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What Went Wrong With… The Redemption Narrative & Reformed Characters?

A film negative with a cross and the word redemption

In our society, we hold reformation and redemption in higher standing than living morally and having respect for humankind. Whether it’s in film, literature, or in the news, being honourable and peaceable throughout your life isn’t interesting to most people, instead the masses yearn for tales of reformed characters, people who have “gone on a journey” and transformed themselves from bad to good. Living in the West, this is most likely due to our countries’ origins being rooted in Christianity. The Parable Of The Prodigal Son is probably in the back of everyone’s minds as they consume or create entertainment. If you don’t know, this biblical story involves a son who squanders his inheritance and upon returning to his family home, he is celebrated and essentially preferred by his father than the brother who never pissed-away his dad’s fortune. And take the line from the Parable Of The Lost Sheep: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance”. 🧐 In Christianity, especially Catholicism, a person can lie, cheat, and steal, and all they have to do is say “sorry” and they’re forgiven; repent and you’re back to being equal in god’s eyes to those who never sinned. We’ve been living in the shadow of this idiotic concept for years so is it any wonder that we keep repeating it in books, movies, TV shows, magazines, and newspapers?

Take the literary classic A Christmas Carol where a miser named Ebenezer Scrooge changes his ways on the night before Christmas. However it’s only selfishness, the fear of his own fate that makes Scrooge change his ways, not genuine altruism. But the audience couldn’t care less, they cheer as Ebenezer tosses a few extra coins at his employee Bob Cratchit when there were plenty of characters who were charitable from the outset. Of course, this Charles Dickens novel is a work of fiction and you could argue that a character arc is much more interesting than a protagonist who remains the same throughout a story.

But what about in real life? Take Oskar Schindler as an example. Wasn’t Oskar’s original intent to make money? Saving Jews wasn’t his first thought when he set up his enamelware factory. So should he be a celebrated, household name when others who helped the Jewish people during World War II without benefiting themselves remain unnamed? Thanks to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List starring Liam Neeson, everybody knows who Schindler is but what about the Albanian Muslims who saved Jews from the concentration camps? Well they didn’t have a contrived character arc so Hollywood won’t tell you their story.

Hollywood loves to focus on real-life reformed characters. In historical drama Best Of Enemies starring Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson, the President of the KKK (Rockwell) goes on a journey (oh, how novel). A senior member of the Ku Klux Klan (that’s the racists who hang black people from trees and terrorise minorities by burning crosses, houses, and blowing-up buildings) at some point sees the light, befriends a black woman (Henson) and we’re all supposed to congratulate his new outlook on life. Oh great, but what about all the non-racist white people? Do they get their own Hollywood movie? Nope.

I also noticed this in legal drama Just Mercy. When black law graduate Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan) first enters a prison to meet an inmate, a white guard makes him strip naked. Stevenson is treated like a prisoner; demeaned and made to feel inferior. During the film’s finale however, this very same guard is shown as one of the good guys! The ex-racist prison guard was such an offensive cliché and yet it appeared in a movie released this year. Redemptive propaganda is going nowhere soon.

The entertainment sector loves the idea of the redeemed racist; from American History X to The Walking Dead, there’s lots of white ex-bigot heroes on both television and cinema. This concept has been doing the rounds in movies lately, not just in real-life dramas but in comedies too. In JoJo Rabbit, an indoctrinated young Nazi child is depicted as the central hero. JoJo spouts non-stop racism, he has an imaginary friend who is Adolf Hitler, and he puts the worst stereotypes about Jews in a “fun” book. Over a period of 108 minutes, the audience are subdued by comedy and by the appearance of a “cute” kid until they’re all siding with a miniature racist… because a young bigot who only renounces his Swastika when he sees the American flag being waved down his street, is apparently a heart-warming story. JoJo Rabbit also features a gay Nazi character named Captain Klenzendorf (once again played by Sam Rockwell) and he is also shown as a hero because being LGBTQ cancels-out the Holocaust.

Because moronic audiences all over the world buy into such bullshit, entertainment news uses this tactic to make the public root for ex-arseholes. Army veterans turned activists are given more respect than civilian activists. Protest a war and you’ll be ignored. Kill a few people, return home and say it’s wrong to kill people and you’re heralded a hero. Go figure.

You’ll see this kind of absurdity many times a week on TV and on the internet… didn’t it take courage for so and so to beat that addiction? Support those ex-drug addicts and ex-alcoholics! (which translates to “Fuck sober people! You’re not special.”). Do we really care that Russell Brand or Robert Downey Jr. kicked the habit? There are plenty of talented celebrities who never succumbed to narcotics. Elton John’s trite music-and-drugs life was translated into a shite film because we’re all supposed to think a clichéd character arc adds to someone’s talent (or in most cases, detract from their lack of it).

And what about all the ex-racists out there? Society loves to kowtow to reformed bigots: Mark Wahlberg is no longer beating Asian men to a pulp… go Mark! Eminem is dating Nicki Minaj so forget what he said about “black girls”… you go Slim Shady! Prince Harry married Meghan Markle so let’s all forget about his “Paki” and “raghead” comments. He’s changed! But what kind of message does this send? What kind of society are we living in where we place the reformation of wrongdoers higher than those who need no redemption?

NYOil once rapped “Brother home from college; ‘this nigga ain’t shit’. Nigga come home from jail; y’all on his dick.” and that perfectly describes this fucked-up situation. Malevolence is tolerated but benevolence goes unrewarded. Is it any wonder why civilisation is in a quagmire of hate and violence? We’re all waiting for humanity to repent. We might as well all just go around being complete and utter arseholes, then later on in life, say we were wrong and we’ll be forgiven. That makes for a great story.

Changed For The Better?

2 replies »

  1. Well put. I guess always being good just isn’t that good of a narrative for a society dominated by entertainment: after all, that’s really all politics and redemption stories are. People have a really hard time separating emotion from actually important problems; we’re conditioned to do that, anyways.

  2. Most recent article of yours; off topic, but I want to shout out and raise K-Rino’s new video for the song ‘Flowers’ off of His album from last year. Great message as always, great video

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