Grassroots heroism: what we need now

The image that stays with me most from the blockbuster superhero action film The Avengers is not the thrilling climax when the hero uses all his power to wrest a nuclear missile away from its collision course with Manhattan and up into space, where it explodes a waiting battleship of nasty intergalactic invaders—although that was pretty thrilling I have to admit, especially in 3-D!  Man, that movie packs some powerful special effects!

But no, what really struck me were the scenes of ordinary human beings on the ground, dressed in their regular 21st century civilian clothing, sipping their lattes and strolling about midtown Manhattan one moment, and the next moment being terrorized from above by sinister alien rampaging monsters and soldiers.

Without Captain America, the Black Widow, the Incredible Hulk and the other heroes, all those people would certainly have been totally destroyed within minutes—and not just by the aliens, but by “friendly fire” as well.

This scene resonates with me on two levels.

On the one hand, it goes to show yet again how quickly an apparently normal, peaceful morning can turn to nightmare when militarized violence shows up unexpectedly.

And on the other hand, it underlines how deeply dependent we human beings are on the idea of the charismatic leader, the savior, the hero who will leap into action and save the day for us.

This has been true since ancient times, and it appears to be cross-cultural: every culture has its heroic myths and legends, in which men and women with superhuman strengths and powers do battle with dark forces on behalf of the rest of humanity.

Watching politicians of The Avengers decide to send a nuclear missile to destroy the entire city in order to kill off these alien soldiers, an order that their general resists but an ordinary pilot obeys, I am uncomfortably reminded of how much danger we are probably all in, every day, thanks to decisions made by the men in charge, who sit in remote splendor in faraway bunkers like the gods on Mount Olympus of old.

I want to see a movie made that points the way to a different model of heroism.

Instead of the superhero, David against Goliath type tale, I want to see, on the big 3-D screen with all the lavish special effects and brilliant actors, a tale that celebrates the ordinary heroism of people on the ground, who—understanding the danger of militarism and the mechanized violence that pervades human civilization, from agriculture to energy to education and entertainment—come together to offer whatever skills, talents and gifts they have to the common pool of resistance.

In this movie, the human beings would not cower on the ground while the battle of the titans raged overhead; they would not sink to their knees before the might of an alien invader; they would not follow blindly wherever the men with guns and uniforms told them to go.

Instead they would use the power of their collective will and determination to demand a change of course, and insist that it happen.

What I want to see celebrated on the big screen is the kind of grassroots resistance that we saw on the ground this past year in Egypt and other Arab Spring hotspots, or in the General Assemblies and protests of the Occupy movement.

Egyptian women protest in Cairo, April 2011

It is happening already in real life.  Hollywood and Marvel Comics, maybe it’s time to break with the fixation on the past and try a new story.

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