Lessons from the Anti-Heroes

We can always learn a thing or two about dealing with injustice and grief from today’s fictional anti-hero heroes and icons. (indulge me for a while in this post as I talk about fictional characters as though they were real).

I wager many fans of thriller and suspense flicks actually love Hannibal Lecter as much as they love Clarice Sterling. I know I do. After all, he does what we all just wish we could do but dismiss as even a remote possibility owing to our long-held beliefs of right and wrong. When karma takes too long to get back at those who did wrong to you, it’s almost tempting to contemplate revenge and vindication.

But that was one of the very few things my mum has carefully instilled in me since I was a young girl. Never exact revenge, and never will nor want for anything bad to happen to anyone, even to those who have wronged you. The world has a way of righting the wrong, but just let it be… and don’t cause for any of it to happen.

And so I just take vicarious pleasure watching and contemplating Hannibal Lecter’s life principles. Not that it makes his methods right, nor does it make him any less of a madman, nor is what he does right in any way. But you gotta admit. HeĀ  does what we all just wish we could do in a less extreme way. Hurt the ones who hurt other people. Lecter generally takes good care of the people whom he has dubbed as “people who are worthy of being a part of the human race”. He lets people like Clarice Sterling live. He offs the opera singer who cheats on his spouse; tortures and terrorizes the ambitious, dishonest journalist who gives little regard for what is morally right… effectively, he is just ridding the world of morally ambiguous people.

I have a handful of friends and acquaintances who classify as “don’t ever mess with me or you’re dead meat“. They’ve gotten justice at people who’ve wronged them in ways I can never even imagine doing (and yet, it’s nowhere even remotely close to Hannibal, okay?). On the one hand, I cringe at the thought of willfully causing hurt or pain to someone else…. even if it is only to seek justice (not even revenge). Even if repercussions on the recipient of justice are mostly emotional scars.

On the other, part of me admires their tenacity and will to get the justice they feel they deserve.

Where do you draw the line?

Every decision and action we make, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has corresponding actions and reactions. It’s not so far from making a decision everyday on how we behave towards humanity.

My husband gave me an interesting insight last night. As we were watching a documentary on History Channel about the Legacy of Star Wars, he told me to pick up lessons from Anakin Skywalker’s journey to the dark side. It began with just one incident: his mother’s death. Not only did it awaken his lust for revenge and power, but it brought out the strongest emotion that led him down the path to the destruction of his humanity: fear.

And so it begs the question of what to do when people have wronged you. It’s so easy to seek vindication and justice but sometimes, you wonder. At what cost does it come? Whose feathers do you ruffle? How many individual’s lives will you alter? Whose spirit will you crush?

Perhaps those are the same questions that plague Jack Bauer. (Jack Bauer, the perpetual martyr in the TV show 24)

I used to joke that next to God and the others powers-that-be in the Universe, Jack Bauer is the next rockin’ hero.

He takes bullet after bullet of crap to save his country. Several nuclear bombs, suicide bombers, biological warfares and homicidal terrorists later, Jack Bauer still keeps coming back to save the day. At what cost? His life, his wife, his daughter and all the other things that matter in his life.

Never one to seek revenge or vindication for himself. Always does the right thing. Always takes the fall even when he should be the last person to take it. Seeks to protect others before himself. Decides always for the greater good even if it’s at the expense of his own life.

Does a person like that truly exist? If there is, I’d like to meet this person and take him away from his awful reality, give him a taste of the good life for a change.

Like many fans of Jack Bauer, I draw comfort from the possibility that a Jack Bauer exists in this lifetime. A character like him restores my faith in humanity (although watching his enemies affirms the cynicism that the human race is often in a state of total, utter disgrace) and reminds me that there are people who will go beyond the call of duty to do the right thing.

The whole point of this discourse? Nothing much. Maybe except for the fact that life will always be unpredictable and we will always wonder why things happen to us that we feel we don’t deserve. And maybe we really don’t, who’s to say?

Perhaps if there’s anything you can take out from pop culture’s icons today, it’s this: we can never ever lose the part of us that’s good, that’s kind and decent. That’s what it means to be human. Every single day, we cannot lose our humanity. Every word we say, every thought we think of, every action we do irrevocably shapes the person we will become someday.