15 November 2015

When the Bond Villain Just Doesn't Scare Us Anymore

Christoph Waltz as the Bond villain, Blofeld, in Spectre, 2015

Something struck me the other day: The true villain in our lives is no longer the archetypical, post-war Bond villain (no bad words towards Christoph Waltz or Sam Mendes and his crew, presently). What strikes the fear in all of our hearts, what pose an actual threat in today's society is not the eloquent, cold-hearted psychopath and power-hungry megalomaniac with the usual threats of world domination, gadget-filled, secret caves or creative satelite devices that can wipe out entire cities from space. This guy seems somehow too stereotypical, archaic and parodic at best (sorry, but even 2012's ingenius Javier Bardem seemed too cartoonish) when we compare him to the villains of reality. Friday night's multiple, global events that once again left us all in shock prove this. 
Of course, James Bond villains perhaps never were a representation of what scares us in real life (they always were comic-book-like), but at least the '60s and all the way up to the '80s gave us a good picture of Cold War panic mixed with atomic bomb threats, Russia vs. USA quarrels and a whole lot of authority issues with the big, powerful guys for every penny. Even during the '90s we got all the new technology and mass media panic! When we entered the '00s and a new shift in the Bond casting, Casino Royale (2006) was like a nice vintage wine rebottled, Quantum of Solace (2008) is not worth the talk (partly, because it's utterly forgettable), and Skyfall (2012) was in every way epic and a hard one to follow - which Spectre (2015) proved.

No, villains on screen nowadays are more evidence of great, maniacal, engrossing performances by the actors themselves where the characters they play, however believable, original and authentic in their eerie evilness, nonetheless and inevitable so tend towards the exaggerated and fantastical alter-egos of our heroes, such as Heath Ledger's The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008), Christoph Waltz's Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds, 2009) and Andrew Scott's Jim Moriarty (Sherlock, 2010-present). 

Don't get me wrong, I love these guys to bits, but when it comes to realistic villainy they don't seem to measure up to the atrocious, real-life villains, no matter how 'innovative, surprising and madcap' their ideas and actions are. Maybe they are not supposed to. Maybe we need the villains on screen to be entertaining, theatrical and fantastical - and be given all the best one-liners - because then we can separate them from all the true evils of reality who are too real, come too close and are less noticable in appearance and entrance, and where we have no Batman, no Lt. Aldo Raine and no Sherlock Holmes to beat them, respectively. 

Real-life 'villains', as proven within the last 10 years, move around undetected, strike hard and fast; multiple times at once at random places, are young, brain-washed, faceless and more than willing to die for a cause. They have no special anarchistic motivations, no individual archenemy to seek out or a single group of people they want to destroy. They have a single cause, a single, highly specific goal (that excludes basically the entire world as it is) and an effective, military operative strategy. If the villains behaved like this on screen, our dear heroes - even the best of them - would certainly have work to up over their superpower heads and I'm not even sure they would be all that successful in saving the world in the end. Fiction can only do so much.

For all the superhero assembles, heroic or antiheroic, we neck after and are mass producing for cinemas these years, we are as stigmatized as ever off screen. Nothing and no one escapes being targeted (as we saw in Paris), and the villains become the civilians as even the most unlikely travel to Syria to join ISIS. Right now, American universities(!) battle with male rape offenders who get off scot-free, racial attacks that look scaringly like a KKK-revival, while the staff genuinely fear the crusading students' call for trigger warnings in their studies and their emotional, motivated reasoning that threatens to become bordeline self-censorship. Don't even get me started on Ferguson or how alive and well institutionalized racism fares in the States..! Meanwhile horrific, inhuman 'people' like Donald Trump run for presidency (how is that even possible??) on the promise of building an actual wall around USA to keep immigrants out, despite being a nation made of immigrants... WHAT EVEN..!!?

So disappointing for everything we have all fought to better and overcome since WWII, the Cold War, segregation etc..

Meanwhile, Europe struggles with the far-reaching consequences of the economic crisis, rightwing extremist movements forming everywhere even among civilized and intellectuals, political and ideological self-isolation and anti-unity across borders (basically dissolving the entire idea behind the European Union) as the stream of desperate, Syrian immigrants try to seek refuge elsewhere than their destroyed home. Oh yeah, and then Putin is having total 'paranoid conqueror'-attacks on the other side that equals those of Stalin or any great, mad Bond villain, really. Ah, remember the time, right before the crisis hit us, when 'all' we (Westerners) had to worry about were Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, whether or not there were mass detruction weapons in Iraq and getting our troops out of there, while trying to deal with the weirdo dictators such a Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il (all made for great Bond villains, actually). Back then we sorta knew who were the bad guys and who were the antiheroes (I know, very black-and-white sarcasm, but you get the picture, right?).

