Bread and Circuses: The Beast Within


So continuing my Phase I series, spent the weekend watching The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton. This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen The Incredible Hulk, having skipped in the theaters while in the middle of major move and then forgetting about it later. Once past the solid hour or so of exposition and into the plot, the movie was actually pretty enjoyable, but not for younger kids, since Abomination is ugly and the fight scenes are brutal. If not for the intervention of Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest, I’m pretty sure Hulk would have yanked Abomination’s head clean off his shoulders with a chain.

The gist of his origin story is part staying out of government hands, part trying to find a cure and part learning to control his emotions to control the Hulk. He spends a lot of time doing breathing exercises, martial arts and trying not to get too excited. He has to have a firm leash on his baser nature or risk his own life and the lives of those around him. He cannot just let fly whenever something irritates him, or when he’s in the mood pour l’amour (yes, that’s right folks, Bruce Banner is celibate) or even when he is afraid. So what does it boil down to? Self-control and discipline. Banner, for all the strength and indestructibility of the Hulk, can’t just let it all go when he feels like it. For his climatic battle against Abomination, he chooses to stand up to him, however it is not a perfect fight, seeing as the Hulk does almost as much damage as Abomination and comes very close to killing him savagely in front of witnesses. He admits he’s not controlling the Hulk, just aiming him in the right direction. The end of the movie shows Banner in a secluded cabin somewhere in the Canadian wilderness, “hulking out” at will, controlling the transformation.

Needless to say that cure thing didn’t work nearly as well as they all thought it would. Banner couldn’t just medicate the beast or chemically suppress it, just like none of us truly can, despite all societal attempts to the contrary. Actually, the attempt to create a cure for the Hulk caused more trouble than it solved and the blood samples used created Abomination. It created a monster, much like over-medicating, self-indulging and cultural-numbing has created a monster out of society. There is no shortcut for Banner- he has to control himself or face devastating consequences, which is the truth for all of us.

The Hulk is a strong counterpoint to the usual media message of “if it feels good, do it.” I work in customer service and not a day goes by that there isn’t at least one person I want to “hulk out” on. It would feel beyond awesome to unleash the beast and hurl some of the abuse I take as part of day to day interactions with people back at them. Unfortunately, there are real-world consequences to that, starting with the loss of my job and going from there. The average person may not turn into a giant green rage monster, but they hurt people around them, they hurt themselves and damage their chances to contribute meaningfully to society when they choose to overindulge their emotional and selfish desires to the detriment of reason and self-control. We see the consequences of it daily: an obesity epidemic, high rates of STD’s and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a high divorce rate, a prevalent drug culture and an increasing preference that government somehow subsidize and/or fix these bad habits, depending on the habit. The notion that a person should restrain himself in his passions, whatever they be, has become downright old-fashioned. That has grave consequences for civilization and more specifically, the American way of life.

Many of the Founding Fathers, as they began to shape the government of the fledgling United States, commented that the American way was a way for a moral and responsible people, for only moral and responsible people could be counted on to decide the fate of their country, either as voters or as leaders. It is rapidly becoming that our lack of discipline will result in the total loss of our freedom, as morality and responsibility require discipline and self-control. Our politicians are easily corrupted by power and we the people, too interested in food, sex, drugs and other people’s money (Panem et Circenses, anyone?) let them erode our liberty and our power. It has become that “liberty” is mistaken for “license” and we assume that the world is suddenly without consequences simply because we cry freedom. The consequences haven’t gone away, just our courage to accept them.

Now, some of you may ask: isn’t the Hulk a hero? Isn’t the point of Bruce Banner to unleash the Hulk to fight the bad guys? The answer is more nuanced than just yes or no, since while the Hulk is the brute strength, Banner is the heart and mind; both of them together are what make the hero. The Hulk, uncontrolled, is without conscience and no more a hero than a wild animal. It is Banner who chooses to fight Abomination: he consciously decides to use the Hulk to stop Abomination, knowing and accepting the consequences, which ultimately send him on the run again. This is a defining moment, since up until then, his episodes were largely out of his control and he a victim of his own emotions. The beauty of heroes is they are truly ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and those extraordinary circumstances are merely the expansion of the ordinary. Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk when he gets angry, something from which he will never be free. The average Joe doesn’t turn into a literal beast, but he still faces the same choices and challenges as Bruce Banner: controlling the beast and using it for the good of his fellows. There is a difference between wanton destruction, lust or greed and the rational choice to release the more primal parts of our natures and accept the consequences to come. Ideally, when the moment of choice arrives, we will choose to exercise those parts of us for the betterment of others, to let our passions fuel our convictions to create and protect, rather than destroy.



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