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The Anti-Life Equation on Smallville...

There was an interesting discussion on TWoP recently, about the current Darkseid storyline on SV, and I feel this is worth discussing in more depth, because the story has to do with the differences between Good and Evil, and that applies to us all. I like Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I don't worry too much about how scientific things work, or how magic works. I'm prepared to just accept that magic works in Harry Potter, or that people can become vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I can just accept that people from Krypton have superpowers in Smallville. It's called Suspension of Disbelief, and I have no problems with it.

However! When people start fudging moral issues, by implying that some people are Born Evil and so on, that's a different matter altogether. Philosophy and morality are NOT merely airy-fairy things that have no relevance to daily life. The question of how evil comes about is an important one, but also, I doubt we'll ever really know the answer. However, if we decide we DO know the answer, that could be dangerous, especially if we think some people are Born Evil.

Smallville does appear to have decided that's NOT the right answer, but its latest attempt to define the origins of evil seems, to me, to be just as dangerous -- AND very confusing.

I've been having trouble making LJ cuts lately, but I'll try, because this post shows signs of being loooong. :-)))

Darkseid has the ability to affect someone with Darkness. Duh! But he can't affect everyone, only people who already 'have Darkness inside them'. People like Kara and Lois who are 'pure of spirit' cannot be affected. Clark has Darkness Inside Him. Huh! Wouldn't have guessed. So does Chloe. And of course, as we know, so does Lex. Well, Lex admitted as much. You know, the Drakness Around His Pants! :-)))

Okay, what is Darkness, for a start? And why does Darkness make you vulnerable to Darkseid? What is Purity of Spirit, and why does it render you invulnerable? Are people born with Darkness inside them? Are other people born Pure of Spirit? If so, how different is this from people being Born Evil?

Here is a quote from someone in that discussion on TWoP, whom I will call A:

"It appears to have to do with how confident the person is in themselves and how they conduct themselves, with no fears or doubts to prey upon. Carter more or less said that Hitler's regime and the Spanish Inquisition were other attempts by "the darkness" to conquer mankind, but it was always defeated, so it really has nothing to do with anything specific other than how easily people can be made to doubt themselves."

So, if someone is confident in themselves, they are Pure of Spirit, and the Darkness cannot get them. If they have doubts or fears, they have a Darkness inside them, and Darkseid can affect them, take them over and use them for evil. Thus the Spanish Inquisition. (No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!!! Hahahahaha!!!) Sorry about that. My evil twin took over. Where was I? Oh, yes...thus the Spanish Inquisition and Hitler.

Here's a quote from another poster, I'm calling B:

"...taking the Spanish Inquisition as an example, I think Tomas de Torquemada's problem wasn't self-doubt but the lack of it. AFAIK, history coincides that Torquemada quite sincerely believed that what he was doing was the right thing, as he perpetrated the most horrible deeds in his dedication to his idea of what was right. IMO, a little doubt in his certainty would have been a lot healthier than the unswerving fanaticism he and his followers displayed."

A replies:

"That's exactly what Darkseid does, though. One would assume in SV context Torquemada and Hitler were already infected before they started their conquests, so naturally all doubt in what they were doing would have been removed. Fanaticism in doing what he wants is Darkseid's aim. It's what fuels the Anti-Life Equation."

Okay, so people with doubts and fears are to blame for the Spanish Inquisition and Hitler, because they're vulnerable to Darkseid who affects them and takes away their doubts and fears? Whereas people who have no doubts and fears are Pure of Spirit, and invulnerable and so cannot be infected by Darkseid, and so cannot perpetrate horrible evils like the Spanish Inquisition and Nazism? Gah! What a twisted argument!

Well, maybe not, because as A admits, he/she is merely theorizing about what Purity of Spirit means, because the show has never defined the term. So, it could just mean that some people are Born Good, whilst others are Born Evil, couldn't it?

Why does all this matter, again? SV is just a crappy TV show. But, it's a crappy TV show about Good and Evil and Heroes and Villains, and pretends to define how people become that way. If it didn't pretend to define these terms, simply presented good people and evil people doing their thing, I wouldn't care. But it does pretend to define these terms, however vaguely. As B says:

"It may seem like nit-picking, but given that the whole freakin' show is supposed to be about a character who's supposed to be learning to be the embodiment of Good and Right, I think the writers should have at least some bleary-eyed idea of what they mean by Good and Right. IMO, if the show's about Clark learning to become Superman - the protagonist learning what is Good and Right to exercise his power in its favor - it's damned important to show just what he is learning. To make us guess what he's learning is lazy writing. To demonize ALL self-doubt as Always Unequivocally Evil (if that's really what they're doing) is execrable writing, for the Torquemada reason I mention above."

