Offbeat 21 August 2015

The story of Cecil the Lion seems to be settling down now. That’s obviously the right moment for me to begin figuring out the things I should have said at the time.

The one thing I should have asked is why so many Americans jumped on the outrage bandwagon over a lion, when a toddler shooting another toddler leads to people jumping to the defense of household guns?
There are times when my brain moves like cold treacle. Unfortunately I wrote about cruelty with reference to animals last week, so but for this gratuitous reference, the strand does not seem worth following.
I have been sucking down Sherlock Holmes stories for the last week, starting with Anthony Horowitz’s newish novel, House of Silk, which is authorised by the Conan-Doyle estate, followed by Moriarty, also by Horowitz, and capped of with howlingly funny Moriarty: Hound of the Durbervilles, by Kim Newman.
When I was a kid, reading Sherlock Holmes taught me a new way to thing, to look at things consciously and try to put the little bits together. It’s a bit of fun, but I am not very good at it. If I was, I might have been able to faster arrive at the conclusion that in response to the threat to hunting posed by the killing of Cecil the Lion, some US parents are handing out guns to their tots, or possibly crossbows, just in case the mites are influenced by the idea that shooting things might be bad.
Times change. When I was a kid, I had to point my finger and shout bang. Thank Heavens there weren’t any lions around. My mother would not have been particularly sympathetic to the wounds that sort of hunting would have produced.
Returning to Sherlock Holmes, I realise that but for mining the way of thinking, the character actually bores me, even if he is a somewhat twisted cocaine addict. I really rather prefer Moriarty, who is a fascinating academic who gains little from his criminal endeavours, other than the intellectual absorption of the thing.
That leads me to another favourite, Batman. Batman is an absolute bore. It’s impossible to imagine spending time swapping bad jokes and off-colour remarks in a pub with the character. Aside from the horde of people staring at the costume, he is far too serious, and probably wouldn’t understand what it means to be even half a Manchester United supporter.
Batman is however a wall against which a bunch of relatively interesting villains can knock their heads. The Joker is one of my favourites. In case you haven’t been keeping up, the Joker had his face cut off and reattached with staples, the sort of thing that keeps serious comic readers, like me, fascinated and amused.
The wonderful graphic novel, Arkham Asylum, posited that Batman is actually a reflection of his villains, that he and his antagonists are two sides of the same coin. Taking the machinations of the story one step further, can you imagine Batman without his villains? Would chasing after jaywalkers and litterbugs be that exciting?
Protagonists, and their stories, can’t exist without worthy antagonists to struggle against. Even in the most nuanced drama, the protagonist has something to rail against, if only the incessant ticking of a clock or the wait for some figure that represents hope.
There is an interesting analogy for this principle in physics. Two objects in opposition to one another create energy. And as that energy dissipates, a state of entropy emerges, a long eternal yawn.
As much as heroes need their villains and their struggles, everyday people need their villains to rise above the potential torpor of everyday existence. Going back to Batman, those villains have to be more and more interesting to keep the energy moving.
The killer of Cecil the Lion is one such villain. Not only did he kill a handsome lion, but he is also that most feared of humans, a dentist. Plus he relieves the torpor of yet another homicidal kid with a weapon. In the most cynical of ways, we owe him a debt of gratitude, for at least alleviating the boredom, if only for a few weeks.


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