The Problem with Piebaldery

The first problem is that I’m not 100% sure that “piebaldery” is a word. In fact, I’m almost certain it isn’t. But bear with me and overlook that for now. What I mean by “piebaldery” is the act of segregating “good” and “bad” in writing.

In other words, creating characters who are “good”, stand for what is “right” and never do anything “wrong” and pitting them against villains who have absolutely no values or beliefs but instead stand for something many people would have a hard time accepting. Something like meaningless bloodshed or power or destruction without a thought of construction.

Things like that.

Things where the black is so obviously black and the white is so obviously white.

You may be tempted to call this a morality play, but I’m not so sure I agree. In most of the successful morality plays I’ve read, the main character is actually tempted to do something wrong and they often do it. It is this act which royally screws them over in the end and lands them in an unfortunate situation.

Original faerie tales were like that too. (See stories written by the Brother’s Grimm.)

Currently, I’m unsure of where this style of writing came from or if using it could be beneficial in anyway. However, I am sure of one big gaping hole in its construction, however: adults, and sometimes even children, find this method of story-telling childish.

Let me give you an example.

My friend and I went to the Renaissance Faire last weekend. Like usual, we attended every single jousting event, out of our mutual respect for the recurring villain of the series, but, like usual, the plot was very piebald.

The “good knight” stood for truth, justice and chivalry.

The “bad knight” made snide comments and just wanted bloodshed.

The “good knight” stood for his people.

The “bad knight” just wanted blood shed.

The “good knight” earned his shield by saving an orphanage.

The “bad knight” earned his shield by burning it down.

That kind of thing.

From Pelican Pete
His caption: “The Evil Knight never wins in the end. That’s why he’s the villain.” Best ever.

The unfortunate thing is that often people react to this the opposite way you intend. Take my friend and I for example. We see a good guy who seems so upitty, so good by society’s standards that he’s not even human. We can’t relate to him.

But we can relate to the bad knight.

Sure he’s mistaken in his ideas–but so are we sometimes. Sure he loses the battle–but we often do too!

We look at this battle and remember all the times self-righteous people have pushed us around and spat on us. All the times we’ve lost to someone seemingly better.

And we root for the very knight you want us to despise.

Life isn’t perfect.

People aren’t perfect.

Dilemmas in life aren’t piebald.

The only thing you should make perfect in your story should be Jesus Christ–otherwise you are risking readers pulling away and/or joining hands with the very characters you want them to hate. Even many children’s stories understand this–and they’re some of the most successful stories to boot. Children aren’t as daft as some authors think they are.

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wisely argues. Every character is capable of being a villain. Every character is capable of being a hero. The difference in how we classify them comes from what they choose to do with their potential.

Archetype Analysis: Girls, girls, girls!

In the horror genre, there are a few different types of female characters. They differ slightly, but most of them easily fall into categories. Sadly.

The three I would like to touch on today are the Damsel, the Demon and the Heroine. These are the three you most commonly find–or at least the ones that most easily came to mind.


The Damsel

Ashley from Resident Evil 4; Found on Google Images; Seems to be from Deviant Art but I’m unsure of the artist.

Even though this is the archetype that gets on most people’s nerves, I have a soft spot for these characters. Mostly because I know that if I was shoved into a haunting or an apocalypse, I would be just as useless, just as frightened.

The women, or girls, in this archetype can’t fire guns, they can’t twirl knives and they can’t kick at a supernatural speed–they seem worthless, useless. All they are is pretty. And annoying.

Especially in videogames.

Videogame players usually hate this archetype because they can’t do anything to help you but they can do everything to harm you. If this character dies, you usually have to restart.

And they die so easily.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to give examples for this type. Audiences are often upset by this type–they file this archetype under “annoying.” Audiences want strong women. Women who are able to take down throngs of zombies with their bare hands, who are able to survive hauntings out of brute perseverance and courage. They don’t want to see whiny chicks who have to lean on men for protection.

I think this archetype is important, however.

Not only is it realistic–I know I’m not the only one who would die inside if an undead serial killer was bent on killing me–but it also has some philosophic importance. The fact that the main character feels the need to care for this character, to protect them, gives the idea that we should care for the weak–no matter how annoying they are. The opposite result is also important, an argument that the weak and poor are useless–there’s no need to care for them.

Caring for this character promotes Christian kindness in a way–especially because it’s EXTREMELY hard to deal with them. It would make life so much easier just to leave them behind, to survive, but often the main character doesn’t do this? Why?  Because of the Christian idea of kindness and love that the west has been infected with.

Everyone matters.

No matter how useless they are.

The Demon

Alice from the Resident Evil movies; found on Google Images

Audiences much prefer this type to the Damsel stereotype.

These characters kick ass. All the time.

Whether they’ve been granted super abilities by genetic experimentation or went through extensive training, these women are extremely powerful, a force of nature in it of itself.

Until they find themselves a romantic interest, that is.

Often, when there’s a romantic interest, this type will fail in battle and need their lover to step in for them. Personally, I hate this twist of things. It hints that all women need a man to rescue them. I disagree. Both men and women need each other just as much.

