I kind of like it when questions pop up in the search terms through which people have found my blog. One of the more recent, no doubt pointing them to this post, was:
why does the moral ambivalance of “the hunger game” appeal to people
And I felt I should answer. Despite my shiny useless English Lit degree, I don’t really have much to back the following up in the way of analysis or named-after-some-old-white-dude theories; I think it’s totally a matter of personal taste.
But I like some good moral ambivalence in my media. I’m a Babylon 5 fan (if you’re one too, you probably noticed already). I’m a Deep Space Nine fan, too (a revelation after a teenagehood rejecting it on the basis it was just a B5 rip-off). I love Homeland, and Game of Thrones, The Shield, all shows with a bit of darkness, a bit of complexity, “heroes” who can be deeply un-heroic or cling to their heroism in the face of situations which, in accordance with the writers’ needs, demand a little bending of the rules. Or, you know, outright deceit and assassination.
There’s a classic episode of DS9 called In the Pale Moonlight (season 6 episode 19). It’s the ultimate polarising moment of the show, evenly splitting Trekkies into “best episode of Star Trek ever” and “worst betrayal of Gene Roddenberry’s vision” camps.
Without spoiling anything, because sure it first aired in 1998 but goddammit it’s good enough not to spoil, your good guys are in a tough situation and your chief morally-ambivalent character does a bad thing to get the result. Faced with the good guys’ righteous anger, he shrugs and says, “Well, it had to be done, you knew it had to be done, but you weren’t going to do it, and you asked for my help because deep down you knew I’d get the results you needed.”
That’s just way more interesting to me than “the bad guys are bad because they are bad, and the good guys defeat them with the love inside their hearts.”
Even Harry Potter, god-emperor of book series based around The Power Of Love, got some darkness going (and this time I am spoiling things because, seriously, people). How do you not feel conflicted about Hermione destroying her own parents’ memory? Yes, it was to keep them safe, and theoretically, I suppose, from their perspective nothing has happened so you could argue that no harm has been inflicted but they had no choice and now have no concept of their daughter’s existence and HOLY CRAP that’s fascinating and has huge impact and, well, I still get kinda distraught thinking about it even now.
But hey now, Hermione could’ve just tried using passive resistance against the blood-purity death-cursing evil wizards who wanted to eradicate her family. The book would’ve been a lot shorter, at least.