My eldest son and I were watching Heroes one night. He asked me, “Daddy, who are the good guys in this movie?”
I replied that there were no real good guys or bad guys, just a lot of good guys doing bad things.
He watched some more before responding: “Daddy, I’m confused.”
Something clicked for me at that moment.
There must have been men fighting or he would not have noticed that there were two sides in the story. My son is still very young. The books we read him and the stories we usually let him watch draw a distinct line between the “Good” and the “Bad.” However, the books usually don’t go into why the wolves or witches do the things they do that make them bad.
Joseph Campbell was all over PBS touting his “Power of Myth” when I was in college. Almost like one of their fundraiser drives, after heavy airplay, he disappeared into oblivion; available only to fans and casual browers of the PBS video catalog. Though Campbell’s focus was mythology and not parenting, I have found meaning in Campbell. At 40something that meaning is changed from what it was at 19. As we age from children to adults, at some point we need to leave good and bad contructs of perception and accept a new paradigm that mires perceived good and bad acts in more complex dances of motives and emotions.
But what does that mean to my son? How do I clear his confusion? Motives and emotions are hard enough to understand at 40. How do I explain them to someone who is just building his vocabulary of emotions? I need a “Now” answer.
It would have been easier to have villified one character over another. We see it in political and religious campaigns all the time. Good Guy/Bad Guy. President Bush brought the adjective “evil doer” out of radio scripts into modern day politics. Religion draws dangerously distinct lines between what is called “Good” and what is called “Bad” – though it seldom practices what it preaches (sorry, couldn’t resist the jab).
The scene from Bedazzled where Dudley Moore is dancing around Peter Cook just popped into my head. It’s in this scene that the Devil (Cook) explains to the movie’s protagonist, Stanley (Moore) why he fell out of favor with God. He explains that he had been loyal to God for centuries and then God one day says that his son Jesus is in charge. The Devil says he loved God so much that he just couldn’t follow Jesus, so he and a few other “True Believers” revolted.
My son and I watched the rest of the episode in silence, absorbed by what was going on. I was engaged on what would happen next and I would like to believe he was engaged in trying to understand why what was happening was happening.