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The Great American Script

Is it any wonder?

Again and again Hollywood trots out the same tired plot: The good guy. Not a saint by any means, he’s got flaws, but really he’s just trying to get by. He’s not out to hurt anyone, just trying to get by and enjoy his life. He’s not exactly like you, but close enough …

He’s basically a happy guy. He’s not rich, maybe blue collar, maybe he works with hands, but he’s got the kind of job you or your friends might have. Maybe he has a more exotic job, but it’s the kind of job you’d like to have. His wife is beautiful, his children adorable. They’re just a little off- beat–not strange– just a little outside the norm. Quirky with an endearing “they’re a lot like us” vibe. He goes to work, his wife does wifely things, his kids do kiddly things. They’re the American family.

Suddenly without warning the bad guy enters this not ideal but reasonably well-off life. For some reason, or for no reason at all, the bad guy kills the wife and children. He is cold, heartless, malevolent. He burns with a hatred for our hero. Our hero is devastated. For some reason, or for no reason at all, justice is denied.

Our hero takes things into his own hands. Concepts of morality are abandoned. It’s ugly, but he has no choice. He begins to track down the bad guy. With steely reserve our hero wreaks death and destruction on his path toward nailing the bad guy.

Out-gunned, tired, but wronged and driven, not to seek revenge so much as to set things right. There is a higher morality at stake, and even good guys are sometimes forced to be cold and brutal.  In the end, bloody, battered, he faces the bad guy. The confrontation pits the good guy against the bad guy, toe to toe. It looks like the bad guy’s going to win. It’s a hard battle.

Somehow, at the last moment, he snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. The bad guy is dead. The good guy has made his stand, and despite all odds, he has triumphed. We all agree the bad guy deserves it.

Right or wrong, our hero, and all of us through him, are vindicated. The human spirit, no, the American spirit, has triumphed.

Guaranteed box-office smash. It’s a theme that speaks to us as a nation. The wild, wild west, the lone hero silhouetted against a bloody sunset in pursuit of the outlaw. In the mean streets of the nameless city, haloed by the street lamp. The time and place make no difference. The only real difference from one script to the next is the type of havoc wreaked, and the types of weapons used, the number of dead and the number of spectacular explosions. Our suspension of disbelief is immediate and complete. Narrative inconsistencies, elements that upon reflection make no sense at all, are overlooked, forgotten. It’s so fundamentally a part of our make-up, so much a part of our personal and cultural identity, that it is accepted without question. We want to be that guy, the hero. In our heart of hearts we are that guy. Eastwood, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Cage–you know the movie.

Is it any wonder we accepted the events of 9/11 without question? That we engaged in an endless unwinnable war? That we so readily gave up all concepts of morality? It was not just life imitating Art, but life imitating an Art we had been weaned on, an Art so well known to us, like our most comfortable pair of jeans, that it required no effort on our part to accept it without question.

It’s our script, our culture, our identity.

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