The Vigilante: A Reoccurring Archetype In American Entertainment

922 words - 4 pages

The vigilante is a reoccurring archetype in American entertainment and can be seen from comic books from the early 20th century to films released in 2010. Robert B. Ray in his piece about the vigilante makes it clear that the vigilante is a large part of American entertainment and culture. The vigilante is one that believes that they are above the law and that the law is inadequate. This idea that the law is inadequate or unjust stems from Henry Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. Thoreau believes that when the government is unjust, that we should do what we believe is moral or right, even if it means breaking the law. The vigilante often takes violent and dangerous measures to create justice in their world and in doing so raise a moral question about our society. If we often idolize the vigilante in films and comic books, do we do the same with vigilantes that have been seen throughout our history and that are currently “creating justice” in our cities? Although the vigilante is a popular archetype in our entertainment the vigilante is not seen in the same light when it comes to reality, the “real” vigilante in American society is seen as a threat or danger and are disbanded in most cases. This idea poses a serious problem’s to Thoreau’s belief because the negative perception of vigilantes is proof that problems in society shouldn’t be solved by the individual, but through legal and civil means set up by our government.
When examining the vigilante it is clear that the ideals and actions of the vigilante stem from Thoreau’s ideas put forth in Civil Disobedience. Thoreau begins Civil Disobedience by claiming “That government is best which governs not at all” (). This quote is important because a major part of Thoreau’s argument is that society is corrupt and immoral because of government, so government itself shouldn’t exist. Thoreau describes those who serve the state as, “not as men, but as machines with their bodies…they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones.” This idea is important because Thoreau believes that government has corrupted human nature and in turn created robots that work for it with no moral compass. This idea is crucial to the development of the vigilante because this is exactly how the vigilante views the law and the government. As Robert B. Ray describes it the outlaw hero or vigilante’s motto is “I don’t know what the law is, but I do know what’s right and wrong.” The motto that Ray puts forward is analogous with Thoreau’s view of government, that it might as well not exist because the individuals moral compass in more important than the majority’s.
America’s history is full of groups of vigilantes set out to right the wrongs of society. A disturbing example of a very...

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