Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

Table of Contents

Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the good guys.

Stories about good guys and bad guys that are implicitly moral—in the sense that they invest an individual’s entire social identity in him not changing his mind about a moral issue—perversely end up discouraging any moral deliberation. Instead of anguishing over multidimensional characters in conflict—as we find in the Iliad, or the Mahabharata or Hamlet—such stories rigidly categorise people according to the values they symbolise, flattening all the deliberation and imagination of ethical action into a single thumbs up or thumbs down. Either a person is acceptable for Team Good, or he belongs to Team Evil.

Good guy/bad guy narratives might not possess any moral sophistication, but they do promote social stability, and they’re useful for getting people to sign up for armies and fight in wars with other nations. Their values feel like morality, and the association with folklore and mythology lends them a patina of legitimacy, but still, they don’t arise from a moral vision. They are rooted instead in a political vision, which is why they don’t help us deliberate, or think more deeply about the meanings of our actions. Like the original Grimm stories, they’re a political tool designed to bind nations together.

It’s no coincidence that good guy/bad guy movies, comic books and games have large, impassioned and volatile fandoms—even the word “fandom” suggests the idea of a nation, or kingdom. What’s more, the moral physics of these stories about superheroes fighting the good fight, or battling to save the world, does not commend genuine empowerment. The one thing the good guys teach us is that people on the other team aren’t like us. In fact, they’re so bad, and the stakes are so high, that we have to forgive every transgression by our own team in order to win.

Catherine Nichols

—posted 35 days ago


Table of Contents


  Textile Help