Several of you commented on a story-motif that has rarely appeared in films and other media, till recently, that of showing common citizens -- everyman and everywoman -- stepping up to help the hero of the story, showing guts and grit in defense of their civilization.
(Certainly the complete repudiation of this concept is one of my biggest complaints against the Star Wars universe - at least in the later four films. See STAR WARS ON TRIAL!) *
Daniel and Stefan gave examples of some superhero stories in which common folk got to help in pivotal ways. These used to be exceptions, but I see cause for hope in a rising number of examples. Certainly, I found such moments to be especially vivid and moving in both Spiderman films, and I hope the theme continues in the third.
What does this reflect about real life? At the Defense Dept "threat" conference two weeks ago, several of us on the panel stomped hard on the notion of public "panic" - a mythology that has been fostered ever since 9/11. From varied expertise (e.g. psychology, sociology, emergency services), a dozen of us opined that there were almost no signs of genuine panic on that day. Yes, we all saw people running from danger and some crying. Still, New Yorkers and DC ites ran TOWARD danger whenever there seemed some useful purpose to be served.
See The Value -- and Empowerment -- of Citizens in an Age of Danger for a possible explanation for why this notion of "public panic" has been fostered. (See also: Forgetting Our American Tradition: The Folly of Relying Exclusively on a Professional Protector Caste.)
Indeed, at the conference I suggested that this entire phase of the "War on Terror" was launched, fought and won all on the same day.
Think. Due to a combination of unlucky factors, our professional protectors failed on 9/11. FAR less culpably than their failures during Hurricane Katrina, I think, because point failures happen. Live with it and deal with it. The real lesson is that it is foolish to rely only on professionals anticipating and stanching all dangers. We also need the partner of anticipation, resiliency, the very trait that erupted amply on 9/11, a day when EVERY action that worked was performed by empowered and dynamic citizens. Citizens no less courageous than those at Lexington and Concord. The spirit of Cincinnatus lives.
(And was deliberately quashed during Katrina! Keep your eye on these symptoms.)
When the heroes of UA 93 rebelled, taking the plane down, rather than letting the US Capitol be struck, they effectively repudiated the image of soft-decadent Americans. (An image that all enemies must foster every generation, for deep psychological reasons.) THAT is why there have been no further hijackings... that plus reinforcing and locking the cockpit door.
Just a few days ago yet another deranged person attacked the pilot's door on an airliner. It held for the necessary minute or so before alert passengers leaped up and sat on him. This has happened maybe a DOZEN times since 9/11! Proof. Simple proof.
Now please stop frisking us to death at airports. Let us get back to normal life.
Even if we really were "at war", there would be no excuse for a lot of the gup we've put up with. But in fact, we are NOT "at war." That is pure political propaganda. A ploy that Americans are getting sick of. (In four years, Americans marched from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo and Berlin. In five years we cannot catch one absurdly tall and gawky terror chieftain. Nu?)
Not at war? Correction. Way back in 1986, I predicted both the fall of the Berlin Wall and that we would have our next "memic war" early in the 21st Century, "against some version of machismo - one that will have a superficial ideological dogma-excuse like Islam, or latin culture. But the underlying foe will be some form of retro-macho-romanticism that deeply fears and hates the West."
Yes, I said that. And a memic war ... over ideas and how human beings ought to live... is exactly what seems to be going on, right now.
Just look at the letter that the Iranian President sent President Bush, a couple of months ago. Did any of you actually read it? Do so! It is startlingly intelligent and thoughtful. Stark jibbering loony (from our perspective), but smart and deeply, deeply sincere. In it, the Iranian addresses Bush as a fellow opponent of "liberalism" and flawed-false Enlightenment values. He collegially calls upon Bush to look past superficial differences of religion and nationality, to see their common desire for a return to tradition, authority, and every person knowing his or her demure place.
True, Bush rejected this overture. He has no practical or dogmatic reason to accept the hand he was offered. Indeed, the Enlightenment is far better fought by fomenting foreigner-paranoia! Fear is the great enemy of modernism, after all. Still, I found that all but a few commentators, in dismissing the letter, completely missed this important aspect of a fascinating event.
The crux: democracy and the Enlightenment (especially the pragmatic modernist branch) are under assault exactly as I predicted back in 86, by a memic attack from both without and within. This "war of ideas" can be won, but only with confidence and agility. Not by driving away every ally! Not by dividing us with “culture war.” Nor by bankrupting us or destroying readiness.
Nor by denigrating and quashing the very thing that makes us strong -- the very same trait of dynamic resiliency that our ancestors showed every time it was needed in the past. The trait that common citizens can and do display, whenever they are allowed to, in an open society that is forever strengthened by light.
(* The aforementioned rejection of civilization and citizenship by George Lucas is a special pity, since the entire saga began with an act of defiance by a normal man - Captain Antilles - who was shown being snuffed-out by an evil demigod. That stirring moment could have been a theme-setter. But alas,the same demigod would be made the central awe-fixation of the series, and civilization/citizens would be portrayed as fools.)