I have been thinking a bit about what a weird culture we live in.
I am a big fan of Lost and one of the things I like about it is the complexity of the characters. I think there is a place in entertainment for “good guys” without flaws and “bad guys” who cant be redeemed but I also like characters who are more well rounded. At any rate, I have my favorite characters on Lost and I generally find all of the characters on the island to be likable and, more importantly, redeemable. Which is interesting since there are no fewer than three of them who have committed murder? And I am not alone in finding these characters likable. A lot of people do.
And then, on the other hand, we have that high profile Tookie Williams death penalty case in California where people are suggesting that redemption of character is an issue. Now, I certainly think redemption of character *is* an issue that should be considered in death penalty cases or rather, it is a major reason I generally don’t support death as a punishment in our society. I have never met him but I cant believe that he was ever a “bad guy” in the Hollywood one dimensional sense. I don’t believe he is some monster who needs to be killed as punishment or to make our society better or whatever. I also think that people can change and grow and that the person being put to death 24 years after being sentenced to death is probably not the same person they were then. And now, we might find that it isn’t some monster we are putting to death but a person who just might have something to contribute.
What strikes me as odd, though, is the number of people who are able to find fictional characters likable and to accept that such characters are redeemable while at the same time viewing a real man as simply a monster who must be put to death. I am sure that some of them make a strong distinction between fiction and reality in the sense that they believe that Williams killed a real person and thus, should be punished while on a TV show, it doesn’t matter if the characters get punished. But I suspect that still others simply haven’t bothered to learn anything about Tookie Williams or the person behind the name and so he is just a name to them. A name of a murderer. Perhaps it is easier to support the death of such a person if they are nothing more than a name connected with a crime that occurred decades ago.
It is also interesting to me that one man who made a career of playing one dimensional characters now finds himself with another man’s life in his hands. Schwarzenegger got where he is because of American’s love of seeing things in black in white; guilty or innocent; “good guys” or “bad guys”. Now he has the opportunity to show that Americans are capable of seeing things in shades of grey. That some of us, at least, are able to see that a criminal’s life can have value. Let’s not kick this one off the island lest we find we need him to shoot down some polar bears or something.
New York Times article that mentions Lost characters
NPR Tookie Williams Timeline