Movies shape our view of the world. We are socialized not just by our parents and peers, but by the stories we consume, and movies are one of the most predominant storytellers of our current era. This makes the content of films of paramount importance. We can learn courage and determination from John McClane. We can learn responsibility from Spider-Man. We can learn about changing the world from Neo. Our virtues are shaped by the heroes we learn to emulate, since the very practice of storytelling puts the protagonist on a pedestal. A generation growing up on anti-heroes is likely to be as cynical and morose as their paragons, learning that these are admiral qualities to embody.

Rick

Rick is genuinely a bad and miserable person. The show is quite clear on that. Fans struggle to emulate against him rather than from him because of the nature of the protagonist pedestal. Similar things can be said of Bojack Horseman. I know these are TV shows. Shut up.

SJWs seem to be aware of this, and so a new spat of movie trends throw women and ethnic minorities into the protagonist role, allowing these demographics to see a hero that they can relate to. This then allows black youths to learn responsibility from Miles Morales rather than Peter Parker. We now have Katniss Everdeen to teach us how to be fearless, and Melissa McCarthy to teach us how to bust ghosts.

This seems to anger some people. Those who think that women can’t bust ghosts or that black youths can’t be responsible decry this new trend as ruining film. There are those who, regardless of quality, think that these kinds of movies just shouldn’t even be made. Soon, films won’t have white men at all, and it’ll be the great replacement all over again! It’s that cancer Feminism running amok once more!

Ghostbusters

What’s next? A remake of Leprechaun with a female leprechaun!? UNACCEPTABLE! Leprechauns can’t be female!

Let’s take a deeper look at our lessons from these common tropes. We might learn to be responsible, but it’s a responsibility to our tribe at the exclusion of the Other. We might learn courage, but it’s a courage to defend the normal rather than a courage of standing up as someone different. We might learn to change the world, but if we’re changing it into an exact copy of what has come before, this type of change is more an enforcement of the status quo rather than its repudiation.

Is this trend truly feminist? Carol Gilligan, a notable feminist, would likely disagree. All of our ethical systems since the ancient Greeks have been philosophized by men. And not just any kind of men, but men who grew up in societies that did not care about women at all. This means that these ethical systems that they devised were not informed by the situations of women whatsoever. Gilligan decided to ask the question, what if we considered women when thinking of ethical systems? Thus arose the ethics of care.

The ethics of care is born in contrast to what is typically called the ethics of justice. The ethics of justice represent systems of ethics that see moral situations in objective terms. There is a right answer, whether that rightness is determined deontologically or consequentially, and that right answer is determined in the abstract. The ethics of care seeks to find rightness is the salvaging of relationships, of meeting needs, and existing in concrete situations that are determined by the individuals and the relationships they share. While Gilligan does not dismiss the intentions of justice, she does seek to imbue care into that system in order to incorporate women’s perspectives into the ethical discourse.

in a different voice

This is coming from a book, one of the least predominant storytellers of our current era.

If this is a feminist ethic, then very few of these movies are actually feminist at all. The latest Terminator movie (Dark Fate) perfectly encapsulates this distinction. The villain is literally an unfeeling machine that will not stop. Regardless of how many Hispanic women you throw into this movie, it is a film defined by a relationship that cannot be repaired. Patriarchal ethics exist in a Manichean dichotomy that pits absolute, rigid and uncompromising evil against absolute (though occasionally nuanced) good. Feminist ethics cannot exist in this universe because the way the villain is written. If these kinds of stories are what shape our virtues, when we look at our universe, it is much easier to see our own antagonists as dogmatically inflexible monsters who cannot be bargained with. What this means is that Doctor Strange is actually more feminist than the 2016 Ghostbusters film because it conceives of a solution wherein the villain (after some degree of coercion, sure) settles their score through a dialogue. The villainy of the ghosts allows no such relationship.

The socialization that these kinds of films are expanding is actually patriarchal in nature. They indoctrinate their viewers into an ethic of domination, of a good guy with a gun ultimately crushing a bad guy with a gun, but now the good guy can be a good black woman with a gun. Those angry with these films correctly assert that they are propaganda, as all stories are propaganda for the ideology that underlie them, Die Hard as much as Into The Spider-Verse, it’s just that the propaganda isn’t feminist.

Post-Script: For those who read the title and expected a listicle, and still made it this far, congratulations on your attention span!

New year, new beginnings. Time to start fresh. Throw the old ‘you’ into the trash fire from whence you came and rise like a new, slightly-less-trashy phoenix. That’s what we all seem to want: not just a new beginning, but to be rid of the mistakes of the past. We are no longer that horrid person who doesn’t eat well or doesn’t call their mom. We are better, and it’s best that we just forget that jerk we used to be.

DumpsterFire2

Rise from the ashes!

How do you measure a beginning? Is the beginning of a house when the lot is cleared or when the first nail is driven? When the architect completes the design or when they first dream up the idea? What about World War II? Did it start with the invasion of Poland or China? With the machinations or the election of Hitler? Or was the stage set by the end of the first War, simmering for decades? What about the current tensions with Iran? There are those alive today who have lived through the assassination of Suleimani and the coup of Mosaddegh. Sometimes we long for the simplicity of a beginning because it gives us the convenience of dismissing everything that has come before.

The truth is there are no firm beginnings. Our world is beset by temporal gradients. History is a long series of blurred events bleeding into one another. So it goes with our own lives. However, we try desperately to reject this reality. The question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is a repudiation of evolution in favour of enforcing a concrete origin. The Sorites paradox offers a much better reflection of reality for acknowledging the ambiguity of beginnings.

egg came first

It’s just inconsiderate

If we want to change, we need to take into account, not just the entirety of our lives, but the context of the history around us. We would need to accommodate our previous habits, the caliber of our will, the willingness of our surroundings to accept our change, the conditions that shaped both our selves and our environment, and then the maintenance of that change in the face of the constant flux of both our selves and our environments.

Who do you think has a better shot at overcoming trauma? The person who accepts that it happened, recognizes their triggers, and has developed the necessary skills in the face of those things, or the person who chooses to begin anew? The problem is that whether we believe in starting fresh or not, the reality of the world around us and the psychological history within us will carry on regardless. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, that would be absurd; it just adds another drop to the soup of our collected experiences.

The alcoholic who relapses after 10 years of sobriety is not starting from scratch, just as the Resolutioner at the gym is not a tabula rasa upon which a lifestyle of fitness can now be engraved. We shouldn’t live our lives denying the gradual evolution of our selves. We shouldn’t accept yearly incremental distinctions as any more valuable than our astrological signs. Make change by growing out of who you’ve always been, not because some doomed-to-fail tradition tells you it’s time.

There once was a champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, who came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear.

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.

And thus began the proud tradition of calling yourself the morally righteous underdog, despite having superior weaponry, killing an unprepared competitor, and brutalizing a fleeing population.