I saw the oddest car decal this morning. You know that tiresome meme of some rascally character showing his disdain for someone or something by peeing on it? Sometimes it's Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes, peeing on a Ford or Toyota logo, or on the name of a politician or a sports team.
Well, this was a Star Wars storm trooper peeing on a Jedi logo. Here was someone who was driving around town proclaiming, "Hooray for the bad guys! Yay, evil triumphing over good!"
Look, I know it's just Star Wars. I was born in 1974, so have a fondness for the original trilogy, but I don't think it's comparable to the collected works of Chekhov or something. But still, I can't think of another timew hen it's been acceptable, even as a joke, to just baldly cheer on evil. The fact that it was the passé, played-out "winner peeing on loser" meme made it all the more chilling. When "go, evil!" reaches such an accessible level of pop culture, you know we have a problem.
Humanity has always had a weakness for a bad boy. Evil seems interesting. That's why Dante's Inferno is so memorable, the Purgatorio is awesome, but the Paradiso . . . I skimmed, I skimmed. This is why, in fact, the Star Wars story works so well: they had the good boy good guy in bland old Luke Skywalker, deliciously contrasted with the "scoundrel" Han Solo, with his junky ship and his careless blaster, who never cared about anyone but himself . . . until he did.
That's the story we want to hear: that bad guys are the interesting ones, because they turn into the most interesting good guys. A good guy who does good things – bor-ring. A bad boy who ends up mostly on the right side, almost despite himself? That’s a story.
But the actual villains in Star Wars? They're a blank. All those Storm Troopers in their white suits -- there's not supposed to be anything alluring about them, even to the audience member with a weakness for bad boys. This is why, when Han Solo came out of his torture session, he mumbles to Leia, “They never even asked me any questions.” The Empire doesn’t want anything. It just inflicts pain, and then annihilates. A very accurate portrayal of evil, once you see through the glamorous lies from the Father of Lies.
The “Storm Troopers peeing on Jedis” decal I saw today is the fruit of a generation of boys who have no heroes. They have anti-heroes, or semi-heroes, or dark heroes, but no true heroes. It’s so much easier to portray evil as fascinating or alluring. No one wants to be dull – not moviemakers, not authors, not young men or boys – and so we glom onto these anti-heroes. We can't get enough of these men who struggle and fail, and win the girl because of it; these men who do terrible things in the name of good, and brood so gorgeously in the darkness they have built.
You can only watch so many of these type of movies, and play so many of these games, until the hero gets drowned out by the anti. The hero with the tragic flaw is a centuries-old story; but if there is no tension, no comeuppance, no terrible price to pay for their tragic flaw, then it ceases to seem tragic. And so we arrive at the young man whose hero is a faceless, nameless force for death.
Yes, it was just a car decal. Yes, it was supposed to be a joke. But it isn’t funny. We saw at Steubenville what happens when men do not realize that they are supposed to be struggling against their flaws, protecting the weak, striking back against evil, whether that evil dwells in other people or in themselves. We see it when frat boys publish hi-larious brochures on “how to rape,” or run web series on how to trick an unwilling girlfriend into getting an abortion.
This is not funny. This was inevitable. Enough with the anti-heroes.