But that’s not what I’m writing about right now, is it?

Often this is a woman character who is tough simply because something bad happened to her in her past and she’s overcompensating for it. Her parents were murdered in front of her. People mistreated her when she was younger.  Biological experimentation denied her a good life and or memories. She felt weak once and doesn’t want to feel that way anymore.

Even though she only explains the reasoning to her lover, our hearts melt toward her as well. “So that’s why she acts like that!” We think. “Poor girl!”

After she opens up, she begins to act more compassionate–that’s when she has to rely on her man to save her. He’s tamed her. No longer is she heartless and all-powerful.

She has changed who she is just for him.

Perhaps this is good if it’s meant to reflect a woman’s relationship with Jesus. We have to become more reliant on him, entrust him with our pains and struggles, allow him to tame us. It’s not too good in reflecting the relationship between men and women, though. It shouldn’t be that women are dependent to men and men can do whatever they want.

This character is also fairly easy to spot–she’s in every genre known to (wo)man.

The Heroine

Heather from Silent Hill; Found on Google

I’m not going to lie, this is my favourite female archetype.

She’s not perfect, but she’s not useless either. She’s not overcompensating for a horrid past–even if she has one, she doesn’t change her personality to overcome it. She takes action. She seeks revenge. But she remains who she is. She’ll take the time to comfort the weak but she won’t hesitate to be strong to the strong either.

Often, she has been trained and is competent in the situation she’s stuck in, but more often than not, it’s her inner strength that drives her forward. She wants to set things right, she wants to protect the weak–she’s the kind of character who will get beaten but will pick herself up.

Claire Redfield from Resident Evil; Found on Google Images; This version is from Resident Evil: Degeneration

She’s the kind of character who people forget when compared to the demon.

She’s not all female power. She’s just a woman–but she’s perfectly fine with that. She is going to do the best she can and she’s going to do it right. She might not look as cool or as confident as the Demon when she doesn’t, but these characters have moved mountains. Heather from Silent Hill 3 might not have had Alyssa’s super powers and abilities, but she managed to avenge her father’s death, prevent the birth of demonic god and live to tell the tale. Claire Redfield from the Resident Evil series is certainly not as flashy as Alice, nor as powerful, but in every series she’s in, she is a trustworthy and helpful partner. She manages to save a child’s life (and possibly psyche), help her brother survive a viral outbreak and helps Leon save a woman’s life–arguably even his own.

Sometimes these archetypes haven’t had any training. Sometimes they’re as useless as the Damsel stereotype–but they’re always driven to fix things. Not because of their own prowess but because they feel they need to do what is right.

I love this archetype to death.

The only unfortunate thing, is that they often fall under an unfortunate condition which harasses all female archetypes: skimpy clothing. They always have to look sexy. Every female character ever. Looking nice, I understand, but it doesn’t make sense to load your men in clothing and armour and to cut your female characters down to short skirts and revealing shirts.

The fans, of course, seem to like it. But I, personally, dislike the philosophic hinting behind it.

 


Of course, there are a bunch of other popular female archetypes to be analyzed–like the Femme Fatale, for instance, but I need to stop so that I can struggle through my Plato read of the day. Need to learn more through Plato about the importance of stories and characters in the development of the human character.

How to Hook a Reader

I have no idea how to do this, so I’ve decided to analyze books and movies that captivated me and try to figure out why. This is what I’ve come up with so far:

Characters Should Always Be Learning
My characters should never be perfect–especially the main characters. This makes their choices predictable and draws the readers away from them. It also makes things less interesting. How is it a story if the main character always does the right thing? How is it a story if everyone loves them? How are they human if they don’t have any problems?
Characters should always be learning. Always put them in situations that make them struggle.

Give the Reader a Heart Attack
There is no such thing as “too many villains.”
There is no such thing as “too many problems.”
People read books to give themselves heart attacks. They want to see characters who struggle like they do–or worse than they do. They want to watch these characters overcome impossible odds. They want to read about characters who fail but pick themselves up regardless.
Tension.
Suspense.
Injustice.
None of these things are fun to experience first hard, but stories thrive off them.

Romantic Tension is Often Better Than Romance.
I have read way too many series just to see if two characters end up together. Sometimes I’ll hate books in a series, but I’ll read them just to see if the characters become an item.
Romantic tension is addicting.
Romance, however, doesn’t interest people as much–possibly because it isn’t done right. With Romantic tension, there’s the threat of losing something dear, but not in romance. Perhaps this is why people dislike it? I’m not sure. I’ll need to analyze this more.

Get People Emotionally Invested
My characters don’t have to be powerful. They don’t have to be funny. They don’t have to be perfect. They do, however, need a certain je nes sais pas that draws people to them.
No matter how good or bad my characters are, my story depends on my readers relating to them or understanding them. It depends on my readers enjoying them. Especially if I’m going to place the characters in impossible situations. Putting the character in tension isn’t worth anything if the reader doesn’t connect with them.

Archetype Analysis: Brainwashed

All right. So this isn’t as much an archetype as it is a frequent situation that characters (in the biowarfare genre) get themselves into.

