Antiheroes and the Hard Six

SPOILER ALERT: Walking Dead Season 3, Man on Fire, Voodoo Cowboys, and 300

 

Classically a ‘hero’ is a dead man, venerated because of wide fame, the compounding of great deeds, a particularly epic death, or some combination therein. I’ve always thought of myself as a fan of the ‘antihero’, that being someone who fills the role of the protagonist, though exemplifies more villainous qualities than traditionally heroic ones. Recently I have been watching the zombie drama series ‘The Walking Dead’ and like most fans I really liked Daryl Dixon, and I had a soft-spot for his older brother Merle Dixon, because those guys were rough around the edges and reminded me a bit of growing up in the south. 

In the final episodes of Season 3 of the Walking Dead there is a scene where Merle has left one group of survivors and joined another, only to find that he doesn’t fit in there either.  His final act is to launch a one man assault against a vastly superior force, and dies in the process. I found myself deeply moved by the character’s arc, and that after several seasons of him being a somewhat reviled character he has his moment of heroism. Upon watching this I started to think about the classical definition of heroes, and thinking back to other heroes I’ve felt a connection with who went out in a similar fashion. 

As I sift through the list I begin to see a pattern, in which I find a particular interest in characters who  lay everything on the line for one perfect moment. It brought me back to Battlestar Galactica, where Captain Adama talks about how “sometimes you just have to roll the hard six”. Its a gambling phrase, about beating the dreadful odds against and coming out with a victory. When I apply that hard six idea with heroes, I start to see some interesting beliefs that I apparently hold to in my own fictional works. 

In the comic & film ‘300’ King Leonidas brings his Spartan warriors out into the open, instead of retreating into the hot gates where he can still fight, so that he can lure Xerxes within range of a well-thrown spear. When the trap is sprung all of the Spartans are killed, and though Leonidas wounds Xerxes, he fails to roll the hard six. Leonidas dies, but in such a heroic way his story is inspirational regardless of his failure. 

In the Walking Dead Merle Dixon leads a horde of zombies into an ambush laid by the Governor, and under cover of the zombie attack Merle manages to shoot down eight of the Governor’s men before he is killed. For a brief moment Merle has the Governor in his sights, and fires, only to hit a man who crosses in front of the Governor at the last moment. Merle dies, having also failed to roll the hard six, but damn what a way to go. 

In Man on Fire John Creasy is waging a war on the drug cartels in Mexico City, and is severely wounded early in the film. He fights his way through the film, all the while struggling with the increasingly debilitating wound. Somewhere deep down you as a viewer know he’s not going to survive, and you are ok with that, because he is too, so long as he can “do this one last thing”, which is save the little girl. Ultimately he rolls the hard six, and successfully trades his life for the little girl, managing to die before his captors can do anything worse. 

In my own film Voodoo Cowboys, a spell-slinger named Doctor John barely survives a battle with shaman-sorcerer Duvalier in which his comrades (Shaner and Reese) were killed. In order to gain the power with which to defeat Duvalier the slinger must make a magical bargain with a bloodthirsty god, exchanging his own vital life energy for the god’s favor in battle. Doctor John faces off high noon style with Duvalier and kills the shaman, then pays the price for his chance to roll the hard six and dies himself as he walks towards the setting sun. 

In the third Star Wars film Darth Vader sees his son being tortured to death by Emperor Palpatine, and decides to intervene. After years of serving as the dark champion for the Empire Darth Vader chooses to abandon his duties and attack the Emperor, though doing so would surely mean his death. Vader fights through the deadly lighting coming from the Emperor and manages to kill Palpatine before succumbing to his own wounds. Then, to top it off, he survives long enough to tell his son “you were right about me”, and that there was some good still left in him, before dying. To me that sounds like the gold standard of hitting the hard six. 

