Dave's Progress. Chapter 112: A Journey to the Dark Side.

I remember when I first became ill that some of my friends remarked that I had, to use a "Star Wars" analogy, "gone over to the dark side". Of course, we will all remember (well, most of those of my generation will) Luke Skywalker and his battle against the evil "empire" and the "dark side" of "the force", which was personified in the character of Darth Vader, who, as it turned out, was also Luke's father (gasp!). And then I got to thinking about why it would be that some of my friends would make such a comparison. I have blogged before about how mental ill health is often confused with just simple bad behaviour (see my blog, "Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know") and it seems to me that we live within a culture which is almost, if not obsessed, then fascinated by the aberrant, the dangerous, the bad.
Indeed, during a certain period in the '80s and '90s, it seemed that films and books, at least those of the thriller genre, were almost always about serial killers. It was probably Hannibal Lecter in the film "Silence of the Lambs" that started the trend. But, far from being portrayed simply as a very bad man, Hannibal was complex, himself a psychiatrist of, it seemed, genius, and cultured to the point of loving classical music and being able to sketch a scene of Rome in incredible detail just from memory. So, audiences were introduced to a paradox- a man who could bite off someone's tongue without his pulse going above a normal level, and yet intelligent and sensitive enough to listen to Bach. One is reminded, perhaps, of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who, despite being a philosopher of importance and an incredibly intelligent man, also harboured Nazi sympathies. OK, so he didn't exactly murder people like Hannibal did, but the duality was there. Indeed, in the sequels to "Silence of the Lambs", Thomas Harris seemed to latch on to the fact that his Hannibal character was fast becoming the most popular thing in his novels, both of them, "Hannibal" and "Hannibal Rising", being mostly about his strangely appealing invention. So, it seems, no longer were audiences contented with seeing someone as simply a bad egg, they were interested in what made them tick, what their motives might be, finding them, perhaps, as I have said, strangely appealing.
All this seems a far cry from the "Dirty Harry" movies, the first and best of which, directed by Don Siegel in the '70s, starred Clint Eastwood as the eponymous hero. In the film he was pitted against the random killer, "Scorpio", who was, quite simply, just a very bad, twisted man. Eastwood's character, on the other hand, was the upholder of the law, who didn't mind twisting the rules to his own advantage to get the job done, hence his nick name, "Dirty" Harry Callahan. So, in this film, it is clear where the audience's sympathies should lie. Along with Harry, as he chases Scorpio to a final shoot-out. However, it is hard now to watch this film and not be slightly shocked by its sometimes casual racism (almost all the criminals Harry comes across are black, with the exception of Scorpio himself) and its seeming endorsement of Harry's own dubious "methods". In fact, when the film was released, some critics accused it of being an endorsement of fascism.
So, when speaking of such things, it seems hard to avoid some political questions. As our understanding of what makes bad guys bad guys has increased, has this led to a more humane society? Or is it that the whole issue has become confused, and the bad guy gets off lightly? However we choose to look at it, there is no doubt that our interest in badness has increased and this has been reflected in our culture. One apparent answer to whether this is a good or bad thing in itself is provided by Arthur C. Clarke in his book "3001: The Final Odyssey", in which he states that, in the future, an over-interest in "badness", or as he puts it, "pathological" psychology, comes to be seen as "pathological" itself. In his argument, then, our very own way of thinking about such things might be, in itself, a sort of aberration.
As for my own "journey to the dark side", I am glad to report that I am finally out of it. Although I can say that I may have shared the culture's obsession, at one point, with badness (perhaps through my depression), I have come to see that it is far from as interesting as we think it might be. In my experience, the pathological, the aberrant, always turns out to be banal, cruel, humourless and boring. I much prefer, in the words of "Monty Python" and Eric Idle, to "always look on the bright side of life".
 