Let's get back to that Anti-Life Equation. Maybe that will help.

Here's a definition from Wikipedia:

"The most current incarnation was established in the 2005 Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle mini-series, written by Grant Morrison. In it Darkseid (or Dark Side, as he was calling himself) gained full control of the Anti-Life Equation, which is revealed to be:

loneliness alienation fear despair self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding x guilt x shame x failure x judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side

By speaking said equation, Darkseid can insert the full formula into people's minds, giving them the mathematical certainty that life, hope and freedom are all pointless. According to Oracle, who barely escaped the "full" effects of the Equation by shutting down the entire Internet just in time, the Anti-Life Equation further states that the only point in anything is to conform to Darkseid's will. Shilo Norman (the current Mister Miracle) is able to break free from this with the help of Metron, gaining immunity from the Equation in the process."

Okay, I can see that if a person were terribly lonely, alienated, full of fear and despair, with little self-worth, and they'd been mocked and condemned and misunderstood all their lives, and were full of guilt and shame and so on, that this person might lose all hope, and decide that life and love and so on were pointless. But does this describe Clark? Since when? Clark had parents who loved him and supported him. He had friends who were willing to die for him, and to kill for him, and a number of beautiful women willing to be his lovers. He's had, at my last count, three extremely rich men willing to help him. When did anyone mock him or condemn him so badly that he lost all hope? When was he so bereft of friends that he could be called terminally lonely?

Here's A again:

"Clark is still insecure in himself, especially as a hero. He knows he does good for people, but there always seems to be a negative consequence no matter what he does. That was kind of the whole point of him getting so disillusioned at the end of S8 that he isolated himself from humanity."

And here's B's reply, edited a little for length:

"Yes, there are often negative consequences to the good he does. But that's what pretty much all adults have to face...we all wield power over others, and we all have the potential to misuse it, even when we're trying to do the right thing. Someone may agonize over divorcing their spouse, trying to weigh the good being done against the damage done to the spouse and the kids....A doctor will struggle in triage during a disaster...All of them may make mistakes that will mark them forever. To me, the act of an adult is to learn from those mistakes and try to act with greater wisdom in the future - while always maintaining the humility of knowing that you are fallible, to guide you."

And that's what I mean by the importance of the depiction of Good vs Evil in the media. If a show is merely portraying cardboard villains and heroes, it doesn't bother me. But, when a show actually attempts to define how someone becomes a hero or villain, this does worry me, because anyone may, at any time, be confronted with a decision -- such as getting a divorce or not, firing an employee or not, deciding, like a doctor in a disaster, who should live or die. Even whether or not to buy certain vegetables or fruit, may, in our world, carry ethical weight. How do you decide if what you are doing is right or wrong? If a show like Smallville tells you it all hinges on whether or not you are Pure of Spirit, and if Purity of Spirit then seems to be defined as being confident of yourself and your own infallibility, then that's troubling.

This brings me to the final point of this long essay. Which character on SV was the most vulnerable to Darkseid? Lex, of course. He was lonely, alienated and so on. He was the one who was mocked and bullied at school, abused by his father, abandoned by his only friend. He needed support and never got it. And, as we noted, he tried and tried to fight the Darkness, without support, whereas Clark, who gets constant support from almost everyone, is portrayed as the Hero who can defeat Darkseid. Clark is the one who will undoubtedly be shown to be the worthy hero, whereas Lex, who tried to do good for so long without any help, has been condemned as Evil Personified.

AND, when I point this out to Clark fans, and say that Clark and the Kents shouldn't have been so selfish as to add to Lex's pain with their lies, and should have been more supportive of the person who helped them so much, and that this may have helped Lex fight the Darkness, I'm told that the Kents didn't owe Lex anything, and that Lex is responsible for his own actions. In other words, the Kents only thought of themselves and Clark. If they tried to support Lex, what might happen to them? If they stopped lying to Lex, what might happen to them? If they tried to rescue Lex from Belle Reve, what might happen to them? The elder Kents didn't care what happened to Lex, and said as much. Clark did care, at first, but then he changed his mind.

