“The Avengers” and the Problems of Bloodless Violence and Glorious Death

Last night I went to see The Avengers with my family.  It’s not a bad movie.  In fact, in many respects it’s a feel-good film.  Which fine and dandy, except for one thing.  Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re planning to, spoilers follow.

The plot doesn’t really have much to do with the movie.  Suffice it to say that an experiment accidentally opens a gateway through which an evil god of Asgaard (a guess at spelling) named Loki comes to earth, where he kills a few people with bursts of blue radiation (they are incinerated) and then runs off to open a larger portal through which to call his army of robots (probably robots, perhaps some variety of centrally-powered alien–since they all collapse when the enemy based is destroyed) to earth.

Along the way, a massive aircraft is very nearly destroyed, and New York is reduced to rubble.

Perhaps a grand total of ten people are killed in this process, most of them bad guys (I’m not counting the aliens/robots,all of whom are dead/inactive at the end of the film).

Only one death has any significance in this entire movie, and that’s the death of an agent named Phil, directly at the hand (or spear) of the evil Loki.  Phil gets a long peroration before he kicks the bucket, not unlike Spock in one of the Star Trek movies.

OK, I know this film has nothing to do with reality, but this bothered me.  A lot.

Here’s why.  When you destroy a city, people die.  By the dozens, hundreds, thousands.  When people die by violence, even good people, almost none of them get the opportunity to make long speeches about good and evil. And the odds are if they do, nobody is listening anyway.

This film continues the myth of glorious, meaningful death.  Which is bullshit.  Patton had it right when he (or George C. Scott) said “No poor dumb bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.  He won it by making some other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”  And Joss Whedon was much more truthful when he shocked us with Wash’s death in Serenity.  Death comes suddenly, meaninglessly, and you don’t get a coda.

How talky are you with a fist-sized hole in your lung?  Or with your head blown half-off?  When a bullet or a shell fragment or shrapnel; from an explosion creates hydrostatic shock?  When your leg is missing, and you’re bleeding out?

You’re not.  If you have time to think, you probably think about the pain.  Or the fear. I sincerely doubt that you think about how you’re dying for the right cause.

Death is not glorious, it’s meaningless and miserable, and that we live in a world where nation-states still settle their differences by having their soldiers kill one another is incredible.  But death shouldn’t be sugarcoated.  Nor should the horrific survivable wounds of war, but that’s another blog.  And likewise deaths of bystanders and civilians.

The Avengers bothered me because, except for Phil, it was completely sanitary.  Hunger Games bothers me for much the same reason.  And of course, Phil’s death, though embroidered liberally with blood, was glorious, if not sanitary.

Death, be not proud. Be not so goddamn proud.


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