Good vs. evil, responsibility and, yes, Spider-Man

Published 8:57 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

The other day I decided to ignore the frightening reality that is the release of the state’s secrets through WikiLeaks and instead read a fascinating article in New York Magazine about Julie Taymor’s undertaking of what has become a historic Broadway musical, “Spider Man — Turn off the Dark.”

jessicaI am not a fan of musicals really, though I think Taymor a visually artistic genius. (If you’re not familiar with her name, Taymor is the director who brought “The Lion King” to the stage, with exceptional costuming.)

But I am an avid fan of the concept of story.

The one thing I’ve always known is that I wanted to tell stories. What I never quite could figure out was how.

So I studied different methods, film and video and creative writing and even read up on all the analysis done on how to write a proper blog back when blogs were the new thing to do.

Here’s why I love comic books: the good ones are often dark and gritty and revolve around a seemingly ordinary protagonist who just so happens to have something extraordinary happen to him/her, giving him/her extraordinary superpowers.

Yes, often in those stories those superpowers are used to fight against incredible evils, but here’s what I also love about comic books: surrounded by dark, gritty realities of their story, the heroes always have to choose — a decision from the heart — to actually become heroes.

I mean really, I could sit around all day long with the ability to scale walls with the ease of a spider — but it’s the decision to do so for the sake of the good of the world that really matters.

Hrm. I don’t know if my tone is getting across quite right. Right now, I’m just coming across as a 30-year-old who reads comic books.

A line from the article itself, written in Jesse Green’s “A Web and a Prayer,” says it better. In such stories, “Enemies are both external and internal and the gravest danger is hubris.”

Taymor explains my point even better than that when she says: “It’s that tug and pull. To live your everyday life and yet to have more required of you. Sure, you don’t want to have to think about slaves in India, AIDS in Africa, but once you have that newspaper in your hand, once you have knowledge, you are responsible … It’s not simplistic: It’s archetypal.”

And it’s not fantasy — it’s reality.

I wonder however, just how many of us take that responsibility seriously.

Because it seems like more and more people are just ignoring it altogether. If knowledge is responsibility, then lately it sure seems like our collective response to such a notion is ignorance is bliss. And easy.

I’m just as guilty. To this day, I don’t know the specifics of the WikiLeaks thing. I know how it got started but I’m not quite sure why caches of confidential documents are being treated as something that should be included in the public’s right to know.

But if I read up on it more than I have, I’m going to get angry about how so many people can think the secrets of government and foreign affairs in irresponsible hands could ever be considered a good thing. So I ignore it.

Ignorance may be bliss — but it also creeps up on you and the more you ignore a problem the worse it’ll get, and before you know it the responsibility you were trying to avoid is more than you can really handle.

In the comic books, the world is often at a peril on a small, located scale. In the streets of Gotham or the jurisdiction of The Daily Planet. And somewhere in the shadows is a perfectly ordinary hero to choose the way of good versus evil.

In reality our responsibility is everywhere.

External: In the neighbor who needs help, the community that struggles, the direction of our world.

Internal: In the choice to do what must be done for the betterment of ourselves.

In choosing the hard road over the easy road and enduring the tough times in the name of better times.

And lucky for us, the heroes of our stories are everywhere as well. If you don’t believe me, find a mirror and you’ll see one as plain as day.

Jessica Sieff reports for Leader Publications. Reach her at