“Too Noble to Be Cool”?

At first I planned to ditch this post, but changed my mind and finished it anyway. So here goes.

Charlie-Hunnam-King-ArthurAn Entertainment Weekly article on Charlie Hunnam, who stars as King Arthur in an upcoming film directed by Guy Ritchie, got my hackles up, especially with comments like this:

Arthur has a bit of a Superman problem: He’s too noble to be cool or dangerous, and he’s rarely conflicted. (Sullivan 23)

In order to make him “cool,” the filmmakers decided to tweak Arthur’s origin story to make him a “streetwise” orphan ala Oliver Twist. I can’t help but notice how making someone “cool” usually involves putting that person in the theft/smuggling trade ala Han Solo, Aladdin, Flynn Rider in Disney’s Tangled, or, come to think of it, Indiana Jones. He didn’t just “borrow” those artifacts from those temples, y’know. (Yeah, yeah. Archaeology. Blah blah blah. But it really depends on your cultural viewpoint, doesn’t it?)

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For some, a character is interesting only if he’s the bad boy or at least has an edge to him. In other words, if the character is an antihero. I call this the Han Solo Syndrome. Though I have a soft spot for Han Solo, Flynn Rider, Aladdin, and Indiana Jones, I’m wary of the proposed revised history for King Arthur. While the filmmakers have a right to do what they want with this film, an attempt to revamp the King Arthur story flopped in 2004, as the article pointed out. I don’t fully know how Ritchie & Company will adjust Arthur’s back story for this movie. Entertainment Weekly gave only a few hints (like the fact that the new Arthur will be raised by three prostitutes).

According to Hunnam,

You need to see a character grow, and you need conflict. . . . If somebody is walking around with noble aspirations and then they find out that they’re King of England, wonderful, but it’s all a bit boring. . . .

I agree with him about the need for growth and conflict. But the “boring” judgment call shows a sadly one-note view of “good” characters. I’ve written about this before.

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Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur

“Too noble to be cool”? “Boring?” The issue seems to be with the notion of the heroic archetype. I’ve seen this archetype challenged more and more in our so-called “enlightened” age. When I was a kid, we used to call a virtuous person a “goody-goody” if we wanted to make fun of him or her. If we don’t believe anyone can be that selfless and noble, we might say the same. But what’s really needed is a better understanding of the strength and complexity of good.

Since the EW article focuses on a guy, I’ll concentrate on guys. I know some really good guys—men and teens with faith and ideals. But not a single one of them constantly walks around humming and thinking “noble” thoughts about kissing babies and rescuing puppies. All of them struggle with temptation, fear, doubt—the usual stuff. None of them claims to be perfect. They make mistakes. Yet they strive to be good husbands, good dads, good friends—good people. Doesn’t sound boring to me.

Would anybody call soldiers, fire fighters, police officers—people who rush into danger and protect others—“a bit boring”? Yet the people in these professions work toward what’s good. Many have a strong sense of justice and a need to help others. Yes, there are some bad apples according to current events. But for the most part, you’ve got people who put themselves on the line for others. Many of us know people in these professions. We see their foibles as well as their bravery. Good fictional heroes can be like this. (I’m thinking of Spider-Man, Green Lantern, and Luke Callindor, Charles Yallowitz’s hero in Beginning of a Hero.)

An author’s job is to develop characters a reader will find compelling. I grew up loving the story of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. When I was a kid, I read T. H. White’s book, The Once and Future King. I never found it boring nor did I find Arthur “too noble to be cool.” He made mistakes and sometimes doubted his leadership; yet he strove to do the right thing. I find that compelling. But the filmmakers seem to think he’s not macho enough, and hope that Hunnam and his hotness will make Arthur an action hero. (Okay, the photo on the magazine cover makes a convincing argument.)

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The jury is out on whether or not I’ll see the new King Arthur movie. I’m not sure when it’s due out. The actors are still in the process of filming it. The only question I have for anyone adapting the story of an existing character is this: If you find that character to be boring or uncool, and have to make a whole bunch of changes to make him or her more interesting, why adapt the story in the first place?

Sullivan, Kevin. “The Sword and the Stone-Cold Fox.” Entertainment Weekly 31 July 2015: 20-27. Print.

