November 12, 2011

Meditation on 'Terms of Enrampagement'

I generally don't care for violence in entertainment. Some folks see it as harmless, and derive some enjoyment.  The Laird, for example, might relax for the weekend with back-to-back viewings of Straw Dogs and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, with Bullet in the Head for dessert. My tastes run more toward 1970s sitcoms and Youtube virals. Don't know why. Could be a left-handed thing.

Or a Christian thing. I've adopted something like the Easterbrook Compromise. His autotext on this is: "as TMQ readers know, my compromise with my Baptist upbringing is to be pro-topless but antigambling." He's also anti-violence - recall that he lost his job at ESPN for a time because of remarks that started off as a denunciation of the violence in Kill Bill. I'm on roughly the same page, though a bit more tolerant of gambling. I'm definitely anti-violence. And we can agree that topless is cool.

I think serious religious analysis supports this. In the Twelve-ish Commandments, nudity is not mentioned, and lust is delimited really only by marital status. Killing, by contrast, is strictly proscribed. Jesus washed the feet of prostitutes, not soldiers or Hong Kong film directors. The Dalai Lama says he misses sex, but does not admit similar longings for (say) gladiatorial combat.
Q: Is there anything you regret, Your Holiness?
A: Yes, the prohibition on violence. I wish, just once, I would could pound Cain Velasquez's face into a bloody pulp. I call this True Fulfillment.
(I don't mean to offend our secular readers with these Deo-centric rationales - if you prefer to find your own path, modern methods make that possible.)

So I generally don't like violence - even "cartoon violence" - in my entertainment. Why then did I enjoy - immensely - the Archer episode 'Placebo Effect'? (Key excerpt here, until they take it down.)

Blogger Eric Hochberger has posted a review of 'Placebo Effect' that gets at some of the key stuff:
Without introducing Ruth, Archer's rampage would have been yet another selfish moment in his life. But by getting so close to an elderly cancer patient, Sterling revealed his sensitive side that his character hides so well. Layering her throughout the episode in marijuana-induced flashbacks gave Archer a purpose the audience could get behind no matter how dark and violent things got.
Yeah, that's it. Righteous violence. Sweet, tasty, revenge. The Laird once told me that media depictions of justified violence had been found to be the most harmful type for the moral development of children. Taken seriously, he noted, this would make Star Wars the most harmful movie of all time.

There's something to that. Even as a small child I noticed - despite serious efforts at moral education by the local church - that revenge was very satisfying. And it wasn't a shallow or temporary was rich, lasting, and rewarding. And franky, that hasn't changed much in adulthood. Who among us has not riddled a sadistic crime lord with bullets after tracking him to his hideout in Mongkok? Who can honestly say they didn't enjoy the experience?

But no, that's Why is 'Placebo Effect' so engaging? What is it reminding me of?

Oh...I got it. I'd been thrown off by the narcissism thing. Archer's a narcissist, and I'd been focused on that, forgetting that narcissism and killing are on fairly intimate terms. You know who else was a killer narcissist? Well, yes. Yes. Yes, him too. But you know who else?

Right, Achilles.

When did Achilles light up the Trojans? When they killed Patroclus, the only thing he loved that wasn't him. And so it is with Archer. Ruth's death pushes a skilled killer into The Rampage Zone.

But unlike Achilles, who was half-man, half-god, Archer is just half-man. Reduced to a quivering shell by his chemo, he is flickering in and out of coherence and consciousness.  The vomiting is a nice touch, recalling Eliot:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
I think you could add "with a shotgun" right there at the end and it would sort of work.

So you have this...this otherworldly rampage, this unholy rampage. And that's where the Iliad takes you, too. All the speeches and fighting and little side stories are just a prelude to the Very Special episode when Achilles loses his mind and rips through the Trojan army.

It's not personal, it's not business, it's just what he has to do: Lycaon begs for his life, but "it's a rampage, Lana!" Alexander Pope translates:
These words, attended with a shower of tears,
The youth address’d to unrelenting ears:
"Talk not of life, or ransom (he replies):
Patroclus dead, whoever meets me, dies."
There is something horribly pure in it, something past hate or grief, or any moral calculation. The killer, intoxicated with power, assumes the mantle of God, unmindful of the consequences.
"Give a guy a gun, he thinks he's Superman. Give him two and he thinks he's God." - Woo, 3:08
But Archer does not pretend to be a god. As a comic hero he has the advantage of his genre - his many and obvious flaws do not doom him, but serve as light entertainment for the rest of us. In the process however, we accidentally glimpse, amid the grief and rage, something resembling a soul.


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