In my opinion, as I've said before, that change of mind set back his development as a hero. It's not his self doubt, or lack of purity of spirit that makes him vulnerable to Darkseid. It's his decision not to rescue Lex, even though he knew he could do so, and had done something exactly like this a year earlier. But he decided that his own safety was more important than Lex's. There's nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. That's not selfishness. The problem lies when you put your own comfort ahead of other people's. Clark decided to allow Lex to be tortured and mindwiped, because his powers might be revealed if he rescued his friend. And that is selfishness, pure and simple.

In my last post here, I mentioned a website called SimeGen.com, with reviews by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. Here is a comment by her on the third year episode where Jonathan saves Clark from the effects of RedK:

"Clark resolves his fear when his father presents himself fearlessly, willing to sacrifice his life to save Clark. His father does not deal from a position of strength but of love. Clark, influenced by Red Kryptonite, confronts his fears with power, violence and strength. He believes he has the upper hand – and discovers that love is more powerful still than any amount of physical force. And he discovers he is loved, even when he’s gone mad with power and abuses it."

Yes. Jonathan still loves Clark despite his actions. He is willing to sacrifice himself to save him. But what does Clark learn? How to be a self-sacrificing person? No, he learns he's more important than anyone else. He rejects Lex, who did so much to help him, because first, Lex had the gall to get himself brainwiped, and secondly, had the further gall to keep pictures of Clark in a locked room. This, after Jonathan forgave Clark for all the crimes and sins of his own RedK summer.

And here's B again:

"So if the series finale consists of Clark getting one last blast of flattering smoke up his ass about how he's the Destined Great Savior, thus attaining the mystical quality of Self-Confidence and using it to crush the baddie, I can't help but see it as one more tiresome repetition of that same old theme of Clark needing to be petted once more out of his latest Emo hissyfit. And the attainment of Self-Confidence seems no more weighty than Dumbo's magic feather (as RepairmanBob aptly called it); certainly not important enough to end a series satisfyingly, even though Dumbo is a greater work of art than Smallville is ever likely to be, IMO."

I like the reference to Dumbo, because that baby elephant was mocked for having big ears, lost contact with his loving mother -- temporarily, at least -- and proved his worth after being supported by his friend the mouse, who never lost faith. So again, Lex is really the one who is analogous. Lex had the pain and suffering, Clark is the one who gets the support.

Okay, this is a rambling essay, but I hope it at least raises some interesting questions, even if I've failed to answer them. I wasn't actually trying to answer them, however, just opening them to consideration.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
Hi again Jen I'm back from the dead...
Reading that I've got the feeling that SV writers are saying that Lex is pure evil out of guilt to cover the fact that between the two only Lex have the ethics to be the hero...
Jan. 28th, 2011 04:08 am (UTC)
"...I'm back from the dead..."

I hope not literally, unless you have some fascinating stories to tell us. :-)))

But I'm glad you're feeling better.

And I agree. Lex is the one with the real ethics, even if he did some things that were less than ethical. Clark trots out his ethics when they're convenient, or make him look noble and so on. But when push comes to shove, his ethics vanish like smoke.
Jan. 28th, 2011 01:22 pm (UTC)
Thankfuly not literaly even if at times it looked that way... ^_-
Thank you my dear Jen (Hugs)

But don't you find it curious the streght of the antithesis??? I doupt that this happened without a reason even a subconsious one...
Jan. 28th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
Whew! That's a relief! :-)))

Take care of yourself, eh?

I do find it very confusing and have been trying to find an explanation for years now. I can't think of another example of a TV show quite like it.

I remember a show some years back, whose name I can't recall, but it was set in Chicago at the time of Al Capone and Eliot Ness. Ness sets up the Untouchables, and gradually, over the course of the show, they perpetrate acts at least as violent as those of Capone's gang, until you can barely tell the difference between the police and the mobsters. The thing is, I believe the writers and producers knew this. They knew that Ness and his force were sliding down a slippery slope to perdition.

Another possible example was the recent Canadian show 'Intelligence', in which members of the Intelligence community commit crimes in the name of gathering information. And, again, you can barely tell the difference between the spies and the crooks. But again, I believe this was intentional.

I don't know how writers could set up such a scenario without knowing it. Though I suppose they might have had a purpose in this at one time, which has since been forgotten. I don't know. The writers of this show mystify me.
Jan. 28th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
Man that's many shows with the same politics... are you sure they aren't literaly trying to confuse us about good and evil????
Take care too>>>>
Jan. 29th, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC)
Well, the thing with 'Intelligence' and with that show about Eliot Ness -- I have to find the title of this show, but I'm too lazy at the moment -- is that the characters had some excuse for their behaviour. No one really expects SPIES to be lily white, after all. We all know spies lie and commit various crimes in the course of their duties. Look at James Bond, for example. And Ness was given the job of bringing down Al Capone, the pattern piece for mobsters. The harder he fought Capone, the darker he got himself -- at least according to this still-nameless show.