Charlie Hunnam from hypable.com and femalefirst.co.uk. Flynn Rider from tangled-wallpaper.blogspot.com. Harrison Ford as Han Solo from solidsmack.com. Once and Future King cover from Goodreads.

It’s All Good?

I’m in season 3 of The Clone Wars. The arc of a series of episodes spurred me to write this post on the depiction of goodness. I wish I could sound as calmly lyrical as Bottleworder, Andra Watkins, or Lavender Moon Girl always does. But I can’t. Not when I feel like screaming.

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I can’t avoid spoilers, so if you don’t want to know anything about this arc, you might skip to the part where it’s safe to read (bold capitalized text below). If you want more information, click here.

In the episode that begins the arc, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin’s padawan, Ashoka Tano (see hero pose below; I often stand like this with my friends) are brought to a planet (Mortis) where they meet the beings known as the Ones: the Father, the Daughter, and the Son. For more on them, click here.

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Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ashoka

Take a look at the picture of the Son and Daughter below. Guess which one is the embodiment of the light side of the force and which represents the dark side. (I would have liked to see a role switch.)

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When the Daughter and the Son fight each other for arc-related reasons, guess which one is easily defeated. I’ll give you this one: the Daughter—the good side. Why? Because she is “good” and thereby constrained by the limits of goodness. The bad side, however, has no real limit.

We learn about a weapon that can defeat the Son—a dagger that reminds me of the sword Samurai Jack wields in the titular series—the only defense in the fight against Aku, the shape-shifting evil spirit. However, as the episode of The Clone Wars goes on to show, this valuable weapon is easily stolen by the bad side, thus once again proving that bad barely has to break a sweat to triumph over good.

The notion of the light (or goodness) being limited in comparison with the dark side gets my hackles up, especially since good is personified as a woman in a flowing gown who acts like a doormat. Based on her outfit, was the expectation that she would stand around and look pretty? Does that somehow show the power of goodness? Grrrr. Since when has good become this limited? Why is it limited?

IT’S SAFE TO READ NOW. BUT I’M STILL RANTING. I’ve seen this limited-good aspect played out in other series and books where the good guys seem about as engaging as a bowl of milk, while the bad guys are like ice cream sundaes—enticing, interesting, layered, and much more powerful than the good guys. While I can understand the need to place some limits on good for the sake of conflict (i.e., in the Lord of the Rings), I don’t understand the efficacy of the limits in this Clone Wars arc.

That’s why I’m thankful for shows like Avatar and characters like Katara and Toph.

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Katara

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Toph

They are the face of good in the series, along with Aang the Avatar. None of these characters is perfect. They make mistakes, some quite boneheaded. Even when defeated, they come back fighting. And neither wears a trailing gown, which would be a hazard in a serious fight.

I have to stop here to explain that I grew up in a rough neighborhood. When I was in middle school, there was never a question of whether you’d get in a fight, but when you would. So I had my share, though I didn’t instigate them.

In a fight, the first things to come off were earrings and anything your opponent could yank or twist. That’s why I can never suspend my disbelief when a character is shown in battle wearing a prom dress with trailing sleeves. But I digress.

I’m also grateful for movies like The Avengers

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and characters like Natasha Romanoff/the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. Sure, she has a checkered past. But she’s got layers. She’s a complex character who stands with the other heroes in The Avengers based on the choices she’s made. And I think you can guess which scene in the movie is one of my favorites. If you can’t, please comment and I’ll tell you.

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Script writer/director Joss Whedon didn’t have to lower the stakes to make the heroes look effective. He kept raising the stakes because they were. So, I’m grateful for that and for . . .

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. . . beautifully, nuanced characters like these. They’re imperfect—prone to argue with each other. But they get the job done. Sure they were afraid. When Syndrome came knocking, these heroes answered the call. This is what GOOD looks like. And note the lack of capes and trailing sleeves. The movie provides an effective argument against both.

Want another image of good? If you get a chance, take a look at the photos at the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Service (iWomen). Go here for those. It takes guts and determination to be an emergency professional. It also takes a strong desire to help others. That’s the nature of goodness. Strong. Sacrificing. Real. And no prom dresses in sight.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go calm down somewhere.

Images from marvel.wikia.com, imdl.com, heatdown.com, deviantart.com, fanpop.com, captainrover220.blogspot.com, coverdude.com.