Of Spiders and Clones, p. 2

In both films, the good father figures (Uncle Ben, Obi-Wan/Yoda) are Judeo-Christian father figures, not Nietzschean ones. They preach responsibility, restraint, kindness toward the weakest. The bad father figures (Green Goblin, Palpatine) preach unlimited power, and, no matter what the cost, the triumph of the will. Whatever its uses, power is a poor tutor.

The desire to grow into adulthood with its attendant powers is bound up with adolescent sexual desire. It is no accident that the early action shots in Attack of the Clones are of Jedi free-falling. Anakin is falling into emotion. He falls deeply in love with Padmi simultaneously with his descent into the dark side. Lucas' vision is puritanical, monastic; with great power comes the responsibility not to use it-to be celibate. Also falling is the lonely Spider-Man. The spectacular special effects demonstrate how he falls from building to building, clutching at the supporting webs that he shoots out. But this desperate defiance of gravity and ad hoc progression parallels the human condition as evinced by that most epic of all myths: the Fall from Eden.

We know from the sequels (planned and already-made) to these two films that the path of the hero is filled with alienation, whether he follows the path of good or evil. Anakin becomes "more machine than man," a mutilated body walled off from the world by a black suit of armor. And Peter Parker is a hyphenated man: caught between Peter and Spidey, between Spider and Man, between building and building, between the desire to belong and the knowledge that attachments bring pain to his beloved. The last scene of the film sets up the sequel to use the bitter-funny ironic patter that characterizes Spider-Man's comic strip dialogue as a compensation mechanism for his alienation. It is Anakin's hubris to imagine that he can fix his alienation by changing the system that denies him the consummation he so devoutly wishes. Perhaps it is Peter's limitation that he cannot imagine both having his cake and eating it as well, but this limitation saves him from being the tragic hero that Darth Vader becomes, and saves the people of New York from decades of devastation at his hands.

Surely the political corollary to these personal narratives is clear: nations, too, face the choice between exercising power governed by some articulate, ethical principle of restraint and the realpolitik of "There is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to use it" (Voldemort). And of course, the United States finds itself in a similar position to the two adolescents Parker and Skywalker. Since 1989 or so, it, too, has been navigating between the poles of hubris and limitation. After the World Trade Center tragedy the country flipped out and took revenge on the perpetrators. Its rhetoric has been that of Peter Parker, its actions closer to Anakin's. What now?

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