What's scary for me about Smallville Clark, is that he was still just a teenager when he began to behave even worse than his future nemesis Lex Luthor. There was no excuse for him, as there was for Ness or the spies on Intelligence. If he was like that already at 16, without any excuse or reason, how can anyone expect him to become the noble hero Superman later on, when he does have an excuse, after fighting evil baddies for decades? It all just mystifies me, constantly, and I must confess I don't know what they're trying to say about Good and Evil, though they do seem to be trying to say something.
Jan. 29th, 2011 08:42 pm (UTC)
You are right the other shows had good excuses Maybe SV is trying to convince us that good is evil and so forth too bad for them that the droping of few names is not enough to convince me...

PS I restarted "Ilusions" I planned to stop canon in belle reeve but I'm not sure Clark's betreyal is chouring my stomach...
Jan. 29th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
Okay, I just went and checked, and the show was called The Untouchables! Huh! I was sure it had a different name, but no. It had the same name as the original show, and the movie version. Starred Tom Amandes as Ness, and ran 1993-1994. Not as successful as the original series or the movie, and IMO, this was because of that aforementioned trend to make Ness at least as violent as Capone.

By the way, Intelligence only ran for two seasons, as well.
Jan. 29th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
Well there is grey and there is grey This is not exacly the best thing espesialy if it is remake of the remake and so forth... I never was the black and white type but it must certainly be a limit... Grey is one thing but black possing as white quite another...
Jan. 30th, 2011 12:06 am (UTC)
Yes, and I think SV is an example of the latter, because, as I say, in the case of spies, or police officers fighting truly evil mobsters like Al Capone, what might seem evil and violent in other people may be passed off as gray. I mean, it's wrong to kill other people and I agree with that totally, but if another country invaded Canada, I think I'd be capable of killing the invaders to protect my home and country, so I can see how a person might judge an action differently, depending on the circumstances.

And so: Clark lying to protect someone, or Clark lying to protect himself against harm from an enemy? Okay, in my book, as long as the threat is real and present. Clark lying because it's become habit, and/or to drive Lex crazy because he's developed a sick resentment against him? Evil, IMO. But the show never really makes that sort of distinction when it comes to Clark. So yes, I'd say Clark is black posing as white, some of the time, at least.
Jan. 30th, 2011 12:38 am (UTC)
Me too I will protect my country with my life...

As for Clark I'm sure that there are a lot of people that could have accepted the fact that he is a black hat if it wasn't the power of his name...
Jan. 29th, 2011 12:04 am (UTC)
Greenlady, that was a very thoughtful and thought-provoking essay. Your point about the danger when they "demonize ALL self-doubt as Always Unequivocally Evil" was particularly good.

Self-doubt is essential in growth. Telling people that this is the source of all evil is a very bad idea. As you point out, what Hitler needed was more self-doubt, not less. There is an alarming tendency in recent years to excuse the perpetration of evil in the supposed pursuit of good in many shows.

One might ask why this is happening. I find it deeply worrying.
Jan. 29th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
Hi. Thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed the essay. Though I can't take credit for the passage you quoted, as that was said by someone else, on TV Without Pity. I totally agree with it, however.

"There is an alarming tendency in recent years to excuse the perpetration of evil in the supposed pursuit of good in many shows."

Yes, I agree. '24' springs to mind. My own opinion is that this all had its origins in the paranoia in the US after 911. 'Smallville' came on the air in the fall of 2001. At first, Clark Kent seemed like the sort of character one could picture growing up to be Superman, but soon that changed. Soon other characters began telling him he was the future saviour of the human race, and excusing every crime Clark committed because he was one of the Good Guys. I think this is part of a campaign to convince viewers that as long as someone is on the Right Side, anything they do is right and good.
Jan. 29th, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
I suspect you're right about its origins in the post-9/11 paranoia and a desire to present everything that has been done since as "good and right" whether it is or not. That way we can just assume it and not look too closely.

Jan. 29th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
Yes, and Smallville really seems designed for that purpose, these days at least. Because Clark is going to grow up to be Superman, who looks so closely at his actions that they actually notice what his character is really like, other than cynics like me? He's wrapped in Superman's cloak, which hides a multitude of sins for most people.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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