These are generally dark tales, with grim endings and hard choices, and I do love them so. One of my friends told me, after reading several of my stories, that I seem to kill all of the protagonists by the end of the story, and now perhaps I am beginning to understand why he was right. At the end of it all the way I see it is that whatever a person is, it’s that act of making the attempt to roll a hard six that makes you a hero, and the outcome, whatever it is, isn’t your concern, because you’ll most likely be dead anyway. 

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First World Problems

Warning… this post gets a little preachy… but fear not… we will return to our regularly scheduled Argo geek blog shortly…

 

Like any other American I sometimes get stressed about money, my physique, the opinions of others, and the state of my nation & the world. What I don’t do is worry about being the victim of ethnic cleansing, being put up on legal charges for blasphemy, or being starved out of my village by men with guns. My problems are First World, and I wanted to write a post today in thanks of that fact, because I know that this freedom didn’t come for free. 

I enjoyed the life of a nomadic filmmaker for roughly five years, and it was glorious. I moved from city to city, bouncing from project to project as I followed a haphazard path through the film industry. I never really had any money of my own, yet I never lacked for food, shelter, adventure, and companionship. Through it all I worked hard, earning my stripes and paying my dues in the trenches of the independent film world. I didn’t have much to show for my labors, perpetually broke and holding half-finished films in my hands, and there was always the allure of going back to that desk job. For me it was the choice between being a white-collar office drone or a vagabond artist. When I look at the state of affairs in many other nations of this world I realize that while I was worrying about where to go next or how I was going to get there others cannot stand up long enough under the weight of their grinding poverty or political oppression to even consider such a choice. I live in a country where someone can decide to be an artist, and I can make films or write books or make music about whatever I want without fear of censorship or interference as long as I don’t hurt or exploit anyone in the process. First World Problems. 

These days I’ve shifted from nomadic bachelor to family man. I work for the military roughly 4 months out of the year, then spend the rest of the year working on my films, books, and being a stay-at-home dad. My biggest concerns day to day are things like running out of laundry detergent, forgetting to put out the recycling, or changing out the diaper bin. When I worry about money its not a question of whether or not I can provide food, clothing, and shelter for my family, its more like picking 3 day shipping on an Amazon purchase instead of overnight, or whether to take a vacation now or later when there’s a bit more cash on hand. First World Problems. 

For me a big creative outlet is cooking, and I like to experiment about ninety percent of the time. Unlike other art forms, like filmmaking for instance, cooking allows one to have an idea, prepare the ingredients, add the heat, and serve the meal all in one burst of energy. I enjoy going to the grocery store without a plan and just buying a cart full of assorted ingredients that I’ll find combinations for later. I don’t worry about the money most of the time, and the few times when I do its more a question of variety instead of quantity. Not once in my life have I ever worried about where my next meal is coming from or if it will be enough. My biggest concern when it comes to food is the variety of what I consume, not the quantity, because there is always enough. First World Problems. 

Right now the United States of America is a First World Nation, and for that I am thankful. Though it is important to acknowledge that not everyone in America experiences this country as a First World Nation. There are many here who struggle with financial problems that are dramatically more dire than being able to afford hobbies or vacations, and their education/employment situations are dire to the point that my own dilemmas seem silly to be stressed about. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, my only point is that most of us are truly enjoying the Good Life, and we should be thankful for it. My lady and I are starting a non-profit soon, in the spirit of putting our money where our mouths are. Which brings me to my real point (I know I’ve meandered, bear with me)…. being thankful is literally the least you can do. Being thankful is our biggest First World Problem, because to be thankful you’ve got to be looking at the other guy and realizing how good you’ve got it by comparison.

Turn that thankfulness into First World Action, because its the job of the folks who’ve got it good to pay it forward. We don’t all have to go become full-time activists or start feeling guilty for the success we’ve achieved. Just give a little back. Maybe volunteer one day a month. Donate some of your luxury cash to a charity, or fund non-commercial science (we all need to know more about hippos, and those researchers need that sweet grant money). Whether we realize it or not having First World Problems is a blessing, and we earn it by helping others, however we can.