Sunday, July 11, 2004

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

(a Conservative review of Spiderman 2)

I went to see Spiderman 2 today. As soon as the movie started (with its overtones of good, evil and responsibility), I was attracted to how the film speaks to our times. Though it was definitely my desire to see this film supporting my beliefs as a liberal (and there were a few points I may discuss later regarding "collateral damage" and civilians), I definitely saw several conservative arguments laid out in the film. What follows is how I would read this film as a Conservative (it actually served as an interesting intellectual project, defending a position I don't share), please beware that this review is short on film details and will ruin the film if you have yet to see it:

"With great power comes great responsibility," is a line that Uncle Ben says to Peter Parker in Spiderman 1. This will be the guiding principle in Parker's commitment to fighting crime. This responsibility forces Peter to turn away from his true love (Mary Jane) and to keep his true identity from his friends and loved ones. So ends episode 1.

We are shown that those who are strong, just and humble will be attacked for no reason and scarred by life. This message spoke strongly to Americans in 2002 as we deal with the aftermath of September 11th. It told Americans that we will have to fight those that attack us unjustly, and that this is our responsibility and the sacrifice we will have to make(eternal vigilance, etc).

Spidey 2 begins with a montage of Peter Parker's life. Mary Jane is always in front of him (on billboards) but always out of reach due to his commitment to vigilance. He's unable to keep a job due to his secret career as a vigilante and he is at risk of failing out of school. His refusal to compromise Spiderman to the Daily Bugle costs him his greatest opportunity to make money. Meanwhile, everyone who matters to him (Mary Jane, Harry Osborne, Aunt May) must be kept in the dark about who he really is.

In short, his Great Responsibility has undermined his ability to enjoy himself or even be himself. This speaks to the way that a good deal of the American public feels; wearied by the fear and responsibility that comes with living under constant vigilance. Many on the Left have begun to rebel against this responsibility (I am ignoring the validity of their position), Michael Moore shows this attitude by mocking the Terror Alert system as an instrument to control the public rather than recognizing the system as a means to protect us from a real enemy. Other people are paralyzed by fear to the extent that they have trouble returning their life to normal.

When Peter tells Aunt May about the truth of what happened to Uncle Ben, he begins to lift the curtain and let her know that he is Spiderman. Reading between the lines, she encourages him to bring back Spiderman, telling him "The World needs a hero". Encouraging him that, despite what the newspapers would have us believe, the world recognizes the responsibility that comes with power and that he can overcome the press' cynical desire for him to fail.

This would speak to how a lot of the world has turned its collective back on the US, cynical about why and how we exercise our might around the world. However, at the end of the day, the world needs the US to keep all the bad guys in line. For this reason, we should be prepared for their scorn as we engage in pre-emptive and heavy handed actions because they will miss us if we aren't there.

We are also shown the consequences of trying to relinquish this responsibility. Peter tries to pretend that Doctor Octagon is not his problem and he can let someone else deal with it. However, when you ignore evil it will eventually come for you; just as Doc Ock comes for Peter. This is a clear and simple argument for the current Bush policy of pre-emption.

But this film is from Hollywood, and it's not a political piece; so we do have a happy ending that everyone can draw a lesson from. When Mary Jane returns to Peter and lets him know not to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders, we see that vigilance and responsibility should not preclude us from enjoying life. This is a serious challenge for America right now. How do we balance this incredible responsibility of being vigilant with our desire to live life and be happy? Spiderman suggests that we have to.


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