Two sides of the same coin

One of my favourite T.V shows is Star Trek: Voyager; I was watching the episode Basics, Part 2 where the ship has been taken over, the crew dumped on a hostile planet and Crewman Suder and the holographic Doctor are the only two Starfleet personnel left on board. Towards the end of the episode, Suder breaks into engineering to disable Voyagers defences to allow Lt. Paris and a group of Talaxians to board and retake the ship. Suder dies in the process but is successful. It dawned on me that we never see Suder honoured by the crew as seems customary in Starfleet. Now, this could have been a deliberate move by the writers because in an earlier episode, Suder killed a fellow crewman in cold blood and it may have been deemed inappropriate.

But I got thinking; what if he was given a ceremony? And what would I say if I was asked to speak at it? Well, this is my attempt.

“What is a hero? Is it someone who has impeccable moral standards? Someone who has never committed any crime and always makes the right decision for the right reasons? Or is it someone who simply does something that is considered heroic? Is someone a hero by their actions or their nature?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last few hours since Captain Janeway asked me to speak at this service. Crewman Lon Suder gave his life in defence of this ship and crew. In many cultures it is considered the most honourable way to die, and indeed upholds the highest standards of Starfleet. But Suder also murdered a member of this same crew in cold blood, considered by those same cultures as one of the most dishonourable and despicable things to do. The fact we are stood here to honour a man who did such a thing seems reprehensible and I know there are those who do not feel this service should be going ahead. But what should anyone’s lasting legacy be? The good deeds or the bad?

It would be extremely insensitive, not to mention stinking of revisionist history, to ignore the murder when talking about Suder. We can get into a debate later about whether there’s a cut off point for what you can commit before it matters, but murder is not the example of impeccable moral standards and seems completely at odds with holding him up as an example of a hero. But it would also be revisionist to ignore the fact that Suder died in the line of duty, disabling Voyagers defence systems to allow Lt. Paris and the Talaxians to retake the ship. These are actions that are certainly considered heroic and we would want to use Suder as an example to inspire others to do the same if the situation ever arose. This is partly why we have these gatherings.

Frankly it’s conflicting, confusing, complicated; but then, so is humanity. That the desire and ability to do both exists in one person, arguably exists in all of us, is what makes life so intense. I think we all battle dark thoughts, some more than others, and not all of us have the discipline to suppress those thoughts or the desire to act on them. Suder was working to increase his discipline but he didn’t become a different man as a result. So perhaps we shouldn’t say Suder was a hero, but a man who performed a heroic act. However, if I were to play devil’s advocate for a second, should we also say Suder wasn’t a murderer but someone who committed the act of murder? Can we really separate acts from how a person is? As I said, conflicting, confusing and complicated.

So how do we remember Suder? Is he a hero? Ultimately I think that’s down to each of us decide for ourselves. I believe it is right that Suder’s sacrifice is honoured and remembered as it would have been had it been any of us, but it is also right to remember his crimes. Perhaps the moral of the story is that no one is truly lost and the powers that drive people to such acts of barbarity, are the same powers that drive people to acts of unrivalled heroism, and to told these in tension is what it means to have humanity.

Thank you Crewman Suder.”

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Life, movies and heroes

Advance warning, this is a very quote heavy post. Hopefully it will come across as more than just an excuse to share my favourite movie quotes though nothing will beat Liam Neesons epic monologue in Taken.

It is said that art imitates life, but life has also been inspired by art. One of my favourite genres and underlying themes within movies,  TV shows and video games, are heroes. Individuals or groups of people standing up for and defending those who can’t defend themselves.  It seems that many of the bad guys that the heroes have to face and defeat, are metaphors for everyday life. They seem to express the notion that this world is not as it should be, and it needs people to stand up and fight the evil, to show the world how it can be:

Blake: Hoping you live happily ever after?
Ruby: Well I’m hoping we all will. As a girl, I wanted to be just like those heroes in the books. Someone who fought for what was right, and who protected people who couldn’t protect themselves.
Blake: That’s very ambitious for a child. Unfortunately the real world isn’t the same as a fairy tale.
Ruby: Well that’s why we’re here, to make it better.

RWBY, Shining Beacon Pt2, Rooster Teeth Productions, Created by Monty Oum

Angel: Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh, and cruel. But that’s why there’s us – champions. Doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world is as it should be, to show it what it can be.

