Bright Lights Film Journal

Green Lantern: The Allegory of Fear & Will Unfolded

“Facing fear and not concoctions of fear serving the needs of our own resident guardians of wealth and power is a far different enterprise than joining the enthusiasts of self-empowerments’ call “to just wish it.”

I measure the fear of the moment at the movies. Others get a fear prompt from Rush Limbaugh or Fox cable “hosts” or MSNBC Young Turks or editorials in the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. The rising generation of Millennials twitter tweets or update Facebook or follow what’s gone viral on YouTube. Not many fear alerts here when one’s personal will designs one’s reality. Take it from Oprah: you can generate your own personal “will to power.” Take it from the Entrepreneurial Creed: Those who assert their “will to win” find their American Dream. And who opts for fear? Will is the thing, a thrusting of personal will into the world, and beyond, into the stars, so that all lurking fears dissolve into a dew of nothingness.

Unfortunately, what is fast dissolving into a dew of nothingness is American bravado in the face of truly fear-making actualities, everything from a global warming we choose to ignore to the continued impunity of a reckless and looting capitalism we fail to indict.

Wherever you go to find your fears or whatever you think trumps those fears has little to do with a “boots on the ground” review of what fears we are facing and which of these fears are legitimate. Right now, raising the national debt ceiling looms as large as does the evil force of fear personified in the movie Green Lantern — Parallax, an “amorphous blob of endless iniquity that thrives on terror and has an affinity for yellow, the color (in case you didn’t know) of fear.” In our American Hollywood tradition of “naïve realism” whereby everyone in the audience knows who to fear and who to champion as a hero, no one in the Green Lantern audience fears differently. Hal Jordan, our American Green Lantern, is our hero of rechargeable personal will, while Parallax is the evil that presumes to dissolve our will into fear.

This common understanding of will and fear is unlike the present Congressional/White House battle over the national debt. Republicans fear anything that increases taxes on the wealthy, Democrats fear spending cuts so deep that no future recuperation is possible, and President Obama fears appearing to Independents that he is too bound to either side. The Republicans fear losing the momentum of their march against New Deal entitlements and Keynesian economics that began with Reagan and has made great headway, allowing for some setbacks that were not really setbacks but pauses in the March. Democrats fear that their own fear of being swallowed by the unstoppable train of neoliberal-based politics will not find the will to resist, will not rediscover the socialist-leaning roots of liberal politics that alone brought the American middle class into existence and provided the underclass a reason to hope. President Obama, now three years into his term of office, fears that his earlier impeturbability supported by a naïve pragmatic attitude is now replaced with the same old/same old vicious partisanship that he has not the ideological connections to wage.

Tea Partiers fear . . . what exactly? I suspect some have the inherited fears of the soccer moms, of a stock-invested class steadily appalled by the behavior of the Jerry Springer underclass. Others either belong to that underclass or are quickly heading for it and have, for inexplicable reasons, tied themselves to a “grassroots/populist” movement that stands in the way of the economic help they now so desperately need. Those who successfully twice swindled and defrauded the country in 2008 have fear that regulations curtailing their Wild West behavior will actually be implemented, that real protections of consumers will be enacted, that the Department of Justice will in the future bring them to justice for their fraud, that the country will re-elect Obama, who will wage finally the class warfare that since Reagan has only been fought with one side firing.

I limited the fears to the U.S. for sanity’s sake and more specifically because my movie here, Green Lantern, which entertains only those already mired in a muddle of seductions and distractions, is full of American fears and presumptions. Hal Jordan, who has up until now gotten away with and enjoyed life on his own terms, suddenly literally and metaphorically crashes. What he once was, he is no longer, and the uncertainty of what he is to become fills him with fear. But he is chosen — because of some exceptionalism we cannot now detect — to join the trans-global protective order of the universe established by the Guardians of the Universe who charge the Lanterns with the power of the will. The real object of a personally possessed lantern and a rechargeable ring empowers each of the Lanterns (the interplanetary protective horde) to project their will against the forces of fear. When Lanterns die, rings fly off and mysteriously select the next ring bearer.

Hal is so chosen, but his selection, the first Earthling to be so selected, baffles and angers the united horde of protectors. Humans have not yet, in comparison with every other planetary species, reached a level of developmental sophistication and competence and so on to be able to handle the duties of a Green Lantern. And yet they now for the first time enter the trans-planetary stage. At first, Hal cannot summon sufficient will to power to overcome what fears his trainers put before him, but he finally asserts a will of self-empowerment that vanquishes the dread Parallax, “the evilest entity that ever lived.” He thereby gains the total respect of the Cosmic Protectorate.

