Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Go Team Venture!

If you don't know the show, Venture Bros. is a show on Cartoon Network, a kind of snarky satire on the old Hanna Barbera "Jonny Quest" cartoon from the '60's. It features Dr. Venture, his two sons (the brothers of the title), and their bodyguard. And, of course, since this is an "action" show and a cartoon, recurring "enemies."

The enemies are part of the obvious satire on the genre itself. The self-proclaimed "arch-nemesis" of Dr. Venture, for example, is The Monarch, a guy running around in a crown and butterfly wings. And why is he the arch-nemesis of Dr. Venture, a man with few redeeming qualities but seemingly not much of an impact on the world at large? Because, explains the Monarch, "That's what I do!"

You have to fall back on that kind of explanation to make sense out of the "enemies" the President says now beset us. These enemies, he still solemnly intones, and his Administration still solemnly intones, "hate us because they hate our freedom." In other words, it's what they do. How can you have heroes, if you don't have enemies, huh?

It's a slippery term, "enemies," when you come to employ it. You can have antagonists, like Voldemort and Draco Malfoy in the world of Harry Potter. You can have "bad guys," necessary for every new installment of the James Bond cinematic series. And the question of motivation seldom requires much exposition: they hate the hero, or are jealous, or want to take over the world. It doesn't take much in fiction. But in reality, enemies require a bit more explanation.

In fact, it is almost entirely a term limited to nations. Armies have enemies, because that's what they do: they protect nations from "enemies." Are the enemies real? Yes, and no. In the famous World War I event during Christmas, when soldiers stood in no-man's land and shared brandy and soccer with their "enemies," the notion of a personal enemy disappeared, and the idea of a national enemy was so depleted the generals had to ban any such contact for the rest of the war.

But even in reality, enemies usually have a motivation, be it lebensraum in Europe, or dominance of the Pacific theater, or just the desire to spread Communism (the latter being the largely chimerical reason for the motivation of the Viet Cong). Whatever the motivation, it cannot be one shared by the hero. James Bond may be lustful, but he is never greedy or power-mad. Harry Potter may be angry, but he can't get angry enough to pronounce an Unforgivable Curse. Voldemort is driven by anger and shame at being a "mudblood." The villians of action movies are driven sometimes simply by "evil."

And always, cartoon and comic book villians are just...villians. Their villainy is their motivation. But we can't transfer that directly to reality; so we translate it, instead. Rather than villiany, the motivation is envy. They hate our "light." They want to put it out. They hate our freedom. It motivates them to destroy.

Why are "they" our "enemy"? Because that's what they do.

Welcome to statecraft as cartoon show. May God have mercy on us all.

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