Angel, Deep Down, Mutant Enemy Productions, Created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt

The problem with these types of movies though is that they can give across the message that the evil in this world is so huge, that you must have some special powers, or virtually limitless resources, in order to fight against it.  I’m currently writing this at a time when most of the UK seems to be under water, and the British Armed Forces have been drafted in to help with flood defences and rescuing people. They have the resources and the training, so people seem to just leave it up to them to sort everything out. I’m not suggesting that people go out and try something that is beyond their ability, particularly in times of extreme events, but why do people wait for extraordinary circumstances to fight against something? Are we looking for an example to follow?

Jor-El: The people of Earth are different from us, it’s true, but ultimately I believe that is a good thing. They won’t necessarily make the same mistakes we did, but if you guide them, Kal, if you give them hope, that’s what this symbol means. The symbol of the House of El means hope. Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief the potential of every person to be a force for good. That’s what you can bring them.

Man Of Steel (2013), Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures, Directed by Zack Snyder.

Bruce Wayne: People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.

Batman Begins (2005), Distributed by Warner Bros Pictures, Directed by Christopher Nolan

We have people we look up to, who inspire us; we may refer to them as heroes. With heroes in movies being such larger than life and having super powers, it’s often difficult to see that they are people, we often fail to see the humanity within them. I sometimes think we’ve done that with Jesus. We’ve become so focused on him being God that we’ve completely lost sight of the fact that he was also human. The sacrifices required to stand up for something, to fight against something, to support something, are often immense because they are too often done alone and is never a one-off battle. We seem to forget this about other people we regard as heroes too. Standing up for something, especially if someone else is likely to lose, is costly. It’s why many heroes in these movies hide their identity:

Joyce: Well it stops now!

Buffy: No, it doesn’t stop! It never stops! Do you… do you think I chose to be like this? You have any idea how lonely it is? How dangerous? I would love to be upstairs, watching TV or gossiping about boys or… God, even studying! But I have to save the world. Again!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Becoming Pt 2, Mutant Enemy Productions, Created by Joss Whedon

Capt Tom Lasky: Chief, I won’t pretend to know how you feel. I’ve lost people I care about but, never anything like you’re going through.

Spartan 117:  Our duty, as soldiers is to protect humanity, whatever the cost

Capt. Tom Lasky: You say that like soldiers and humanity are 2 different things. I mean soldiers aren’t machines, we’re just people

Halo 4 (2012) Developed by 343 Industries, Distributed by Microsoft Studios

Many of these movies have an arc where the main character learns something then acts on it. Rambo is a great example. He goes from the above to realizing that not only that he has the power to act therefore he must as Thomas Jefferson said “If there’s something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action”) but also he’s fighting for something other than himself:

John Rambo: Any of you boys want to shoot, now’s the time. There isn’t one of us that doesn’t want to be someplace else. But this is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something. Your call.

Rambo (2008) Distributed by Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company, Directed by Sylvester Stallone

I sometimes think we’re in the middle of that arc, that we’re in the middle of the movie and we still need to learn the lesson that we don’t need to be super heroes; just need to be prepared to take the risk to help others because that’s the reward in itself:

Angel: If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… , then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today. I fought for so long, for redemption, for a reward, and finally just to beat the other guy, but I never got it.

Kate Lockley: And now you do?

Angel: Not all of it. All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because, I don’t think people should suffer as they do. Because, if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

Angel, Epiphany, Mutant Enemy Productions, Created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt

Many Christian apologists use this sense that the world is not right as an argument for God. Some have drawn comparisons of the apparent escalation of the worlds problems with the decline in belief in God, that the latter is bringing about the former. My response, aside from the fact religious believers can be quite adept at inflicting pain and misery, is does it really matter at this point? It is down to humanity to try to sort its problems out (the second coming of Jesus is not an excuse to do nothing since it involves the earth) as its humanity that got itself into the mess in the first place. As Nelson Mandela put it, Poverty is not an accident, like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made  and can be removed by the actions of human beings.

John Rambo: You’re not changing anything.

Burnett: Well, it’s thinking like that, that keeps the world the way it is.

Rambo (2008) Distributed by Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company, Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Nick Fury:There was an idea, Stark knows this, called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Directed by Joss Whedon

Maybe the world is short on heroes, maybe it’s our attitudes that keeps the world as it is but like Ruby at the very top of this piece, maybe we can be inspired to make a difference. The world can decide if that’s being a hero.