Let’s take this cosmic view down to a global level. The politicized view of all this — call it the allegory unfolded — goes like this: The U.S. with 5% of the world’s population consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste. It does so selfishly and irresponsibly and therefore unconscionably in the view of everyone else on the planet. That charge has merit because it indicts a level of consumption that cannot be extended to others. If everyone consumed at the American level, we would need three to five additional planets. Short-term market players, those who get in and get out quick with millions in offshore accounts, have no fear that China, for instance, upon reaching an American level of consumption, will destroy the biosphere and along with it plunge numerous species into extinction. Some 80% of the American population right now is so oppressed by an economic system that benefits a minuscule percentage of “winners” that global fears such as this are too remote and irrelevant to their lives to consider. Charges of unconscionable irresponsibility toward others on the planet also have no force.

Much of the fear that the “losers” on the current American scene face is detoured from any relief by nonsensical notions of “American Exceptionalism,” the illusions of personal will and self-empowerment, and the assumed easy reproducibility of a jackpot “American Dream.” All of these dismiss and defuse any critique that would describe and define the causes of our fears and thereby generate some plan of dissolving those fears. The U.S. has gone back to its previous levels of high energy consumption, after one year of abatement; has not been distracted from its love affair with gas-guzzling SUV in spite of ever higher gasoline prices; and, most significantly, has shown no signs of avoiding the globalized financial chicanery initiated by Wall Street greed that created a good deal of the fear that most Americans now experience.

Fears have been cleverly turned away from root economic system causes, specifically a neoliberal economics that has displaced democracy with oligarchy, and turned toward violently charged issues, dangerous buffoons and demagogues, Rapture evangelists, and other “other world” pitchmen. Instead of divesting ourselves of the illusions of a rechargeable personal will that can defeat all, prosecuting the perpetrators of a concerted looting of middle-class America and a continuous debasement of a working class/so-called underclass, and tailoring the size of our American Dream and our claims to American Exceptionalism, we tend the orchestrated fears that can only survive in our bubble of illusions and presumptions. Such fears rise and fall, appear and disappear as in a child’s game of “now you see it, now you don’t.” Consider here the heated intensities of the disastrous impact of immigration, of the un-naturalness of gay marriage, of the obscenity of any gun control, of the immorality of abortion, of the fraud tactics of entitlement recipients and global warming alarmists, of the unfairness of affirmative action policies, of the innate criminality of unions, of the tax-and-spend binges of liberals, of the need for a “pay as you go” tort reform, of the need for a “fair and flat” income tax, of the inefficiencies and corruption associated with anything bearing the word “public.” And more. I call these “orchestrated fears” because they are concocted not only to distract us from what we should fear but as fears that keep us primed to act always against the interests of the many in favor of those of the few.

An assertion of personal will, even one that we broadcast into the universe knowing that it will be joined by all other Greeen Lantern guardians of the universe, is a cornerstone of competitive capitalism and not our salvation. The further we go into the dark illusions of such will to power confined to one’s personal will, one’s personal design of what is, the further we get into the deeply divided world of “winners” and “losers,” of those who discard all notions of mutual aid, of constructive interrelationship, of an interdependence far exceeding entrepreneurially designed “networking.”

The film Green Lantern does not reconcile this disparity between individual and collective will. On one hand, Hal learns to break through his fears by relying on his own imagination to first show him what can be and then relying on his will to make it real. But that personal will achieves its greatest intergalactic strength when it joins with his fellow Green Lanterns and they united project a beam of collective will into the universe. Herein lies a glimmer of a consolidation of capitalist and socialist versions of human will but one that the exposition of this movie cannot pursue, swallowed as it, not by the fear swallowing Parallax, but by the illusions of a personal will to power.

It would be far more beneficial to Americans and therefore to the whole planet if Americans perceived and studied what they should truly fear and in doing so perceive and hopefully enact whatever solutions are possible. Knowing our fears well serves us far better in the end than presuming we can ignore or dissolve them with a mere projection of personal will. Facing fear and not concoctions of fear serving the needs of our own resident guardians of wealth and power is a far different enterprise than joining the enthusiasts of self-empowerments’ call “to just wish it.” It’s a strange thing to say, but we are now more threatened by the fantasies of our personal empowerment than by the substance and nature of any of our fears.