In the Brainwashed scenario, one of the main characters–usually a love interest–ends up in the hand of the enemy. After thinking over all the terrible things they can do, the enemy decides to tamper with this love interest so that they can control said love interest and send them out to destroy their lover. Or partner. Or best friend. Or whatever.

It’s all the same in the end.

Spoilers: he doesn’t kill her (unless you die during the boss battle, I guess?)

See, the point of the brainwashed scenario is to not only show the power of the two character’s relationship, but to reveal the power behind the human condition, as well.

Think about it.

The afflicted character, the one who is kidnapped, is brought to a stage which diminished their humanity. Sometimes they’re transformed into hideous, inhuman creatures, other times they have their brain chemistry altered to destroy their freewill, their humanity. They are meant to become subhuman. Meant to become a slave.

But they are able to overcome this.

Despite all the efforts that their enemies have put upon them, humanity is able to resurface. Why? Because of their care for someone else. Love for another, these characters seem to say, is more powerful than love for oneself.

This scenario can be seen in many different films, many different movies, many different games, but it runs rampant in Resident Evil. You have Nemesis, from Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Jill from Resident Evil 5, Steve from Resident Evil: Code Veronica… The reason behind this, I think, stems from the overarching theme of humanity’s worth. Wesker, the former head villain of the series, readily traded his humanity over for power. Humans are constantly called weak in the series. Humans are put through tasks no one would have thought them capable of.

And yet they overcome every single one.

Even brainwashing them doesn’t work. Even turning them into monsters doesn’t work. Humans, though severely underestimated by the Umbrella Corporation, are the real things to be feared.

Just as an extra bonus, I just thought it was funny that Resident Evil 5 has an entire battle with Jill where you try and get her to regain her senses. By talking to her. The entire time. And not shooting her. Perfect way to prove the philosophic theme, but it must be really aggravating gameplay.

 

 

It makes me wonder why characters only do this for the fallen people that they recognize. What if every creature could actually be brought back to consciousness? What if the heroes in biowarfare, in action, in horror, are shooting perfectly conscious people? Wouldn’t that be slightly terrifying?

Archetype Analysis: The Lab Rat

Another childhood favourite of mine.

The Lab Rat, another made-up name, is an archetype that runs rampant in the biological horror genre. It can be argued that there would be no biological horror genre without them. For, you see, the Lab Rat archetype is not the monster, but the monster behind the monster. He, or sometimes she, is the scientist responsible for the creature’s conception.

I would like to analyze three characters from this archetype today. William Birkin from Resident Evil, Toshiaki Nagashima from Parasite Eve and Victor Frankenstein from Frankenstein.


BirkinWilliam Birkin

Birkin was one of those child prodigy types: he joined the Umbrella Corporation, Resident Evil’s malevolent biowarfare developer, when he was only sixteen years old. That was nothing, though. His rival, Alexia Ashford, was employed by Umbrella when she was only ten years old.

Alexia seemed to have catalyzed Birkin’s obsession with work. It was because of her rivalry that he began to create and perfect parasites and viruses quicker than an assembly line. His prized virus, however, was known as the G virus, a highly unstable yet incredibly powerful virus that mutated its host terribly.

He killed his old mentor just to advance his research in the virus.

As the saying goes, however, what goes around comes around and by the time of Resident Evil 2, Birkin is lying on the floor, dying, as fellow Umbrella workers drag off his life’s work. In a final scramble to preserve his own life, Birkin injects himself with the G-Virus. The symbiosis goes horribly wrong. The virus takes complete control of Birkin’s body, mutating him until he’s nothing more than a hideous lump of God-knows what. His gross, lumpy form serves as a final boss of Resident Evil 2. His poor daughter, whom his mutated form continually harassed, is probably still scarred from the incident.

Toshiaki NagashimaNagashima

Like Birkin, Nagashima is another child prodigy character. The few glimpses we get from his past reveal a child who cared little for friends or fun but retained an obsession with the inner mechanism of both living and non-living things.

His future self isn’t any different.

After getting advice from a professor, Nagashima decides to dedicate his genius to the field of mitochondria.  “Here,” he thinks, “[is] an unknown world of knowledge, far exceeding anything he had learned in biochemistry and genetics just waiting to be explored. He felt the sheer thrill of breaking new ground.” (Parasite Eve, 111)

This “thrill of breaking new ground” guides Nagashima’s every move in Parasite Eve.

Other than, maybe, his attempt to keep his wife alive by stealing some of her liver cells.

Unlike Birkin, Nagashima is heavily driven by his love for his wife, Kiyomi. Her death rocks him to his core. It is because of Nagashima’s inability to accept her death that the mitochondrial being, Eve is given a chance to live. She is able to truly thrive, however, when Nagashima notices the strange mitochondria in his wife’s liver cells and decides to study them.

Decides to “break new ground.”

The parasite living in his wife’s body, however, is intent on destroying the human race and repopulating it with her own mitochondrial children.

Whoops.

In an effort to stop her and save those around him, Nagashima decides to bond with Eve’s child. This action kills them both and leaves them in an indistinguishable lump of flesh, described, ironically, much like Birkin’s final form.

