The Decline And Fall Of The Ordinary Man
Jeffro’s new post on Jupiter Rising hits upon a key insight I’ve wanted to discuss for some time.
But the acting and the dialog is not what ultimately ruined this film. Structuring it around a female romantic lead did. Here’s why:
Stinger: Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.
Jupiter: Boy, are you going to be surprised when find out what I do for a living.
Stinger: It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.
This is an inherently anti-pulp premise that is being grafted onto an otherwise pitch perfect expression of classical space opera. Granted, Tarzan was Lord Greystoke. Arthur was the son of Uther. And Luke Skywalker turned out to be part of a space dynasty. “Who you are” does matter in these things. But what these characters do matters more. And these characters proving their worth and their mettle matters even more.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last four decades or so (and perhaps longer). The iconic heroes of my childhood were all ordinary men. Luke Skywalker, John McClain, Rocky Balboa, Indiana Jones, etc. At least, in their original incarnations.
Consider Luke Skywalker from A New Hope (and, for a moment, pretend that none of the other films exist). He’s a nobody farmer on a backwards planet. His parents aren’t amazing to speak of, and certainly aren’t shown as royalty. He’s the son of a knight, nothing more. Even so, it proves to be a huge step up from his own life. Yet he goes on to rescue the girl, defeat the bad guy, and save the rebellion.
Next consider Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, pretend that the other films don’t exist. He’s an ordinary, everyday American. His parents? Not even mentioned. He earns his position himself, through hard work.
John McClain? A New York cop, an ordinary guy. Rocky Balboa? Another nobody. Every single hero Heinlein ever wrote? Still ordinary, self-made men.
Now, consider the transformations even some of these same characters have undergone over the decades.
Luke Skywalker? It turns out he’s the scion of the greatest royal family in the galaxy.
Indiana Jones? His big-name archaeologist dad set the stage.
But who are the big pop culture heroes of the new millennium?
- Tony Stark, heir to a megafortune
- Harry Potter, “chosen one,” son of great, heroic, famous wizards.
- Thor – a literal god, and son of the Allfather.
- The Starks of Winterfell, descended from kings.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer – another transformation from just a random girl to a “chosen one.”
The trend isn’t universal, but it trends distinctly in favor of aristocrats and away from self-made, ordinary men. This isn’t a healthy sign for our society. Indeed, it’s one more symptom of our devolution from democratic rule to aristocratic rule. Jeffro rightly picks up on this as being anti-pulp. Yet it’s more than that – it’s distinctly anti-American.
I leave with one last passing observation: note this particular moment and its distinct reactionary nature to this phenomenon. I cite this as one (of many) reasons that this franchise performed so well.