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19 August 2004 @ 04:08 pm
Meta, in 4 parts.  
A couple of disclaimers:

1. My view of the US prison system is pretty negative, so if that will upset you, I suggest you don't read the first part of this. This is not because I am not a patriot -- in fact, I consider myself highly patriotic. And in particular, I love the idea of the justice system.

Let me repeat that: the *idea* of the justice system. To live in a place with an assumption of innocence and a law that provides for legal representation for all is a truly amazing thing. I think that the reality of it is something that needs to be refined.

And that's the beauty of this country, I think: we *can* change things. And I have to hope that we will.

2. I love Clark. I love Lex. I don't ascribe to the cult of either, and I don't think either is perfect. I think that my Clark!Love is pretty undisputed. *laughs* But I can admit to what I see as problems with him, and his (projected path of, in this case) behavior.

3. I love my show.

4. My toe nails are very pink right now. I may have to take the polish off them. *squints at it*

All of that having been said, I went a little crazy this morning on chat with Lyra while looking at Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison by Michel Foucault.

I think that in terms of a penal code and imprisonment in general, there is a certain degree of evil that's being enacted that you have to endure. The point is to make it as small as possible, and I don't feel we're doing that, and that all of our attempts at 'reformation' of criminals have largely been tactics in fear meant to affect change through terror/trepidation rather than to affect organic change in a person. There are certain notable exceptions: AA and NA and all those groups, and certain religious organizations that do outreach, and cultural organizations -- like the Native American one.

These groups, however, all not affiliated *with* the Dept. of Corrections (DOC), but are outside agencies operating within it.

It seems that the idea of imprisonment and the idea of punishment are inextricably linked, and certainly there should be a degree of punishment to it, but not to the extent which we've found, if the supposed goal is reformation/correction/rehabilitation. If what we have is a penal system, let's call it a penal system. I find the euphamisms and hypocrisy a little bit infuraiting.

And people who *do* back educational and vocational programs are labled 'soft on crime'. By which they mean criminals, and that's a prime example of the abstraction of the individual into the act.

Fear may be a strong motivator -- of the death penalty, of the brutal conditions of incarceration in the United States -- but there will come a time when fear stops factoring in at all. Or, if fear can not be affected, if the situation in which a person finds themself is so terrifying already (read: life in poverty in the US, homelessness, projects), how would it be possible to create such a discouragement?

It wouldn't be. So you have to turn to the organic change.

However, that begs the question: is organic change possible? Can these dangerous and violent people be turned into peaceable members of society, or is that a lost cause? Are these people simply evil? If so, does that empower/require the state to take different measures. Does it forgive the state any absuses or torture?

The DOC says it's for rehabilitation and reintroduction to society as a contributing member. Which can be translated to organic change, and so to me? No. That can't be forgiven. It has to be adressed, and it has to be rectified..

If one were to take a lot of this into a fannish context and apply it to Smallville, I think you'd find yourself viewing superman in a weird way. Because, A) Superman answers to no justice system B) He is judge, jury, and on occasion executioner with no assumption of innocence. C) His aims in no way reflect the desire to rehabilitate, except in terms of Lex, and that even fades over time. So his goal, then is more punitive in a lot of ways, though a more hands on preventative punitive, but it doesn't jive with the current alleged views on how crime should be handled.

What he does is provide the spectacle of punishment -- he beats up the bad guys where all of Metropolis can see, and then they're taken away for their imprisonment.

Now, he does so with the best intentions, but what he does is bring the justice system for which he supposedly labours back to a very 18th century mindset.

And he does so on his own recognizance.

He proports to stand for the American Way. But what kind of reflection upon the American Way *is* that?

How is it possible, that a system which proports to be based on the concept of equality and justice for all can pivot on the actions of a man who refuses to assume innocence on the part of his enemies and who acts unilaterally against them? We must trust the instincts of that man. His judgment must be simply inviolate, but that can't be possible, it never can be. That's why we have a jury of 12 peers, not just one, and he doesn't weigh all facts, such as intentionality or the character of the crime.

His reactions are universal: stop with violence. If possible, avoid death of opponent and hand him over for further incarceration, but with Superman the need for a trial is bypassed. He effectively defangs the entire justice system, of which we as Americans are rightly proud as it stands in theory, and goes directly into the euphemistic beauracracy of the Department of Corrections.

Now, I love Clark, but I love him as a person and not as the one man arbitor of justice. I don't really dig on the modernization of the whimsical and capricious arbitors of justice, and I don't appreciate the seemingly two-dimensional approach he takes to the question of crime and punishment.

Why is this acceptable to the masses? Because the Girardian argument that people require violence seems to prove true in this context.