Comments

The Manic Chef said…
Dave, hello! I enjoyed this article, or entry. ok.. journal entry, very interesting and once again thought provoking. But, I must confess as soon as I read your words, and I quote, "Or is it that the whole issue has become confused, and the bad guy gets off lightly?" My first thought in response to your question was, "well just take a long look at the history of our so-called leaders, and politicians". The majority of them willfully compromise truth and justice for the "status quo", and if that is not 'dark', and 'bad' then what is? I feel when leaders are dishonest in their motives, then society follows, with the exception of those that walk against the tide. If those that govern us are corrupt, then does that not influence the followers? I think so. It seems to me, and I could be paranoid here, that often 'movies' develops a certain 'mind set' among the masses, and that it is intended to do so. Great writing. Later....
bazza said…
Hi David. This is an extremely interesting post and you make some good points eloquently. I wonder if you saw the episode of Sebastian Faulks recent TV series "Faulks on Fiction". where the subject was Villains. Apparently they are more popular than heroes in fiction.
No one person can be described as being 100% good or bad. We are all a mixture of both and that's what makes life interesting.
On a side note Arsenal fans often describe Spurs fans as "having gone over to the dark side"!
Myself I stick with West Ham (Hey, didn't they pulverise Stoke on Saturday? Yes, I believe they did.)
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Dear Manic Chef,
Thanks for your thoughts on my post/article/entry (whichever one it is!)
Well, yes, I suppose we do look to our leaders to set a good example, and how often we are let down. Recently in England there was a big scandal over MPs (members of parliament) fiddling their expenses. The public reaction was one of complete disgust, and rightly so.
As for the movies, it is my belief that the mainstream variety can act as sort of inculcators of ideology, reflecting and at the same time, influencing how people might think and behave.
Hope that all is well with you.
All the best,
David.
David said…
Dear bazza,
Unfortunately I missed the programme you mention, but it is perhaps no surprise that villains are more popular than heroes, being, as they are, much more dramatically interesting.
As for that Stoke match against West Ham, I have to say that I was not that interested in the result. This is because, bazza, I live right next door to the ground, and am a fan of, Port Vale, and we tend to view Stoke fans in a similar way to the way Arsenal fans look at those of Spurs!
Wishing you all the very best,
David.
dcrelief said…
Hi David.

I liked all of the Star Wars films. There was a spoof on the film called, "Space Balls" ~ maybe you've seen it? The 'darkside' wasn't half as interesting as 'going straight to plaid!

I'm concerned when people are so influenced by film, short or long types; even news clips. A film will come on the television and I notice the discrepancies between actual history and director's fantasy.

I'm glad to know you've entered the light and may the force be with you! I enjoyed this.

Sincerely,
Dixie
klahanie said…
Hi David,
A most interesting posting and this time, I shall try to keep my comment, fairly brief. Those other fine correspondents have just about covered the bases in your fascinating article.
So, just for you, some boring trivia. Did you know that the guy who played the mayor of San Francisco in the first 'Dirty Harry' film, John Vernon, was the star of a Canadian television series from the 1960's called 'Wojeck'? He starred as a crime- fighting medical examiner and the show was apparently the inspiration behind the American show, 'Quincy M.E., starring Jack Klugman.
Well, there you go, so much for a brief comment.
And of course, there was a time I used to sing the alternative song that Eric Idle sang. Or, 'Always look on the shite side of life..'
With very kind wishes, Gary.
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Unfortunatelt, I haven't yet managed to see the great masterpiece that is "Space Balls", although I think I remember that it was directed by Mel Brooks, who is a very funny man and also made the brilliant "Blazing Saddles".
I also have noted (and say in my blog) how movie "history" sometimes differs greatly from historical fact, and this always irks me too.
Anyway, "may the force be with you" too, dc, and may you always stay in the light.
With Very Best Wishes,
David.
David said…
Dear Gary,
So, yet another famous Canadian, eh? Aside from your good self, that is, Gary.
Wish I could think of some famous people from Stoke. Oh, but there's Arnold Bennett, Lemmy, Reginald Mitchell, and, strangely enough, Slash from "Guns n' Roses", who was born in my very own town of Burslem. There is more, of course, but I shall keep this brief.
Thanks, as ever, for your support and comments.
All the very best,
David.
P.S. Did I mention Robbie Williams? No. Oh well.

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