FrankensteinVictor Frankenstein

Everyone knows about Adam, Frankenstein’s monster, but hardly anyone seems to know about Frankenstein, himself.  Who is the brains behind this living, rotting pile of cadaver skin and organs?

Compared to Birkin and Nagasaki, Frankenstein had a fairly uneventful childhood. His parents were rich, he had a close friend and a lovely adopted sister. He went on vacations sometimes and his parents loved each other.

Frankenstein’s curse, however, is similar to Birkin and Nagasaki: he loved to learn.

And not just the simple sciences either. No, he would bring back books that were taboo to the scientific community and obsess over them. He would astound his teachers with knowledge that had hardly occurred to them.

Then one day he discovered the secret to creating life.

With a feverish passion, Frankenstein devoted his every second to creating his own being, becoming his own God. He would steal organs from cadavers, but in his blind passion, not even this disgusting act bothered him. Nothing bothered him.

Until the creature was created.

The creature terrified him. It terrified everyone else. And it terrified the creature, itself. After the creature killed a handful of people, including Frankenstein’s beloved sister, the Doctor dedicated his life to hunting it down.

He died years later in a land far away from home, in the hands of a complete stranger.


Who IS this person?

Most Lab Rat characters have little to no personality. They have enough of a personality to seem human, but most of who they are exists in this strange passion that leads them in doing what they do.

We know nothing about Birkin’s life, however, before he started to work for Umbrella. Which is strange, seeing as Umbrella would be a corporation that someone would need a reason for joining. Not everyone who shows talent in science would think, “I am going to create something that can rip a man’s head off his shoulders without breaking a sweat” and be perfectly satisfied with their decision.

It takes a certain man. A certain background.

Why is Birkin so comfortable–so passionate–about doing this?

We’ll never know.

The same with Nagashima. We learn that Nagashima finds the idea of “breaking new ground” appealing and seems to be fascinated with the inner workings of creatures–but what makes him respond so differently to his wife’s death? Why does he take her liver cells? Why does he insist on multiplying these cells when they show the potential of being more cancerous than cancer cells?

What drives him?

I, personally, dislike the answer of saying, “well, Eve was manipulating his mind into doing so.” That’s cheating the character of having a perverted reasoning behind his character, cheating the character of owning up to such a frightening action.

Frankenstein also experiences a hazing over of his past. While he does go into detail about many aspects of his life, Frankenstein never truly explains why it is that he feels he MUST create this life. He never seems to betray any reasoning behind his feverish obsession with knowledge.

Even if the Lab Rat seems to have a distinctive personality–which is incredibly rare, as they seem much too busy with being hunched over their work to develop a personality of their own–this personality or past is never enough to explain the reasoning behind their actions.

Work Symbiosis

The Lab Rat is what he or she works on.

All they can talk about, all they can think about, is their experiments, their, as some lab rats refer to them as, children.

“The summer months passed while I was thus engaged [in collecting dead body parts for his monster], heart and soul in one pursuit.” Frankenstein describes his efforts in creating Adam. He says that he talks to no one, that he pays attention to nothing around him save parts of horses and bodies that he can salvage. Like a rat destroying a beautiful sofa for the sake of cotton to build its nest.

“She [Asakura, Nagashima’s student] prayed that Toshiaki would soon relieve her of any further work on the cells [Eve], but her wish was not likely to be granted any time soon. His attachment to Eve 1 was unnatural. Ever since Eve 1 yielded such intriguing information, his attitude had become quite cheerful. Compared to the days after his wife’s accident, he certainly seemed to have regained his former self. But that changed as soon as he began working on Eve 1. He would then take on the look of an obsessed man.” (Parasite Eve, 130)

“An obsessed man.” That is what all Lab Rats become when they are introduced to their experiments, be it on parasites, viruses or creation of life. They do nothing but experiment and research. They refuse to speak with their families, they pull away from their friends. Frankenstein cut himself off from his friends and family, despite his immense love for them, and recalls that probably disquieted them. Nagashima puts off helping Asakura, his dedicated student, with her first conference–in which she’s supposed to be speaking. Birkin ruins his daughter’s opinion of him and his wife by focusing more on his research than her.

“Do you miss your mommie and daddie?” Claire Redfield asks.

“No.” Sherry says. “They’re always more preoccupied with their research.”

Whoops.

Not only did your obsession with the G-virus turn you into a sickening pile of berserk flesh, infect an entire city and kill your wife, but you also destroyed your daughter. Great job Birkin.

Lab Rats are like that, though. The only thing they can think of is their research. Despite the world around them, they can only focus on the microscope or the dissected rats or what not–they don’t notice anything else. Not the lovely summer weather, not the student whose future depends on them, not their tormented, lonely daughter. Something happens because of this. Not only do they destroy everything around them, but their lives become infused with their research. Sometimes physically, sometimes mentally.

In Birkin’s case, this transformation is physical. He becomes the G virus. He becomes the constantly mutated, berserk thing he spent his life studying. He kills his wife, he torments his child and he infests the city closest to him with the virus which transforms them into zombie-like creatures.

