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Spiderman 2 And The Consequences Of Altruism

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Has anyone seen Spiderman 2? The first part of the movie depicts what happens to Peter Parker when he tries to lead a life of selfless service and completely devote himself to fighting crime. He loses his job, he is failing in school, he abandons his friends, he has to live in a slum, etc. It graphically depicts the personal consequences of a truly altruistic life. When he gives up being Spiderman he becomes happy and successful. The rest of the movie ignores this theme and he goes back to being a selfless "hero," but I thought the portrayal in the beginning was very interesting--something I have never seen in a movie before.

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I thought it was a very interesting twist on the superhero motif. I probably should be embarassed to admit it but I actually shed tears in the scene on the train where the people were show appreciation for what Spidey had done for them.

It is too bad that the solution to this was "get over it" and sacrifice yourself (although he does get the girl).

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True, although interestingly he goes back to being Spiderman mainly to save his aunt and girlfriend. I wonder whether the writers did any of this intentionally ...

I made an entry in my diary about the movie and I concluded that Spiderman, although he preaches selflessness, is unable to practice it - which is why he stops being a Spiderman. Then, when he has selfish motives again to become Spiderman, he becomes a Spiderman - again.

As for the train scene, would you consider Spiderman selfish if he had just let the train get derailed and all the people in it die? I considered the scene when he stops the train quite impressive, although I did think at first he'll go and make spider webs infront of the train in order to stop it.

Whether they did any of it intentionally or not is inconsequential. The important thing is that they knew, consciously or subconsciously, that there is no selfless reason good enough to make a hero.

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  • 9 months later...

Spidey certain comes across as altruistic (as most comic book heroes seem to do!) with his philosophy that "with great power, comes great responsibility." But he does a lot of what he does for (rationally?) selfish reasons. He feels guilty for not stopping the robber who later killed his Uncle Ben, and he becomes Spider-Man in a way to atone for his errors to assuage his own personal guilt. Therefore, stopping bad guys (those who initiate force on the innocent) is a higher value to him than going on a date, and he could not live with himself if he wasn't Spider-Man, in which case it might not be considered self-sacrifice.

I guess part of it comes down to: should he feel responsible for his Uncle Ben's death? Well, not really. However, could have still acted ethically (according to what I read in Ethics of an Emergency) by stopping the robber and he failed to do so. Why I say it would have been ethical because it would have posed no threat to himself to do so, but he chose not to.

Spider-Man's words were created by Stan Lee (a more liberal person), whereas the artwork and some of the plotting came from an objectivist named Steve Ditko. So there are a lot of contradictory elements in the character's story that could be looked at in different ways. For instance, a lot of the villains Spidey faced were, per Ditko's wishes, "nobodies" who were more-or-less parasites, who had to steal and loot in order to survive. One of the often cited reasons Ditko eventually left Spider-Man was because Stan Lee wanted to reveal Norman Osborn, the successful business man, as the Green Goblin whereas Ditko wanted the mask to be removed and it to be revealed that he was a no-name nut case.

There was a recent comic book, one I didn't get, called The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man by Peter Bagge, dedicated to Steve Ditko, which re-interpreted Spidey by viewing him through the different philosophies of Stan Lee & Steve Ditko. Apparently, Spider-Man gets sick of self-sacrificing himself and decides to be more rationally self-interested. I'd like to find a copy of the story myself one day and see how it is portrayed (you can read some of Bagge's comments on it here: http://www.ditko.comics.org/ditko/why/whybagge.html)

Am I the only comic geek here? B)

Edited by Captain Nate
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Another comic geek speaking up.

The theme of Peter giving up being Spiderman because he thought his heroics had destroyed his chance at a happy, regular life (college, girl friend, time with his always dying aunt) came from a very old Stan Lee story (Amazing Spiderman 50). The image of Peter walking away from his costume in the garbage can in a dark rainy alley in the movie was a direct copy from a page in the comic book right down to the fire escape.

The last straw after a series of bad experiences that led to the “Spiderman No More” scene was when his boss at the newspaper used a TV show to berate him as an “…Egomaniac…flaunting his power before the ordinary citizens…” Peter decided his career as Spiderman was an adolescent indiscretion and that to be an adult meant leaving childish behavior (i.e. doing what he knew to be right when many others told him it was wrong) behind. There is another story where his hatred of being Spiderman conflicted with his feelings of responsibility that resulted in his mind turning off his powers that was interwoven into the movie, but I don’t remember which comic that came from.

In the movie he had a personal stake in his return to Spiderman, but in the original story Peter went back to crime fighting after stumbling across a couple of robbers (working for the Kingpin, see Daredevil movie) who were about to kill a security guard. Without his costume he scales a building and knocks the thugs out instead of allowing the guard to be killed. After the guard is safe Peter realized he didn’t think about saving the man before hand, he just automatically acted because he knew it was the right thing to do.

After reevaluating his retirement Peter decided to return to his blue and red jump suit with the words, “No matter how unbearable the burden may be…no matter how great my personal sacrifice…I can never permit one innocent being to come to harm…because Spiderman failed to act…” (the … was part of the original dialog, nothing was removed).

