My dad is the kind of person that it is damn near impossible to watch a movie with. I’m sure that I’m not alone on this. How many dads constantly analyze every aspect of every movie, assessing its plausibility before declaring it “movie bullshit?” I would wager plenty of them do.

Generally, this kind of intrusion into the escapist venture of watching a movie isn’t really welcome. We watch movies to enter a world where anything is possible; a world where super-intelligent aliens can be killed by crossbows, a world where Bruce Willis jumps out of flaming helicopters full of scorpions onto a superhighway unharmed, a world the where the nice guy always cashes in the good karma owed him.  And this is well and good, but there is one piece of “movie bullshit” that my dad has pointed out that I think has a real bearing on all of our lives.

It comes out whenever we watch epic fantasy or war movies. Like Star Wars, Lord of The Rings, anything with a lot of people fighting battles.  While I sit enthralled with the action and wondering what’s coming next in the film, my Dad always responds the same way. With a glaring lack of enthusiasm.

There is adventure and action and violence, and he is not enthralled. While we watch rooting for one side or the other, hoping our hero doesn’t die, he sits calmly.


“…Tell me again what the big deal is?”

And then it leaves his lips:

“Thousands and thousands of people are dying in this battle; what makes you think you would be the hero if you were in the story? It’s much more likely that you would be a faceless [orc, storm trooper, clone, elf, whatever] that got killed in this battle.”

That’s the kind of truth that ruins movies. So we just don’t expect to get too into a movie when watching with my Dad. But behind his movie-pooping is an idea.

The idea is that we are a hero-focused culture. We look at individuals, especially notable ones, in a light that makes them seem God-like. In movies, we spend so much time looking at Gandalf, or Luke Skywalker, or James Bond that we don’t realize how many people there actually are around them. Worse than that, we don’t take into account that they’re all dying.

The hero focus is in step two when we identify ourselves in the story. Because we are always the hero. The hero that has a mission to fulfill at all costs. And the hero that kills a bunch of people along the way to fulfill that mission.

… I like to call it “protagonism.” Whereas antagonism is the act of making someone into the villain chronically, our culture as “protagonistic” makes ourselves the hero chronically.

But the phenomenon doesn’t stop with fiction. The hero culture of the West enters into the way we recount history as well. Think about any textbook you have ever read. What happens whenever there is a great breakthrough, victory, or catastrophe? Credit or blame is assigned to as few people as possible.

In most cases, we learn a historical event, and then learn the name we are supposed to associate with it. When you think about it, of course these were group efforts. And the names we learned in school were probably very important contributors to these breakthroughs. But how often did you ever learn the statistics of how many people it actually took to develop these things?

Subconsciously, In the “protagonistic” reality we live in:

Henry Ford made all of the model-t’s by hand.

Napoleon conquered Europe by himself.

And J Robert Oppenheimer invented the atomic bomb in his garage.

These sound like gross exaggerations. And they are. But this is the kind of thing we can teach ourselves subconsciously if we aren’t careful. But the real implication here is that we put ourselves at the center of the story. That we assume the position of main character almost automatically.


Pictured above: exactly what I’m talking about.

What would it look like if we were to all assume the position of a supporting character? Would professional athletes and CEOs be paid less? Would there be less International conflict? Would the American family unit be healed? These are a lot of questions that I can’t answer. None of us can until we try it.

So let’s give it a shot.

Try being an orc instead of Aragorn this week. Be a support agent instead of James Bond. Be a storm trooper instead of Han Solo. Let me know how it goes.

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1 Response to Protagonism…?

  1. Pingback: Anablephobia? | Tales from the Poison Pen

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