Not a good end.

Especially when there’s a scene as depressing as this:

Frankenstein and his monster have their lives entwined together. Not in the physical sense, of course, but in the idea of fates and timelines. Frankenstein must watch as Adam kills off the people he loves most–namely his bride, Elizabeth. Shortly after, Frankenstein devotes his life, a life that might have otherwise been dedicated to the betterment of medicine or humanity, to hunting down his experiment. They become one of the same, two sides of a single coin, a dog chasing its tail. Wherever Adam goes, Frankenstein is sure to follow after.

Not a good end.

Nagashima’s end is no better. Not only is he raped by the disgusting creature he breeds, but he is forced to see her child birthed and is assaulted by it. He is thrown against walls, placed against insane amounts of pressure and, in the end, combined himself with this spawn so that they both might perish into nothingness. He could have gone on to be a skilled researcher. He might have gone on to be remarried.

But no.

Every Lab Rat’s fate is entwined with the creature they create, whether this manifest itself physically or otherwise.

Super-Genius

Almost every Lab Rat is a Super Genius or a Child Prodigy.

There will always be short snippets about their backgrounds that speak of their putting older, more educated people in their field to shame. There will sometimes be stories about their doing extensive research at an incredibly young age. In Birkin’s case, he even had a feeling of insecurity because there was a child prodigy younger than him.

THAT was a nice touch to the archetype.

Point is, no Lab Rat had a “normal” childhood. They decided to become recluses when they were young rather than play outside, they went through college before puberty, they shamed the very people they should have been learning from– and then they unleashed hell upon the earth.

The God Complex

Like the Grey Eminence archetype, the Lab Rat also experiences bouts of a God Complex–which makes sense as many of them are creating a something out of nothing. Unlike the Grey Eminence, they are often less vocal about it, but they clearly seem to find power in the creating and nurturing of whatever experiment they foster.

And this creature almost always turns on them.

And this creature almost always eats up their life.

So the curious thing is, although the Lab Rat may feel as if he or she has become a god, it is their creation that has become a god. Their god.

I love this archetype simply because of its blindness–I can relate to it well. There are several facets of life which I can find myself obsessing over to the point where I refuse to speak to other people, where I, without noticing, place this facet as an idol above everything else.

I love research.

So there is a faint ring of truth in this archetype. I think that if the authors behind this archetype explored the question behind why these characters do what they do, we might be rewarded with a deeper, and more realistic character.

I wonder what God might have in mind to reveal Himself through such a peculiar character.

 

 

 

Images were found randomly from Google; Same with the videos, but from Youtube.

Archetype Analysis: The Grey Eminence

Once upon a time, I read a book called The Myth of the American Superhero. It was a book dedicated to understanding the impact of popular fiction and analyzing how it came about. The authors argued that popular films and story-lines actually acted as the American substitute for mythology. Why? Just as the Germanic tribes meant for Beowulf to be the ideal king, our film writers intend for their heroes to be the ideal Americans.

It’s fascinating stuff, really.

So as an aspiring philosopher and writer, I’ve thought I might want to try my hand at reconciling the two: I’m going to try to analyze aspects of popular American stories (or mythology) and what the thought behind them might be. I hope that by doing this, I might be able to understand how to twist these genres and archetypes to best show God’s grace.

But enough talk.

I’d like to begin this series with an archetype I fell in love with as a child: the archetype I like to–inaccurately–refer to as the “éminence grise” or “the grey eminence.”

The Grey Eminence is usually the main villain, the final boss. She (or much more often, he) is the unexpected puppeteer behind a series’ final climax. Often, he acts as a foil of the main character and the audience is fairly familiar with him by the time that his position of power is revealed–often through a betrayal.

While I have scores of characters I could pluck from my sleeve that fit this archetype–when I was younger, this character was always my favourite–I would like to focus on my two current favourites: Albert Wesker (from Resident Evil) and Agent Smith (from the Matrix.)


WeskerAlbert Wesker

Appearing in the first Resident Evil game, and haunting almost every game shortly thereafter, Albert Wesker was previously known as THE main boss of the Resident Evil series. Resident Evil Wikia even refers to him several times as “the hated enemy,” solidifying his position as the main villain of the series–if only in the fanbase.

Well, until he was killed off in Resident Evil 5, that is. Killed off without any new Philosophical insight. That didn’t improve my opinion of the game at all.

But anyway.

Since the first game, Wesker gained a reputation for being a conniving backstabber. That generally happens when you trick the unit you lead into a monster infested house simply to be killed. As if that weren’t bad enough, Wesker decided to hold one of the protagonist’s family hostage so he would betray the unit as well.

As the series continues, Wesker’s past not only illuminates his sneaky behavior–he assassinates the researcher he worked under to assume his place–but his future as well–he betrays the very company people assumed he worked for. He even kills the man at its head and begins his own escapade for world domination.

Which, for the Grey Eminence character, is a bad idea. The moment they reveal themselves to be the main threat, a climactic battle scene (which they are sure to lose) is quick to follow.

Smith

Agent Smith

Everyone knows about Agent Smith. But I’m going to give a bit of background on him as well just to be fair.

