The Sneezing Opossum
In the past year, something strange happened: The strongest superhero of them all, Superman, and the smartest of them all, Sherlock Holmes, killed people.
In Man of Steel, Superman is fighting Zod, and the Kryptonian general is unleashing his heat vision, trying to fry a family cowering in the corner as the deadly flames come closer and closer. Finally, Superman snaps Zod’s neck and lets out a scream of anguish that he has violated his personal code of conduct.
In “His Last Vow,” the third and final episode of the third season of Sherlock, the BBC’s modern version of Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes is trying to stop Charles Augustus Magnussen from blackmailing Mary Watson, wife of Holmes’ faithful companion, John Watson.
But it turns out that Magnussen, like Holmes, keeps everything in his brain. Magnussen tells Sherlock, “Sorry, no chance for you to be a hero this time, Mr. Holmes.”
“Oh, do your research,” barks Holmes. “I’m not a hero. I’m a high-functioning sociopath.” Then Holmes grabs Watson’s pistol and shoots Magnussen in the head.
Setting aside whether Holmes is, indeed, a high-functioning sociopath (and there are almost as many psychologists insisting he is not as there are Republicans investigating Benghazi), the idea that Superman and Sherlock Holmes would both suddenly kill people strikes me as more than mere coincidence.
Back in 1974, around the time Vietnam vets replaced Nazis as convenient villains, Charles Bronson’s, Death Wish, was released. This was not the first vigilante film, but it is certainly the one that made the genre popular.
Bronson played Paul Kersey, a conscientious objector during the Korean War, who takes to the streets after his wife and daughter are attacked. The wife dies; the daughter is in a coma; and the police almost immediately tell Kersey there is no chance they will catch who did it.
For the sake of the argument, forget how unrealistic this is. It’s important because it became the rationale for killing people in movies ever since. Violence is not the last resort; it is the only resort. In Superman and Sherlock Holmes, the narratives were constructed to convince the audience that our heroes had no choice. Killing was the only solution—the sole answer—to the problem at hand.
Movies set up a situation where the hero/ine has “no choice” but to take the law into their own hands. What sort of America do we live in where the first, best, and only answer is faster, pussycat, kill, kill!?
Things are so bad that a movie like The Purge not only gets made, it warrants a sequel. When I started writing this column, I had not seen these movies, but it is, of course, my unalienable right as an American to criticize something I have not seen or read.
It turns out The Purge was available on cable, so I could watch it and not give the makers any more money than they were getting via my cable payment. So I decided to watch The Purge and let my head explode, which it pretty much did halfway through the opening credits.
Set in 2022, the U.S. is governed by the New Founding Fathers of America (the Tea Party’s Tea Party?). With crime and unemployment at unprecedented lows (talk about sci-fi fantasy), they come up with the bright idea of “the Purge”—a 12-hour period one night each year in which all crimes, including murder, are legal.
Clearly, this was written by a liberal who wants to paint conservatives in a bad light. The government says the Purge is supposed to be some sort of national catharsis, but it is really intended as a form of population control targeting the poor and homeless.
How that jives with low crime and unemployment is beyond me. Besides, whom would you really want to target: The poor and homeless? Or everybody who failed to vote for you? It would sure beat gerrymandering.
In The Purge, rich people buy security systems, as if that would work in a world where there are no laws for 12 hours. (Actually, there are rules: You cannot use weapons above Class 4—which, I assume, rules out missile launchers and tanks—and Rank 10 government officials cannot be harmed. Surprise, surprise.)
The smart thing to do is kill your boss. Then the people who have been waiting to pay back somebody for what they did last Purge. Not to mention robbing and looting and arson. C’mon, one Purge night and, the next morning, a smoldering and bloodied America would be a third world nation. With nukes.
If the makers of The Purge wanted to do a home invasion movie, all you need is a blackout and an earthquake, and you would have all the chaos and bloodletting nonsense without the psuedo-political crap.
But in a world where Superman and Sherlock Holmes are killing their enemies, I find myself suddenly even more afraid of the road we are walking down.