Why do people love to fight? I’m not talking about standing up for your rights or giving your all for something important. I mean, literally, fighting. Our animal brains receiving an adrenaline kick, making us thirst for blood and viscera, or at least combat even if blood and viscera are cartoonishly absent (yes, that was a dig at the colorful Marvel movies, as usual). But my point is that even when the subject is not important, it seems like a requirement to fight. Fight. FIGHT!
Is it conditioning or is it inherent?
I came home exhausted from a long day of work, my first day back after a bout of stomach flu… only to step onto a squishy rug. Turns out that a fun little quirk of our apartment is its potential to have garbage water back up out of the drains until it starts looking like Noah might have a shipyard nearby. Coming home to this made me, as you might imagine, piss-boiling angry. It was of course not a malicious attack by my super or building manager. It was just bad plumbing. We mopped up, washed the rugs, and the super called a plumber for the next day. The water was drained, the damage undone, my shower tomorrow unaffected (after some scrubbing). What was I gonna do? Cry? Complain? Fight?
Man, did I want pick door #3. I had Civil War on, a film I have already reviewed (twice, technically), and it reminded me of how much fighting has been portrayed as heroic of late. In fact, lately it’s not even heroic. It’s habitual. The template of the action set pieces culminating in the big third act battle has become mandatory for these films, and arguably, audiences at this point expect them rather than being excited about them.
You might argue that the action is the whole point of superheroes. I disagree. That’s what we’ve made superhero movies about. But as any kindergartener can tell you, a hero is not the person who punches hardest. A hero is the person who does the brave and difficult and right thing in defense of something or someone in need of protection. Tack on super and you’re now talking about someone who goes beyond the bounds of what is normally possible, taking on more responsibility and overcoming antagonists symbolic of greater evil: greed, lust, facism, capitalism, nihilism. So I repeat: superhero stories do not need action. But that’s what we keep on getting, because it’s both the easiest way to demonstrate conflict and to resolve it. I pick on Marvel movies because I love them and they are popular, but they are far from the only ones guilty of this. That said, as a group those are the films that get the most exposure, and the version of violence they offer is by far the most cartoonish, toothless, and consequence-free.
It’s not like Marvel is to blame for normalizing and sanitizing violence. Our entire culture is built around a view of violence and fighting as entertainment. We laugh at it. We show it to our children to keep them quiet. We eat, sleep, and breathe it. So the logic behind using fighting as a way to show conflict and resolution is obvious: some people might be pacifists, but everyone understands “the big fight”. Hell, I wasn’t happy until I had what I considered an adequate amount of physical fighting in the most recent chapter of Unlife. I felt it was not only necessary, but escalated the stakes in a powerful way. And I’m only talking story development here. What about our real world celebration of it? What about the reverence we have for our troops, the major wars of the past, the need to put the term “non-violent” before the word “protest”?
But I’m getting away from my argument, because I’m not here to condemn or condone violence. I’m here to question the normalized repetition of it. For a society that claims to want peace, we certainly celebrate fighting to an insane degree. We love it. Sure, being on the receiving or losing end of it can plunge us to the greatest depths, but we don’t think of it that way. For ourselves, we see the glory of victory, of being right, of digging into ourselves and exorcising our angers and fears and frustrations, lashing out and having it mean something. Is it just what remains from when we were three and our moms refused to buy that bag of M&Ms at the grocery store? Or is it so intertwined with everything we know that the urge to use it as a crutch now prevents us from walking without it?
This week, I tried Krav Maga. The urge to kick a little ass has gotten insanely tempting these days. I had to be corrected multiple times on my stance, as I was inadvertently mirroring the only fighting style I ever studied. And it was exhausting. It required more than angry force. It required concentration. A taming of the beast. Becoming its master.
I signed up for a few more classes, so we’ll see. I’m not sure if I’m any less stressed, but at the very least I can sleep better knowing I got to fight. I got to just… go for it. Maybe that’s why we like fighting so much. Because it elevates conflict to a point where it can’t be avoided. It has to be faced.
And yet… when I have one of those power trip daydreams, of triumphantly vanquishing the person who won’t fix my bathroom or shoved me on the subway or is just the unlucky schmo that I invented to represent the sum of my frustrations, all I think of is the fight. The glorious arc of words and actions that resolves everything and propels me on the path to glory.
I never imagine the shrapnel and destruction left in the fight’s wake.