story, but since the first Death Wish came out in 1974, I suppose a quick synopsis is in order. Paul Kersey is an architect living in New York City with his wife and daughter. Some thugs invade their home while he’s out and brutalize the women. The wife dies of her injuries and the daughter is left in a coma. Paul, unable to get justice through the system, decides to take matters into his own hands. He takes to the streets, dispensing justice through the barrel of a gun.

OK, so the question is, “Is this fascist?” I’m gonna say no. Fascism is a populist movement, usually nationalist and inevitably socialist. It really doesn’t fit one lone vigilante running around killing bad guys. It’s definitely not a blanket term to be applied to any behavior or belief we disagree with.

Is it racist? Again no. The first guy Kersey kills (is that Gary Sinise?) in the trailer is white. In the Bronson version, he seemed to be an equal-opportunity killer, so unless “bad guy” equals a race, I don’t think it’s an issue.

So, what is it? To answer that, let me switch to another vigilante we’re all familiar with. Batman. I’m not talking about the cleaned-up, Comics Code compliant, Adam West crimefighter. I’m talking about the gritty, visceral, bone-breaking, Frank Miller version of the character. The version of Bruce Wayne that leaves criminals in crumpled piles in alleyways for the EMTs to find the next morning.

The guy who makes us scratch our heads and wonder, “Remind me again why we think this dude’s a hero.”

My take on it is that he’s really not meant to be a hero. At least, not a good one. Heroes inspire us. They show us what we could be, what we should aspire to be, what we could be if only we took that first tentative step outside our comfort zone and dedicated ourselves to something grand. Batman doesn’t do that. Neither does Paul Kersey. These stories inspire us, but to a lower aspiration.

What it is, is wish fulfillment. I don’t know about you, but when I see injustice, I have an urge to do something about it. When I hear about something terrible happening, I long to set things right. I want to beat up the bad guy. I want to stand up to the government when it oversteps its rightful bounds. I want to nuke the crap out of a tinhorn dictator that threatens my country. I want to enforce my will upon a chaotic world.

And then, I remember I’m fifty-four, have a leg that doesn’t work, and, even in my prime, was never all that badass in the first place.

So, these stories give me a substitute. A vicarious fulfillment of that dark fantasy. These stories can be dangerous, sure, but they can also serve us. We can sink ourselves into the muck, realize the futility of vengeance and brutality, and wash ourselves off. We can emerge on the other side, and put our minds to finding another solution. A better solution than the caveman response of hitting something with a stick until it stops hurting us.

That’s the truth we’re supposed to come out of the experience with. That’s the truth of the Hero’s Journey that these flawed heroes fail to bring home, so we, as the audience, have to do it for them.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. That’s what the comments section is for.

Alright, so that’s it for this week. The first week of my August challenge is in the bag. See ya on Monday!

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