Tea Time With Jesse

Six of One, Half Dozen the Other

The Zeitgeist of Badassery

Posted by middlerage on March 28, 2011

I recently learned about a science fiction trilogy from a legal blog of all places. It is called the Hunger Games and I hadn’t heard of the series despite the fact that it is an NYT bestseller. The series is science fiction only in that it is set in the future, otherwise it is low on science and definitely not what might be called “hard science” fiction. I was attracted to the story because it is set in a post-apocalypse setting, and I am a sucker for post-apocalypse stories. The books are a guilty pleasure, because, as I was reading the first one, I thought, “boy this is light and easy reading, almost Harry Potter-esque.” I looked at the spine, and sure enough the library has it categorised as juvenile fiction (I had to put in a hold request at my branch library, so did not actually physically look for/discover it is classified “young adult.”). Ha! Something funny about a law professor recommending young adult fiction, but I know plenty of adults who devoured the Harry Potter series.

Anyhoo, the purpose of this post is not to muse on the Hunger Games, but rather to muse on the idea of badass as protagonist. Unless you’ve been living in a cave (underwater and on a planet light years away) you’ve heard of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (also a – wait for it – trilogy). The main chicka in TGWADT is a computer whiz genius who borders on asperger’s syndrome and wields a mean axe. She has a photographic memory and is an all around techno-geek badass. Likewise, the main protagonist of The Hunger Games needs all of her skills as a hunter and ace archer to survive the “Tribute” games – gladiator-style, battle-to-the-death – entertainment fostered by the evil “Capitol” to control the masses. (Don’t worry, if you plan to read the books, that really isn’t a spoiler. You know from page one the protag survives, otherwise there’s no story beyond page 21, much less a – wait for it – trilogy).¬† Likewise (again with the “likewise”!), there’s the Bourne Identity series: badass, black ops, ranger Jason Bourne fights dah Man with all of his badass training, which is ironically courtesy of dah same Man. The Bourne series is another guilty pleasure of mine. None of these are literature, but they are wildly popular, because they tell a romping good story. Sometimes you want mind-bending literature, and sometimes you just want a good story, well told.

So here, then, I muse on unanswered questions:

what is it about these badass individuals who take on the powerful? Are we living through a certain zeitgeist at the moment that makes us feel powerless? A certain zeitgeist that makes us dream we had da skillz to fight deh power? Why are these stories all about individuals? Where are the stories of groups or unions fighting the good fight? Would that be less satisfying? Less entertaining? I’m asking – not criticizing. Is it our western heritage of individual rights that makes the individual badass so popular? And what about the everyday, normal, non-badass? Where are the stories of Joe Blow and Jane Doe fighting and winning? I’m not saying those stories don’t exist, but I can’t think of them at the moment – well there’s Erin Brocovich. Any others? And notice how the stories are formulated where the protagonist is a badass – fer sure – but also very “everyman” at the sametime. Badasses who are not elites. Humble. Saintly even. The hair-shirt, hermit monk defying the Church, then fast forward 1000 years to the likeable, hates-to-cause-injury, badass defying Big Brother. Maybe we feel like no one’s got our back – the bowling alone syndrome. Maybe no one has our back because they all work for Big Brother. I conquer alone because I am alone. Righteousness.

What say you readers – thoughts, comments, angsts? Do you feel powerless? Do you enjoy stories of these pop culture badasses? Do you miss reg’lar folks who make the fight? Comments on.

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3 Responses to “The Zeitgeist of Badassery”

  1. Jerry said

    I could (and probably will, later) go on at length about this, but I want to mention one of the biggest movie disappointments of my life. Mission: Impossible the television series was all about a group of people putting a mind-fuck on some bad guy. At the end, the bad guy was alive, possibly not even in custody, but there was that look on his face that said he knew he was well and truly hosed. He was defeated by a plan carried out by a group of skilled people. There was sometimes even poetry to the demise of the bad guy.

    Mission: Impossible the movie was the prototypical Single Badass Taking On the System, complete with Big Explosions and Unlikely Feats of Macho Awesomeness. What happened? How did the people making that thing manage to forget so completely the nature of the franchise they were exploiting? Had any of them even seen the original show? Like I, Robot, the people who made the movie proved they hadn’t the slightest clue what the source material was about. (In the case of I, Robot, the story they told was the exact opposite of the original message. Asimov would have never ever ever ever ever ever ever approved that script (ever), and I weep for his legacy that someone else sold out after his death.)

    • middlerage said

      Oh man, I wish some channel would rerun the TV series. It’s funny that even though I am a sucker for badassery I never took to the movies of MI. Too…something…silly I guess.
      Somehow I knew I Robot would be violated so I never even watched it.

  2. Kristin said

    what about the matrix? that was a group of people. also the X-men. Lord of the rings. there are lots of movies about badass groups.

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