While the “unbearable burden,” and “personal sacrifice” lines reek of altruistic insanity, his main driving motivation was that he was not willing to stand by and watch innocent, virtuous, people suffer from the depravity of others when he could save them with little or no real risk to himself. He saw his actions as sacrificial and psychotic because that was what the twisted philosophy of the world told him it was (similar to Hank Reardon’s view of sex after he and Dagny began their affair). Peter was not risking his life for the lives of others, but for the moral idea that no one has the right to take away another’s right to life and/or property. Think, super powered Ragnar Danneskjold.

Also, in the comic Stan Lee made it a point to show that after Peter gave up being Spiderman his personal life didn’t improve as he thought it would. His relationships with everyone he cared about stayed the same if he was swinging around on webs at night or not which negated his declaration of “personal sacrifice.” The things he wanted better did not improve from his retirement. However, what did change was in how Peter became happy, but only so long as he walked around in a state of purposeful ignorance ignoring all news reports of a crime wave caused from his refusal to act (this part was also in the movie). His happiness was the numbed, guilt ridden false bliss of those who choose to do what is easy opposed to what is right, in essence rewarding evil and punishing the good by sanctioning their actions through non-action. “Yes, I see you mugging that man and can stop you with no physical or emotional risk to myself, but I leave virtue for others.”

Also, as demonstrated in comics and in the first movie, Peter loves the power and freedom that comes with his abilities, both physical and intellectual.

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After reevaluating his retirement Peter decided to return to his blue and red jump suit with the words, “No matter how unbearable the burden may be…no matter how great my personal sacrifice…I can never permit one innocent being to come to harm…because Spiderman failed to act…” (the … was part of the original dialog, nothing was removed).   

Except the hyphen in "Spider-Man." :thumbsup: Just kidding.

Seriously, it was a very interesting response.

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Yesterday I had the good fortune of watching SpiderMan, after Superman on A&E, on The Superstation.

The story kept me watching, and it was the second time, the first time being one night while I was putting together a futon.

The way the character' are fused together is quite appealing. Peter Parker has discovered his accidental powers, just as Mr. Osbourne has been injected with a psychotic double personality. Mr. Osbourne's son is Parker's best friend. Both Parker and his friend are in love with the same girl. And Parker's love for this girl threatens to bring him down at the hands of the Green Goblin.

When the Goblin is first introduced to the public during the grand unveiling on the balcony. What surprised me is The Goblin's unrelenting evil because he is even willing to killing his son, as part of collateral damage, while killing the board of directors. I had little sympathy for the board but his willingness to kill his son is remarkable. So you want to keep on watching to see how evil this guy will be.

I was surprised when Spidey kills Uncle Ben's murderer. As soon as I heard that it was a car jacking, I knew that it was the thief from the wrestling place. When Spidey was chasing the thieif's car, in a wonderfully shot scene (where one wished one had spider webs oneself at one's wrists), I thought that he had figured out his own connection to the murderer.

This reveals Parker's rage, his weakness to his emotions. He could have easily left the murderer for the police but he is willing to kill him even before he finds out that he could have prevented the murderer, if he just acted like a Christian.

He left the thief go after the victim of the robbery ripped him off as a form of justice. "Explain to me how that is my problem". By acting justly with the swindler, he let's possible the murder of his Uncle.

If he would have just forgiven his enemy and helped him out in the face of the thief he would have prevented the personal blow. But it is comforting that he pursued the murderer in a selfish way. However, it is amazing that Spiderman is portrayed as Above The Law, so blatantly.

This was the part of the movie that kept me watching.

Just for dramatic and thematic purposes I would have loved Spiderman to choose his love over the soceity in the trolley car at the ending.

Now I want to watch Spiderman 2.

By the way, Willem Defoe was a wonderful villain. Do you remember the mirror scene, his evil stare, his evil eyes?

Americo.

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He could have easily left the murderer for the police but he is willing to kill him even before he finds out that he could have prevented the murderer, if he just acted like a Christian.

What do you mean, "like a Christian." :confused:

One mistake in your post, Peter did not kill the killer. The idiot fell out a window by accident. :)

If you liked the first you'll like the second. Go. Rent it. Times wasting! B)

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I was surprised when Spidey kills Uncle Ben's murderer.  As soon as I heard that it was a car jacking, I knew that it was the thief from the wrestling place.  When Spidey was chasing the thieif's car, in a wonderfully shot scene (where one wished one had spider webs oneself at one's wrists), I thought that he had figured out his own connection to the murderer.

As Samoht mentions, Peter didn't kill him. The burglar fell to his death.

He left the thief go after the victim of the robbery ripped him off as a form of justice.  "Explain to me how that is my problem".  By acting justly with the swindler, he let's possible the murder of his Uncle.
Hm, but was it really just to allow a criminal to escape when he clearly had the power to stop him with no danger to himself? What he did was a kind of vengeance-by-neglect, which isn't justice at all.

If he would have just forgiven his enemy and helped him out in the face of the thief he would have prevented the personal blow.