Agent Smith is, in the world of the Matrix, an Agent. This means that he’s basically a computer program that is bent on keeping people from recognizing that the Matrix is a lie.

He’s one of many. Or, at least, he used to be. Until Neo, the protagonist, killed him in the first movie. That death apparently “set [him] free” and “showed [him his] purpose.” Or, basically, made him obsessed with the philosophy of determinism, a philosophy which is the polar opposite of Neo’s.

Throughout the series, however, he not only acts as a foil for Neo, but a possible symbol for Satan, himself.

So what do these two have in common? What makes me categorize them as Grey Eminence characters?


The Unexpected Judas

Neither Wesker nor Smith reveal their importance when they appear.

Smith’s appearance, when compared to the other agents is pretty forgettable–they all hide behind the same glasses, the same dry attitude, the same slicked back hair. He might be a villain, but most of the audience would register him with a ‘henchman’ rather than a major villain.

Wesker first appears as your obnoxious but–seemingly–well meaning boss. The audience first registers him as a protagonist, a hero. Although, to be fair, the script writing in the first game isn’t the most suspenseful, so it’s fairly easy to pick out his being a slippery character. But not the main villain of the entire series.

When these characters begin to set themselves apart, it surprises us. The first time Smith strips off his headset (I don’t know what it’s actually called?) it surprises us. Wait. We think. Why is he so different? Why did he just do that? And when Wesker , with Barry as his right hand man, shows up as the main villain at the end of Resident Evil 1, we are–supposed to be–shocked. But he was supposed to be a good guy, we think. How did that happen?

Not only do these characters betray us, by cheating our preconceived notions of them, but these characters betray the very people they used to have ties to. Upon being reborn, Smith leaves his fellow agents and sets out to conquer the Matrix by himself–he even kills a few of these agents off to do so (by turning them into himself.) Wesker kills several people in the corporation he used to work for and uses the research for himself.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons the audience hates them so much–they have betrayed us.

The Pseudo-death

Many Grey Eminence characters experience a fake death early in the series.

Smith, for example, is killed off in the first movie. Wesker, in addition, is slain at the end of the first game.

But it’s nearly impossible for the Grey Eminence character to stay dead.

Agent Smith inexplicably returns in the second movie and Wesker eases back into Resident Evil: Code Veronica.

For the Grey Eminence character, this pseudo death is often seen as “an awakening” or a “rebirth.” Agent Smith claims to be set free, Albert Wesker declares himself reborn. Like most Grey Eminence characters, these two begin to show their true powers at this point. Agent Smith shows not only an ability to force his consciousness into others, but abilities that mirror Neo’s. Wesker’s super-agility and strength rear their head as he faces off against Chris in Code Veronica.

The Foil

The Grey Eminence is almost always a foil. Whereas the hero might not be the most virtuous person ever, the Grey Eminence’s power hungry nature and constant betrayal are a black background that make the white pieces of the hero’s personality stand out–no matter how dull they are.

Take, for example, the scene of Excella’s death in Resident Evil 5. This scene was created mainly to highlight the difference between the heroes and the villains. Excella, you see, used to be Wesker’s partner in crime. Just as Chris had Sheva, Wesker had Excella–and this scene stresses the difference between the two.

“I thought they were partners.” Sheva says, reminding the audience of how she and Chris are the ideal of what partners should be–and it looks pretty good compared to Wesker and Excella’s idea of the word.

“Wesker doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself.” Chris says, unintentionally informing the audience that he does. Even though his automatic response when he sees Excella writhing in pain is to pull his gun out on her.

Whenever the hero scowls at the ugly things their counterpart does, it improves the audience’s perception of their character. Often, the hero doesn’t have to say much to earn the audience’s approval. The Grey Eminence, once he is revealed, is often a very vocal character–and everything he says is often so terrible, so warped that no one would want to agree with it. A strawman argument. So when the main character says one or two words that destroys this argument, it captures the audience’s heart.

Take this scene from the Matrix: Revolutions, for example.

I love this scene, but I have to admit, Smith’s entire speech is set up just so the audience can see the humanity in Neo’s words and the supposed futility of Smith’s.

The Grey Eminence, despite their power, despite their initial success, lives to serve the hero’s purpose.

The Power Obsession

Perhaps it’s because of their role as a foil that the Grey Eminence is almost always power hungry. Power is the main thing that drives them. The one thing that they want.

“Sure I’m not human anymore,” Albert Wesker laughs as he beats the snot out of Chris, “but look at all the power I’ve gained!”

“I want what you want,” Smith says to Neo, “I want everything.”

Despite the rebirth, despite the seemingly unstoppable powers, the Grey Eminence is always unsatisfied. They want more. They are striving to prove some idea to the world, to change it. To become God.

It’s what Smith says snidely in his final battle.

It’s what Wesker’s entire world domination plan is based on.

The Grey Eminence wants to be God.

Unforgivable

No one thinks of forgiving the Grey Eminence character. No one thinks of listening to them. The hero automatically hates this character and shows no empathy toward them. Even in Wesker’s case, Jill is wary of him when he seems like a good guy.

