Monday, July 30, 2007

LIve Free or Die Hard--The Myth of Redemptive Violence is alive and well

A friend of mine told me that she had just seen the new Bruce Willis movie, Live Free or Die Hard also known as Die Hard 4. She said she really enjoyed it as a fast-paced, action movie. I told her that the Die Hard movies were perfect example of the Myth of Redemptive Violence, a social theory developed by theologian Walter Wink.
The synopsis, from the movie website reads as follows:
Live Free or Die Hard is the ultimate summer action ride. In a season overflowing with CGI fantasy, Live Free or Die Hard gets real -- with real action, real humor and a relatable Everyman hero: John McClane. On the July 4 holiday, an attack on the vulnerable United States infrastructure begins to shut down the entire nation. The mysterious figure behind the scheme has figured out every modern angle -- but he never figured out an old-school "analog" fly in the "digital"ointment. Bruce Willis is John McClane. No mask. No cape. No problem.
The Myth of Redemptive Violence arises from the Babylonian myth of creation. In that myth, a young god Marduk slays the mother goddess Tiamat by ripping out her entrails and spreading them across the sky. The myth portrays the universe as a constant battle of good versus evil in which redemption is found through violence. As Wink points out, this creation story is radically different from the creation myth of the Bible. In Genesis, a good God creates a good universe, and evil is seen as a rip to be repaired. Violence is not necessary for redemption. However, we live in a Babylonian society not a Judeo-Christian society. The Myth of Redemptive Violence is alive and well.
Take the old cartoon Popeye the Sailor as an example. In every episode, Popeye is escorting his girlfriend Olive Oyl when they are accosted by Bluto. Popeye is beaten to a pulp and Olive Oyl is kidnapped by Bluto. In extremis, Popeye manages to pop open a magical can of spinach from a shirtsleeve and eat it. Infused with new powers, Popeye violently brutalizes Bluto, rescues Olive Oyl, and walks off into the sunset. We are all satisfied wirh the result.
Bluto cannot be redeemed except through violence. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for Bluto to be transformed to a peaceful person. Olive Oyl portrays a disempowered female with no ability to protect herself from rape, kidnapping, or violence. Popeye never has the good sense to eat the spinach before meeting Bluto nor to engage Bluto in a nonviolent way.
The Die Hard movies follow the same formula. Bruce Willis becomes aware of an evil force, is beaten to a pulp, finds some way to violently defeat the evil force, and rides off into the sunset. Along the way, hundreds of people are injured, hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage occurs, and chaos reigns. We are satisfied. However, we really don't think about the consequences of violence as a redemptive force. Who will be the politicians and leaders that will clean up after John McClane? What insurance companies will have to pay out damages for the chaos and injury? How much will this violence cost us as taxpayers? Why is extreme violence necessary to counter the evil-doer?
The secret to action movies and even children's cartoons is that we have a deep sense of satisfaction when the armed redeemer rides into town, shoots it out with the bad guys, and rides off into the sunset leaving the resulting mess to be cleaned up by the townsfolk and the politicians. There is no room for negotiation, no room for transformation, no room for mediation or peacemaking. Only violence can meet violence. The myth repeats itself week after week and in fact is necessary as the basic plot of any good cartoon or action movie.
If you become aware of the Myth of Redemptive Violence as an organizing norm of our society, you will see it everywhere. You will begin to understand why peacemaking and peaceful ways of dealing with difficult problems are often shunned. Peace is simply not as satisfying as violence for dealing with evil. And, of course, this assumes the Babylonian view of the universe: that evil must be combated with violence or it will overtake civilization.
When I explained this all to my friend, she was schocked. She had never understood why she was satisfied by a violent action movie even when she was a professed person of deep peace.
I did not mean to spoil her summer fun, but I do think that being consciously aware of the Myth of Redemptive Violence and its influence on all of us will help us to be better peacemakers.

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