Now, however, everyone seem potential for any cause as long as one find the right motivated reasoning for themselves or others. That is scary, because it could be anything! Even the smallest of things that we take for granted can become a new cause for relentless crusading, which in itself isn't a bad thing - hell, how long haven't we been told that our generation (born in the late '80s-late '90s) never had anything to believe in or fight for like previous generations..!

But such reasoned crusading can come out of proportions, too; become distorted reasoning, so to speak. Now, even the most civilized, intellectual youngsters come into play in these measurements and make it all the more harder to separate the sheep from the goats for authorities. Modern warfare has reached a whole different level that even the most interesting superhero movies have trouble catching up with. Once, young, idealistic people went into a fight or cause because one was blinded by the romantics of war; of standing up for a new way of life, their rights and against injustice, like we saw during the American Civil War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War etc.. However many came home highly scarred and disillusioned. Now, it seems young, Western people go into a cause willing to do whatever it takes for this cause and their belief (or motivated reasoning to the extreme?), and come home more brain-washed and hardened in their reasoning than disillusioned.

One could claim this is because the solution of a democratic model which many fought for as the best option during previous wars has become highly pragmatic and left many unsatisfied with its unfulfilled promises (though this is a given in any social model, we just never expected it to be the democratic one, I guess). Society's reasoning for democracy inevitably has caused an opposite reasoning against it. The romantic notions once held - where one said that young people went into war with their hearts first rather than their heads - have now become blurred into a mess of heart and head - with everything infested - and less easy to condemn being the one thing or the other, to give reason why they act as they do, or even stand above it all. There seems nothing left to talk reason into. Because reason is double-edged. It is the reason and heart once so strongly and prideful held by democracy (and in its essence still is, yet unfortunately drowned in the necessary evils of pragmatism and capitalism) against a new version of reason and heart that extremists believe is more true, real and strong-felt. In the end, 'they' can always retaliate to anything 'we' say by saying they aren't less reasoned than those living in democracies, which however is hypocritical at best because that just shows none of us has a very successful solution to a very common, human, universal cry for a better world. Yet, the polarization everyone now seems to tend towards in order to guard ourselves - or fearfully think that is somehow the solution to the problems - is only making everything worse. And I fear it is going to get worse - before it hopefully gets better.. in some distant future.

Naturally, young people are always more untried and inexperienced in life and the consequences of one's actions than previous generations which makes us all the more vulnerable to new ways of thinking to throw ourselves into (with/without heart and/or mind) - which can be equally constructive as well as deconstructive. We've built our history and learning on this way of nature and come a long way since the beginning. There's probably no way to change this fact, however, we still have a lot to learn and really need to learn from history since it seems to be more or less repeating itself. I continued to be shocked by how short people's historic memory is sometimes, in a time where we are more educated that ever..! Clearly, we are still lacking in certain important aspects and we need to become more self-aware in that regard; that nobody is perfect and self-isolation is the last solution to any problem, no matter how much it benefits the country's own people. Society - the world - democracy - is far from perfect and perhaps it never will be, because the day we will become perfect (though I doubt it will happen) there would no more need for us to develop or evolve. Crisis is, oddly enough, good, because from crisis rather stagnation we learn and evolve, but we should treat it with care and respect and not blind ourselves to it. Too often people shoot first (figuratively and literally) and ask later. More global, diverse education, freedom of speech, tolerance and collaboration across borders are so goddamn essential for all of us in order to overcome this!
I know, I'm such an effin' idealist it hurts, but I can be as cynical-realistic as I can be idealistic and naive. It's not really the point. I just cannot give up hope or abandon humanity. I don't believe any of us can, in the end.

When I think of this last bit, I'm always reminded of the pivotal scene in Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972) which partakes in 1930s' Berlin where a young boy starts singing beautifully and enthusiastically at a cozy, sunny little place filled with people until its atmosphere quickly changes when we realize it's the rising of Nazism as the camera pans down the boy's swastika-marked arm and more and more people stand up to join him, almost aggressively so. All except some from the older generation who clearly experienced this before and the consequences of it, having lived through World War I. It is a frighteningly illuminating scene of how the atrocities committed by the Nazis came to be. A scene hard to forget; a scene one shouldn't forget.

A/N: Way-hay, digressions for all your money here, folks! Anyways, I think you know me well enough to know this is just the way I roll ;) Be free to disagree and comment. Either way, I hope I've given some food for thought (that's what I live for, after all).

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