Because Superman is a larger than life god figure, a dehumanized, essentially faceless entity acting against *crime* rather than individuals, the violence he metes out can be very 'feel good' in terms of showing the public that punishment is being meted out. Because they don't have to confront Superman as an individual, they don't have to relate to him, and the violence he enacts upon the individuals he fights. And as he is divorced from society, so too, are his opponents.

So to show two basically abstract figures enacting violence is like the motions of ritual; it's an offering to the mob's requirement of vengeance, and an outlet for anger/indignation.

All of this still ignores the basic fallacy which is that things are not this simple. One cannot view crime, punishment and judgment as a black and white system without any gradations -- one cannot divorce the individual from the action, because to do so is to lie to one's self, and euphamize the whole process.

Which brings you to SV and Lionel and prison.

Which is a more interesting question in and of itself because it begs the debate over nature v. nurture. Lionel is a text book sociopath, and all sociopaths are the way they are due to a deep inner disregard for other human beings as objects or targets and a core of rage. (An argument could be made that his affinity for Morgan Edge is based more on the idea that he sees Morgan as an extension of himself rather than as a separate individual.)

Now a core of rage -- is that something you're born with? Is that something that is created over time? Certainly his childhood must have been difficult; his father was a petty thief and his mother presumably wasn't tip-top either. He lived in poverty in an area referred to as Suicide Slum. Now, does all of this argue that he's a created monster?

And if so -- can he be uncreated?

Or, to put the question a different way: can a sociopath be rehabilitated?

Can an unrepentnant parricide be taught to regret his actions? Or can he only be punished? Is change impossible in a man like that? Is he the way he is -- cold, cruel, calculating -- because he was born that way? Is he literally evil?

And if so, how can an institution be asked to deal with him?

If he is evil, then is the state required to attempt to correct him, or is the state required to permanently remove him from society by means of execution, is the crux of the issue. And this is an issue which forces us to confront the condemned on an individual basis, which we don't often do.

On Angel, which pivots around a more complex examination of repentance and change, Faith enters prison voluntarily. She chooses to change, and to use the system to do so.

She is characterized on Buffy as a sociopath, though I'd question that label because she does seem a bit more conflicted than one would expect of a sociopath. So let's call her a psychotic, but by redefining our terms here, we're then labeling her as different from Lionel, and without the immutable core of evil that one who believed in the nature side of the nature v. nurture question would ascribe to him.

Smallville attacks the question of nature v. nurture in a really strange way. It shows us that organic change toward one extreme is certainly possible, by charting the downfall of Lex from an essentially good man to (one can assume) a nemesis figure.

But, it also shows us that this change is based on predispositions, and it expects us to follow it's assumptions of good v. bad.

It shows us that Clark is more predisposed toward good than evil, or rather, expects us to assume that. Based on that assumption, we are then to read every mistake he makes as something from which he will learn. Lex, on the other hand, we are to assume is predisposed toward wickedness (which I will use rather than evil because I feel that it doesn't apply to him, not yet), and then read his actions in an entirely different light.

The same is true -- to a lesser degree -- with Lana and Chloe.

These pre-dispositions are based, however, on the families that Clark and Lex spring from, and then that again points us toward the 'nurture' side of the equation. That is the way these boys have been raised that creates their inherent wickedness or goodness.

However, if we are to listen to the characters, we are given yet another contradictory read on the issue.

Jonathan Kent is often used as the voice of morality on the show. His part is to give the undisputed ethical and moral truth of most situations, and his values are the backbone for the seemingly airtight philosophy of Superman. Or, what we are to *accept* as the airtight philosophy of Superman.

And it is Jonathan Kent who again and again advances the theory that Lex Luthor -- no matter how he may seem -- will become evil, by virtue of the fact that his father is.

It is in the *nature* of all Luthors.

Thus sayeth the metatron of Smallville, and thus we are supposed to believe -- ask lyra_sena about the musical themes they've used throughout the series to undermine Lex's credibility on a subconscious level.

Which brings us, finally, to the discussion of the glyphs on the Kawatchee cave wall.

In terms of all that's been discussed above -- I would argue that Lex's interpretation of the glyphs in Talisman holds some merit. This, of course, goes back to my previous arguments that Lex is the Tragic Rogue Hero of the piece (tragic in classical Greek terms -- his fatal flaw lies in either his need to trust or his obsessive curiosity), with Clark as the Chivalric Hero.

I do not argue that if we were to examine the intentionality of Lex and Clark in the future, we would find that Clark clearly desires justice, but I would argue that his means of acquiring it are damning. And I would also argue that Lex, as human embodiment of the Devil's Advocate -- as the Perpetual Opponent to the 18th century-ifying of discipline and punishment -- is a prime protector of the populace.

