Thursday, January 6, 2011

Danse Macabre Addendum: More Thoughts on Conventional "Evil"

Danse Macabre is still dancing in my head, though I have to admit that after doing some brief reading on it I have become slightly disturbed at my liking it. Apparently it's also subtitled the "Song of Death" and is supposed to inspire images of ghosts and skeletons dancing the "Dance of Death." This makes me uneasy since I don't believe in the notion of the afterlife and view such a conception as very detrimental to the type of life that is proper to a human being. And yet I thoroughly enjoy the piece. It doesn't make me feel drab, depleted, or longing for another reality, but rather swooning, charged with energy, and -- devious. Despite my dedication to and strong sense of morality I find this piece pleasurably dark. I was actually afraid to share this piece for fear of what it might show about my character, but went ahead anyhow. Now I think I understand why I enjoy this piece so much.

Remember my essay, Bowser, The (Mixed) King of Koopas? In it I explained why I admired Bowser, the main villain of the Mario Bros. video game series, despite the fact that he's evil. To summarize, the conclusion I reached is that heroic elements are mixed into his character, maybe even unwittingly by his creator, which would make him an authentically admirable being if we separate these characteristics from his vicious intentions. In fact, if his evil intentions and pursuits were omitted then he'd be a hero much greater than Mario himself. In contrast, Mario has severely undermining elements and contexts which make him unadmirable as a hero despite the fact that he is a hero and is wildly competent. To cite some examples, without the use of magic he's literally but one foot tall, has no obvious ideals and is almost always mute, is utilizing his competence to protect a dictatorship, lives in poverty even though he doesn't deserve it, and so on. I suggest reading the linked essay for more intricate detail, as I more explain more thoroughly how I reached these conclusions from playing the video games.

And this isn't just limited to the Mario Bros. series: It's nearly everywhere. In multiple mediums I have observed villains who are incredibly intelligent, worthy of respect, large in muscular stature, attractive looking, and powerful while the heroes are average or dim-witted, often boring or contemptible, deserving of no respect, puny in body, bland or ugly, and incredibly weak. In the worst case scenario, I've found myself sometimes being upset at a villain's defeat since I believed the "hero" didn't deserve the honor. The villain may deserve to be defeated for his evil goals, for they are authentically evil (enslavement, physical force, theft, etc.), but I so wish that it were more often the case that the hero were more fantastic in his being in order to be worthy of vanquishing evil. In terms of objective values, meaning here the quantity of authentically desirable characteristics a person has, what I too often see today are tales of mice taking down elephants. I feel uncomfortable at the thought of playing another Mario Bros. game since I don't want to be responsible for punishing Bowser with such a morally unworthy opponent.

Given how often villains are infused with fantastic and immensely valuable traits, such as incredible intelligence (e.g. Drs. Robotnik and Wiley) and strength (e.g. Ganon), I seem to have tended to lump these traits with the conception of "evil" due to the fact I've seen so many enumerated cases. Since I see these traits associated so often with villainy, I have consequently integrated into my emotional subconscious that these traits are tied to villainy itself. I admire these traits intensely and try to live up to their requirements, so despite the fact I'm a dedicated moralist I tend to feel "evil" when admiring these traits in the aesthetic realm. I detest bona fide evil and am determined to condemn it and oust it when I observe it, but the conventional conception of it is quite -- delicious. Of course, when you look to modern philosophical ideas many virtues have indeed been maliciously condemned as something evil: selfishness is erroneously lumped with sacrificial subjectivism, intelligence is denoted as "unfair" by egalitarianism, individualism is detested as immorally going against the crowd, and so on. In many cases there aren't even any ideological motivations driving hatred of these types of virtues: People oftentimes just allow themselves to indulge in their emotions and pass negative judgments because they "feel" it's bad. The result is that a vast amount of life-serving and blindingly admirable traits are viewed as having an aura of evil and are often despised when witnessed in modern society. You may not see people loudly proclaiming that intelligence is a horrible attribute and that being a fool is more desirable, but you may witness kids bullying the "nerd" in class and growing up to write stories of a mad scientist being defeated by a heroic buffoon.

That's what I think I see in Danse Macabre. Since I tend to emotionally associate virtuous attributes with "villainy" in aesthetic concerns, I'm responding strongly to this music because it invokes images of the powerful Bowser, the genius Robotnik, and other villains who competently command nature, armies, and even metaphysical reality itself. A slightly naughty pleasure I think, but given my observations and current makeup this is how I view virtue aesthetically. I still reject evil and have had daydreams of Bowser being elected the President of the United States and disarming Iran and N. Korea, but even in his accurate evil form I feel no shame in the fact that I admire isolated portions of his being. It's pitiful that conventional culture handles morality in this way in its aesthetics, but there is still time to make a change for the better and increase the quantity of *true* heroes.

At first I felt a pang of guilt for enjoying Danse Macabre given its associations, but I see now that I'm responding to my conceptualized visualizations of heroism, though in a very odd way. This piece speaks to me the power and grace possible of morality and competence. I do get some hints of how it relates to the phenomenon of death, but that isn't my primary response.

Regardless of the fact that it is virtue I'm admiring here, I don't think it is desirable to let myself stay static with such an association. I even still feel odd using the word selfish in a positive context despite the fact I endorse it and have been an Objectivist for years. Whatever I admire, I truly want it to be pure of evil and to be desirable in an absolute sense and without hesitation. Right now I think my sense of heroism may still be in development, as while I may have intellectually recognized what I'm striving to achieve in my being I have yet to successfully adjust my emotions accordingly. I want to uphold without reservation heroes that are good and great without defects. Since I've written that essay about Bowser I have been constantly thinking about this subject and keeping myself open to further observations, so I'll surely continue my thinking and observing. There's greatness somewhere in the aesthetic realm; it shouldn't be so rare in things like books, such as Atlas Shrugged or Cyrano de Bergerac. The search continues.

However, I don't mean to say that my known instances of aesthetic heroism are so rare that I'm entirely unresponsive. Lately I've made the identification that I am aware of a series that has great virtue: the villains are interesting and incredible in their powers, but the heroes not only defeat them in the end, but with overwhelming force, greater moral characters, and greater abilities. The villains may be fantastic in some ways, but they have great defects that eliminates the admirable nature of individual traits and the heroes are both superior and the people you'd actually want to defeat this evil. It's still in the contemplation stage, but in the works is what I consider a sequel to my Bowser essay, this time with beings of pure morality.     

1 comment:

  1. You may also care to listen to 'The Devil's Trill' by Giuseppe Tartini on YouTube (Perlman's version is very good).


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