The hero, of course, can never be wrong.

Scenes that involve the Grey Eminence character don’t actually involve them. If that makes sense. These characters abused simply to make the hero look good. The author can’t afford to make them feel guilty for what they’ve done. He can’t bother to explain it past their straw man argument or obsession with power. Not only does the audience’s opinion of the main character depend on demonizing the Grey Eminence, but so does the plot: the moment the Grey Eminence shows remorse, the audience loses a final boss, a main villain.

And we can’t have that, can we?

This is always why I felt attatched to Grey Eminence characters as a kid: I felt bad for them. They believed in something deeply but could never get the chance to explain it in an effective way. They made mistakes like the hero did–but never got the chance to atone for it. They could never reflect on what they did wrong.

They were abused and cheated for the sake of the main character–and that’s why I used to hate hero characters.

Authority

Grey Eminence characters always have some time to authority. Agent Smith looks like a physical manifestation of “the man.” Albert Wesker is tied to Umbrella, a corporation that symbolizes corrupt authority. They are usually stiff, shallow and sly. Organized. Authoritative. System-driven. Predictable.

They, I believe, represent the dull repetitive strokes of society these days. Beurocratic corruption and verdicts we feel are unfair. They represent the betrayal people feel from a government that has, since the days of chiefs and kings, grown distant, impersonal and, as this archetype stresses, harmful.

 

The “Final Speech”

Passionate as they are, all Grey Eminance characters talk about is their idea of the  “perfect world.” For some reason, this idea of “the perfect world” and why they would want it doesn’t make sense–perhaps this is because the author never shows us who this character truly is and what world they’ve come from.

So you have speeches like the two given above, speeches that hardly anyone could agree with. Wesker’s perfect world is filled, apparently, with hideous parasite monsters and Smith’s world is filled with dreary clouds and human-hating Smith drones. Compared to that, any hero’s dream world sounds better.

 

I really like the potential this archetype has, the philosophy that can be found in it. One day I hope to go back and research this type more. I know that God is capable of using this archetype to reveal His glory–and not just in a way that glorifies the hero of the series.

Plato’s Republic and Stephen King’s Carrie

One is a classical philosophy text which aims to determine what justice truly is, the next is a modern horror novel in which a tormented girl finds revenge through telekinetic powers. What can the two possibly have in common?

The idea that a person is shaped externally.

In the Republic excerpt I read today, Socrates sorted through various myths and thought over whether they are beneficial to the upbringing of his city’s (he and Glaucon are analyzing an argument on justice by hypothetically creating their own city) citizens or not. He drawls on and on through myths, analyzing whether it’s good for their citizens to see the gods as “human” or whether certain myths should be censored. To Socrates, these myths are vital because they will determine the character of his citizens when they’re grown.

Then in Carrie we find that everything Carrie knows is determined by the people around her. This is best seen is Estelle Horan’s story about young Carrie. “Very solemnly” (24) Carrie recites her mother’s views to Estelle as if they were fact. Then, there’s the story about Carrie kneeling to pray at her first public school lunch period. She’s shocked when all of her peers laugh at her and–because they do this–she refuses to kneel and pray in school ever again. Time and time again in this story, it’s clear that Carrie’s odd and malevolent behavior is a result of the things people have done to her. Her mother forced her into isolation, her peers harassed her and the adults in her life are too self interested to care.

It’s interesting that neither Socrates nor King give much credit to the idea of a “true self” that is able to develop in the way that it wants. In fact, I found myself wondering several times in Carrie if Carrie actually had a personality of her own or if she was simply molded by society (which was probably King’s intent so he did a great job there.)

Perhaps people give themselves too much credit in thinking that there is a “self.” Perhaps, as Sartre says, the self is our ability to choose how our environment molds us–or if it does at all. Perhaps, as Socrates says, “the only thing I know is that I know nothing at all.”

 

I Know and Am Persuaded…

While Saint Patrick wasn’t the first person to bring the gospel to Ireland, he was certainly the most beloved person to do so. Medieval Irish historians, Philip Freeman claims, loved Patrick so much that they attempted to downplay any missionaries sent before him so as to make his actions all the more amazing.

But what made Patrick so much different than his brothers?

After all, many of Patrick’s brothers would have been better versed in Latin and schooling, would have been under the instruction of the church for longer, would have been more confident speakers.

But Patrick is the one best remembered today.

Perhaps this isn’t so much because of what he did, but what he didn’t do. As Malachy McCourt says in his History of Ireland, “one of Patrick’s strengths in Ireland was his ability to integrate the Gaelic culture with the Christianity he was trying to bring. He did not, as other missionaries in other places would later, condemn the Celts as ignorant infidels or uncouth pagans. Instead, he took the Druidic world and tried to explain it in Christian terms.”

This, I think, is incredibly important.

In Acts 17:16-34, we find Paul in Athens. Now Paul’s “spirit was provoked” at the sight of the idols that filled the city of Athens, but not once did he think of the Athenians as lower than himself. He “reasons” with the people of Athens and when speaking in the Areopagus, Paul begins by praising them.

