May 12, 2009

FROM SMALLVILLE TO GITMO

So I'm still watching Smallville, even though it jumped the shark long ago.  I can't give up this far into the game.

I've always wondered if the writers intentionally make parallels to the GWOT, or if it's coincidental that I find these metaphors.  And lately, Clark Kent's slavish adherence to his moral code has begun to grate on me.

Green Arrow is a good guy, but he doesn't see the world as black and white like Clark does.  He killed Lex Luthor to save Clark.  And he nearly killed again last week to save Clark again.  He's a good guy, through and through, but there's some Jack Bauer in him: he sees that the ends justify the means in some cases, and he weighs the fate of one against the fate of many.  And to him, the fate of Clark Kent is intensely important.

He and Clark have butted heads in recent episodes, namely because Green Arrow wants Clark to kill Doomsday (I know, I know, stay with me just a little longer) but Clark wants to try to save him.  Then Green Arrow admitted that he had killed Lex.  Their animosity culminated in this exchange last week:

GA: You don't have the guts to take out that murdering bastard, so I  come in and mop up your mess, and what do you do?  You get all self-righteous on me.  We do what we have to do, Clark.

When Clark isn't buying it, Green Arrow says that even though they don't always see eye to eye on methods, they're still on the same side.  Clark looks him dead in the eye and says, "No we're not."

Clark's life and work is made inherently easier by the fact that Lex Luthor is no longer alive.  He is now free to save lives instead of battling Lex, and Lex can no longer try to kill him.  Instead of thanking Green Arrow for saving his life and helping neutralize the threat, he insists that, in killing his enemy, Green Arrow has now become his enemy.  He denounces Green Arrow and says they're not on the same side...because Green Arrow killed a murderous megalomaniac who was hell-bent on killing Clark Kent, the last, best hope for mankind?

I find that frustrating.

GA: How many more lives are you willing to sacrifice if your plan fails this time, Clark?  Put your ego aside; you have a responsibility...

CK: My only responsibility is to do what's right.  Like it or not, we stand for something.  We set an example for others to follow, and if we don't, then we're no better than the people we fight.

Does that sound like a waterboarding debate to anyone else but me?

What has been bugging me about Clark Kent lately is that he calmly accepts fallout from not taking action.  Doomsday has killed hundreds of people, but Clark refuses to kill him out of morality.  It's wrong to take a life, no matter whose.  And killing Doomsday instead of trying to rehabilitate him is outside the bounds of Clark's code of conduct.

And I call baloney on that, like Green Arrow does.

Clark had the chance to kill Doomsday last episode and he didn't take it.  So the body count keeps rising as more innocent citizens of Metropolis keep dying.  I don't understand how Clark is making the more moral choice.  He doesn't want to be responsible for taking a life, but by refusing to act, his inaction is causing the death of far more people.

In fact, Clark's morality is so black and white that he refuses to even kill in self defense.  And I suppose that's a sustainable position for the Man of Steel, but for those of us not blessed with bulletproof skin and the ability to turn the earth backwards on its axis, things may not be so stark.

I find parallels here to the current discussion of enhanced interrogation methods.  For me, it's not black and white.  There are factors we can't know and can't control.  There are choices that have to be made, and the fate of one does have to be weighed against the fate of many.  Moreover, I personally find the whole discussion after the fact to be disingenuous.  It reminds me of an opening thought experiment in The Black Swan:

Assume that a legislator...manages to enact a law that goes into universal effect on September 10, 2001; it imposes the continuously locked bulletproof doors in every cockpit (at high cost to the struggling airlines) -- just in case terrorists decide to use planes to attack the World Trade Center in New York City. ... The legislation is not a popular measure among the airline personnel, as it complicates their lives.  But it certainly would've prevented 9/11.

The person who imposed locks on cockpit doors gets no statues in public squares, not so much as a quick mention of his contribution in his obituary.  "Joe Smith, who helped avoid the disaster of 9/11, died of complications of liver disease."  Seeing how superfluous his measure was, and how it squandered resources, the public, with great help from airline pilots, might well boot him out of office. ... He will retire depressed, with a great sense of failure.  He will die with the impression of having done nothing useful.

So now in hindsight we're trying to assign blame and point fingers, when we -- the general public, those of us who are not privy to top secret documents -- have no way of knowing what was prevented by some of these "enhanced interrogation techniques."  And hell, in one case we do have a pretty good idea of what was prevented: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad spilled the beans on further attacks in other US cities.  Like Clark Kent, we get self-righteous.  We say what we would do in the scenario, but we just simply don't have all the information to make that call.  So we discuss it in our homes and our coffee houses, from a position of safety, because other men shoulder the burden of protecting us, thereby enabling us to sip coffee with clean hands.

For me, there is a lot of gray in this issue.  There is a line to be drawn, and I believe we should discuss where that line falls.  I suppose I have a modicum of respect for people who say they wouldn't use waterboarding even if their own kids' lives were on the line, because I too have said that my values aren't relative, and that I wouldn't abandon my values to save my own family.  If you're willing to put your money where your mouth is, I can respect that.  It's not my position, but I try to respect its lack of hypocrisy, the same as I do for people who are strictly pro-life in all cases, including rape and incest.  Not my position, but at least it's internally consistent.  So I can muster respect for the worldview, even if it gives me pause.

Because I still think there is a debate here.  I find myself frustrated by people like Jon Stewart, and like Clark Kent, who insist there is no line at all.  That doing anything -- even just forced nudity and sleep deprivation -- to protect American lives makes us no better than terrorists. 

I just don't think it's that simple. 

And the simple-ness of Clark Kent has been bugging me lately.

Posted by: Sarah at 03:35 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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May 06, 2009

DOWN THE MEMORY HOLE

I was looking for an old blog post and stumbled upon something remarkable...

Here's an interesting little dig I found in the MSN movie review for Day After Tomorrow:

The Story: A paleoclimatogist (Dennis Quaid) races to save the world and his Manhattan-trapped son (Jake Gyllenhaal) from an impending Ice Age brought on by the effects of global warming (or, as the gun-shy Fox marketers call it, "global climate change"), which causes cataclysmic hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, hail, heat and a colossal tidal wave. Not for the weatherphobic. [emphasis mine]

Amazing what a difference five years makes.  Nowadays, it's not a right-wing conspiracy to call it "global climate change"; it's the preferred nomenclature!  (Pssst, because we're not warming anymore.)

Who knew that Fox was the vanguard of global warming terminology?

Posted by: Sarah at 04:17 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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