I don't think he had to forgive his enemy in order to stop the burglar. He should've realized the burglar was acting immorally and he should have realized that this crook might very well hurt other, more innocent individuals. He would have been justified to stop the crook. Plus, stopping criminals is in all of our long-term interests, which is what Parker learned the hard way.

Now I want to watch Spiderman 2.
It's a pretty enjoyable movie. As this thread shows, altruism is woven into the plot, both positively and negatively, but it still kicks butt. For all the talk about sacrificing one's self to be a hero, Spidey really is a good guy and it's easy to root for him to beat the obviously bad guys he faces.

By the way, Willem Defoe was a wonderful villain.  Do you remember the mirror scene, his evil stare, his evil eyes?

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Just for dramatic and thematic purposes I would have loved Spiderman to choose his love over the soceity in the trolley car at the ending.

He did, though. He went after MJ first, THEN to the trolly. I think it was a great way to say that you don't ALWAYS have to sacrifice selfishness to help others.

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Although Spidey did not kill the car jacker technically, he did play a large role, in his death. And while he is pursuing the cab, while swinging down the street, he does want to kill the man. It is only when he sees the man's hair and face that he knows that he could have prevented it. He would have killed him but for the recognition of the car jackers identity.

Now I forget what exactly happens. A gun is pulled and Spidey is momentarily paralyzed, and then the guy falls out the window. Would he have fallen out the window if Spidey wasn't there, and if Spidey wasn't Spidey.

Now about the choice at the end.

I would have liked to have seen a choice where one or the other is to die, the society or the girl. And I would have liked Spidey to have chosen the girl with pride and no guilt.

Granted, that when he manages to save both it did mean for me that both could be saved and that there doesn't have to be a conflict between personal values and that of society.

Americo.

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Something occurs to me now about the necessary nature of the crime fighting superhero: the necessary ineptitude of the police.

This is not a romantic theme. This ineptitude did not have to happen. A free society would have solved this problem.

I wonder what most people prefer, crime drama or superheroes? Certainly a good crime drama is preferable to the stories about superheroes?

IN the latter one can highlight the universal theme of good versus evil. But in the former, it is closer to the potential of the individual and should be more inspiring?

Comment?

Americo.

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Although Spidey did not kill the car jacker technically, he did play a large role, in his death.  And while he is pursuing the cab, while swinging down the street, he does want to kill the man.  It is only when he sees the man's hair and face that he knows that he could have prevented it.  He would have killed him but for the recognition of the car jackers identity.

Now I forget what exactly happens.  A gun is pulled and Spidey is momentarily paralyzed, and then the guy falls out the window.  Would he have fallen out the window if Spidey wasn't there, and if Spidey wasn't Spidey.

Spidey broke his arm with one twist and freaked the guy out, so that he backed out of a window. I don't know that Peter/spiderman would have been able to kill him outright, as Peter's morals would have gotten in the way. Notice that between the two movies, Spidey never kills anyone; They kill themselves.

Now about the choice at the end.

I would have liked to have seen a choice where one or the other is to die, the society or the girl.  And I would have liked Spidey to have chosen the girl with pride and no guilt.

Granted, that when he manages to save both it did mean for me that both could be saved and that there doesn't have to be a conflict between personal values and that of society.

Americo.

I don't think watching people die can leave you with pride and no guilt. You can rationalize that you made a personal choice, but tragedy is tragedy no matter how you look at it. It still would have been a waste of young human life. I don't know if he would have been able to live with it, either way.

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I don't think watching people die can leave you with pride and no guilt.  You can rationalize that you made a personal choice, but tragedy is tragedy no matter how you look at it.  It still would have been a waste of young human life.  I don't know if he would have been able to live with it, either way.

There is a greater drama in having such a choice. I don't see how a man should feel any guilt if he let society drown but saved his love only. If one has no known personal attachment to that society, what difference does it make whether they live or die, so long as one is a first-hander who can live with nature alone?

Your last sentence: So the CHARACTER of Spiderman wouldn't have been able to live with it. A selfish man could easily live with it, I think.

Americo.

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There is a greater drama in having such a choice.  I don't see how a man should feel any guilt if he let society drown but saved his love only.  If one has no known personal attachment to that society, what difference does it make whether they live or die, so long as one is a first-hander who can live with nature alone?

Your last sentence:  So the CHARACTER of Spiderman wouldn't have been able to live with it.  A selfish man could easily live with it, I think.

Americo.

A Man who loves human life, selfish or not, would not easily live with it. They'll live with it because they have to, but like a soldier, those images haunt. And to know that you could save them or both is a nagging, eating doubt. While the choice he would have made may have been the right one, it doesn't make the other one less easy to swallow. To me, that is not even remotely valuing human life.

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I still don't understand why the images of war would haunt a soldier. Perhaps one has to be there. Well, there is that killing field scene in the movie The Killing Fields that "haunts" me. And an Objectivist professor I know told me that there are still parts of Ominous Parallels that he cannot read, and that he could not watch Schindler's List, because his mind disturbed him. Perhaps there is a numbness I still suffer from.

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