Though Lex's motivations may be selfish (this is not yet confirmed in terms of SV but in terms of the greater mythos of which they are a part, we can assume this), he acts as the lone voice -- seemingly -- questioning Superman's right to take such sweeping, unilateral action. He categorizes Superman as a vigilante, as a menace, and takes steps to avoid allowing him to become an all powerful maniac. Think seperis' "A Handful of Dust" or thete1's "Past Grief" for versions of this gone..horribly wrong.

Lex is what prevents this. Lex is what keeps a hypnotized populace from being slowly inured to the situation of powerlessness in which they find themselves as a leader takes full control of them, with their express approval.

Thanks to Lyra, Fox, and Bex for looking it over. I'd love to do a similar post re: HP, I just don't know nearly enough about British law to do so. Anyone want to pick that one up? *chucks ball in your general direction*
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: Lover, I don't have to Love - Bright Eyes (*smooches Slod*)
Serafinaserafina20 on August 19th, 2004 01:28 pm (UTC)
And I would also argue that Lex, as human embodiment of the Devil's Advocate -- as the Perpetual Opponent to the 18th century-ifying of discipline and punishment -- is a prime protector of the populace.

Or, he could even be very close to the orignial idea of the satan: a questioner and challenger who questions and challenges God, his plans and designs. If Lex as Seget is supposed to help keep Clark's Numan in line (i.e. stop him from abusing his powers and taking over the world) he'll have to do that through reletnelss questioning for the truth since he doesn't have Superman's powers.

pure FORESHADOWING: brad sexnifra_idril on August 20th, 2004 06:27 pm (UTC)
*nods* You're right, that's precisely how I see Lex playing the roll I've outlined.

But that leads to that whole big question -- could good exist in a vacuum? Could Clark's actions actually remain positive for humanity as a whole if Lex were not to oppose him? Granted, JLA is a different Clark and a different Lex than the ones I've used here, but in A Better World (I don't know if you've seen it or watch JLA at all -- if not, let me know and I'll give the Nifra Special 10 Second Recaplet...and yes, the word 'dude' will most likely be abused! *laughs*) it does show a possibilty of a world where Superman/Clark's actions all become *too* unilateral/sweeping, and changes the entire dynamic of the US (world?)'s government.
(Deleted comment)
pure FORESHADOWINGnifra_idril on August 19th, 2004 10:44 pm (UTC)
Of course, sweetie!
spatz on August 19th, 2004 10:06 pm (UTC)
Have you read Kingdom Come (the graphic novel)? Your discussion of Superman and justice is very similar to events in that story: failure of justice drives Clark away from his self-appointed duty, and the need for justice pulls him back, and things get very messy indeed. I want to say more, but I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't read it (you should, you *really really* should).
pure FORESHADOWING: broken supermannifra_idril on August 20th, 2004 06:28 pm (UTC)
No, I haven't. I'll have to check that out. Thanks for the heads up!
Sister Sword of Courteous Debatepepperjackcandy on August 20th, 2004 11:23 pm (UTC)
How long have you been reading Superman comics? Because lack of assumption of innocence, beating up bad guys as a first resort, etc., are far from how I've seen him in the years I've been reading them.

1. He doesn't believe in rehabilitation?

1a. He gives second, third, fourth, and subsequent chances. The end of the Ending Battle storyline had Manchester Black trying to force Clark to kill him by making Clark think that MB'd just killed Lois. And even after that, when Clark refused and proved to MB's satisfaction that Clark's goody-two-shoes-ness is for real, Clark once again offered the olive branch if MB wanted to go straight. MB decided that it was too late for him, though, and he committed suicide.

1b. Major Disaster whad a history as a "career criminal," Clark offered MD a chance to go straight, and MD took it. He was a member of the JLA until recently, upon Bruce's recommendation.

1c. There was a story quite a long time ago now, in which the criminal-minded stepfather of two kids had convinced a genetic mutant whom the kids had befriended that stealing jewelry (from jewelry stores) was acceptable behavior. When Clark told him that it wasn't, the mutant was horrified. Clark let the mutant go with a warning. The stepfather ended up in jail.

2. About "vigilantism," I'm pretty sure he's been deputized in current continuity. Or recently-current, at any rate. I know he was in the pre-MOS days.

3. About presumption of innocence, he seldom, if ever, tracks someone down to beat them up because he thinks they did something wrong (actually, that's more Batman's style). 99% of Clark's confrontations are "in hot pursuit," when he's actually witnessed someone committing a crime, which is valid grounds for a citizen's arrest.

4. And he nearly always makes an effort to get the perp to reason and talk. When they won't, then he takes them down physically. Many of us were left disgruntled by Superman 191, in which Clark got the explanation he asked for and he still ripped the robot's head off, an act that was totally OOC.

Basically, there's a very good reason that Clark is widely disparaged for being too much of a, well, "goody-two-shoes." Because, compared to just about every other superhero out there, and probably when compared to mere mortals charged with stopping crime (like police officers), he is.