“Men of Athens,” he says, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your woship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘to the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Paul observes the culture of Athens and instead of declaring it heathenish, he finds God hiding in it. As he says in Romans 1:20, “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever  since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

Patrick, I think, understood that God wasn’t the God of Rome, just as Paul knew that “[God] does not live in temples made by man.” In every culture, in every science, in every genre, God is lying there in wait.

Although we follow Christ, although we are one body, we are still individuals. Our cultures have shaped us, our experiences have shaped us and (like as not) our families have shaped us. Often, we make assumptions about the laws of the scripture that aren’t there.

Patrick, for example, could have condemned Irish culture because it was nothing like his own. He could have gone in assuming that the way of the Roman church was the only way. But he didn’t. He looked to find where God was.

I think this is what we are called to do.

Every movie we watch, every book we read, every class we take, we have to look for God in them–even if it isn’t a Christian movie, book or class. Just because something is “Christian” doesn’t make it right.

In regard to non-christian books, John Calvin wrote, “in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth in them should remind us that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator.”

Calvin goes on to say that  condemning non-Christian literature isn’t just a choice, it’s actually an insult to God.

“If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would to avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we despise the giver.”

This doesn’t mean that you should read every book ever written by men, but that you should think twice before condemning them or claiming that they couldn’t be used for God’s glory. The same goes for different cultures or philosophies or abilities. Everything is given by God. Gifts will, of course, be perverted when they are used without God’s purpose in mind, but God can still use this for his glory.

As Paul says in Romans 14:14 “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.”

Saint Patrick knew and was persuaded. Are you?

Thoughts on “The Iceman Cometh”

As a die-hard advocate of self-awareness, The Iceman Cometh was an interesting challenge to my current creed. In this play, Hickey, a reformed party animal, tries to sell a new philosophy to his old friends.

“Give up your impossible dreams,” Hickey urges his friends (paraphrased, of course), “reclaim the identity you’ve hidden from so long–be free. Free from yourself, free from nagging pipe-dreams, free from escapism.”

Buying his philosophy, however, leads them to a state of suicidal nihilism–even beer can’t get them drunk. O’Neill is, perhaps, then suggesting the importance, then, of pipe dreams to the human being–or, at least, to the human being’s  survival, however dark and hopeless that survival may be.

From a Christian perspective, though, the fascinating thing is that coming to the nihilistic rock bottom place that many of the characters do is when most people learn to lean on Jesus–when most people decide to change the direction in which they’re heading.

Not these characters.

Pearl and Marjory admit that they’re prostitutes, but don’t find the ability to change where they are in life. Harry and Jimmy Tomorrow come to the realization that they won’t be able to get the jobs they want but refuse to look for new ones.

“I was born this way,” the saying goes, “I can’t change.” But the thing is, everyone has a choice–especially when Jesus is brought into the picture. I wonder if, without Jesus, mankind needs some sort of pipedream to keep them alive.

Unorganized Thoughts on the Philosophy of Horror

Most Christians I am familiar with wince or scoff at the idea of reading horror. They see it as demonic–and in some cases, I am prone to agree. But in many cases, I find that the genera of horror contains within in many opportunities for good philosophy–especially for Christians.

The Horror genera often employs the idea of a world beyond the physical.
This is what makes the horror genre so terrifying–everything we as readers know is yanked from underneath us and we are sent plunging into a drop of the unknown, the metaphysical, the uncertain. Nothing mankind has developed–no laws, no expectations–carry over into this new realm, a realm the protagonist hadn’t thought imaginable.

To the Christians, we are well familiar with this idea of a “spiritual” or “different realm”–mostly because we live in it. While our realm doesn’t require us to fight off long-dead serial killers or grapple with vengeful ghosts, we live in a world separate–yet entwined–with the secular one. Like the protagonist with a sixth sense, we are able to see the darkness of this world–a darkness others aren’t often aware of–and the havoc it wrecks. Also like the protagonist, we are fully capable of being assaulted by this darkness, being strangled by it. We must remember that we are no better than anyone else–no purer. The only difference is we can see something they can’t–and we have to deal with it.

Unlike the horror protagonist, however, Christians do not depend solely on their own cunning to free themselves from this darkness–we depend on Jesus. On our own, we can’t survive constant waves of darkness striking us, we can’t be the ones to make the brave decision to take the haunted house down with us. We need Jesus.

The Horror genre strips humanity to its bare bones.
To me, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Horror genre. We often begin with a character to whom anyone can relate to. Just like us, he or she has grown up with the secular world, with science, with its expectations–and then he or she is thrown into hell.

There are no more comforts and there is no more civilization: what is the protagonist going to do about it?

From a philosophical standpoint, people have been arguing over this for years. What is man like without civilization? Honestly, I would like to see Hobbs and Rousseau write their own horror novels to back up their claims.

That would be awesome.

I, personally, want to try and write from the perspective of a Christian. How, for example, would you reveal Christ to that vengeful ghost? What about Freddy Krugar? In the midst of a war between vampires and werewolves? To pick the most unlikely situation, the most unlikely people–that is what I would like to do.

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