Sunday, March 06, 2005

Knightfall 15: Beyond Good and Evil

My online world has become well populated these days; a while ago, to help sort things out, I divided my "friends" list on Yahoo Messenger into--but of course!"--"Heroes" and "Villains." But it's hard sometimes to figure out who fits in which category. There are players who assume both roles as the mood strikes them, for instance. Then there are self-styled heroes who gloat about my downfall, which hardly strikes me as heroic behavior. And now that I've fallen under the control of a master villain, is everything suddenly turned upside down--should I consider the Monk my hero and Superman a villain? (That one's easy: the distinction is between heroes and villains, not friends and enemies. Superman, no matter how my master regards him, is still a hero... Or is he, now that he too has fallen under the control of the Monk? See how complicated it gets?) Then there's the issue of self-identification: if I am no longer allowed to call myself Batman, and if I now serve a supervillain, what camp do I fall in? I don't, for the most part, do villainous things myself, I simply serve a villain as a broken hero...

And so on. All of this reminds me of a certain aspect of my real-life family history. My late mother had a series of very close friends with whom she eventually had a falling out--you could say they went from Good Guys to Bad Guys. And both of my sisters, and two of her sisters (my aunts) also made a shift in category. Usually the move was from Good to Bad, but on a few rare occasions a Bad person became Good again in her eyes. Every member of my family was aware of this categorizing, and one of my sisters used to refer to it explicitly: "I was the Good Daughter and C was the Bad One; then something happened and she became the Good One and I was the Bad One," she said--in a direct but surely unintentional paraphrase of the Prodigal Son parable (which, as I read it, is all about the irrelevance of such distinctions).

As a result of all this, I've never had much use for such simple categorizations in my own adult life. I get bored and annoyed when Hollywood movies employ the good guy/bad guy dichotomy (a simplification which tends to flourish during Republican administrations, I've noticed), and I was outraged when our current president started trotting out the "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" rhetoric. Never had much use for Reagan's "Evil Empire" mantra, either.

Granted, the Batman of the 60s TV show was a true-blue Good Guy who confronted a series of easily identifiable Bad Guys (except when the Green Hornet paid a visit to Gotham), but my own version of the character has long been far murkier. He may have devoted his life to fighting criminals, but he's a vigilante, working outside the law--and if he were a real person, he'd actually be breaking the law in several municipalities by virtue of his signature mask, to say nothing of his violent behavior. I prefer to think of him as unclassifiable--heart in the right place, but so obsessed with his mission that he's become a virtual sociopath.

Meanwhile, I continue to play with all this good/bad stuff in my online existence, almost every night. Part of the challenge is figuring out what I am deep down, and what to make of my partners in crime/crimefighting. And the line I've crossed--and crossed again and again and again--in my dealings with the Monk only makes the dichotomy fuzzier, and thus more fascinating, than ever.

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