In praise of the coward in pop culture

AS the author of an action thriller called The Spartan, I do indeed, as Homer says, “sing of arms and the man”.
My heroes and heroines are men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for a greater cause. I praise special forces soldiers for their willingness to go anywhere, do anything, to get the job done. The ultimate villain of my Spartan books could be classified as a coward.
And yet, I have a sneaking soft spot for cowards in popular culture.
I was reminded of such while watching Sharknado 2 today. There was a dude on the street holding up a sign that read “the end is nigh”. While he’s not exactly the cowardly type – he wasn’t fleeing the Sharknado, just asserting his beliefs that the end was indeed nigh (and why don’t we see those guys on the street any more? Is the end not nigh?) – he’s just the sort of stand-on-the-sidelines type of dude you know something bad is going to happen to.
It’s the heroes that always seem to survive in the end. Woe be unto the blubbering teenager who tries to hide in the broom closet when the masked killer goes on a rampage. Or the civilian who runs from shelter, unable to take it any more, only for a missile (or shark!) to land on their head to the delight of the audience.
And yet … there is something about cowards on screen that is strangely appealing.
Thinking about Hudson from Aliens always brings a smile to my face, the way he goes from hero to chicken, his voice cracking as he says, “Game over, man … game over!” Isn’t “game over” the appropriate response in the face of an alien menace with acid for blood and whose progeny bursts out of the human stomach during birth?
Doctor Smith from Lost In Space turned cowardice into an art form. Say what you like about his behaviour, he’s the one character most people remember from the show … along with lines like “bubble-headed booby” and “oh, the pain, the pain”.
Tricky Loki stabs his macho brother Thor in the Avengers movie. But just watch Tom Hiddleston walk into a Comic-Con and recite a few Loki quotes and you’ll see which brother they love more.
Or even George Costanza on Seinfeld, who knocks over small children in an effort to escape a fire. Are we going to attack the loveable George? Is he not entitled to “the Summer of George” rather than your scorn?
Shall we bag out Shaggy and Scooby for being inveterate cowards? Scooby’s a dog, for Christ’s sake – he’s not equipped by nature to take on ghosts or abandoned themepark owners. And Shaggy’s a quiet soul who probably just wants to find a quiet corner and blaze one up. It’s almost cruel to expect more of him and his terrified pooch.
And we can’t expect C3PO to take on hardened battle robots. He’s just a protocol droid after all, locked in passive-aggressive relationships with R2-D2 and Han Solo.
In a certain light, even Trevor Chappell’s famous underarm bowl against New Zealand in 1981 has a cowardly charm.
For a change I’d like to see a movie like Sharknado kill off all the heroes one by one, only leaving the most cowardly individual alive at the end.
I admit, the audience would probably have a tough time warming to such a movie. But just once, wouldn’t you like to see Hicks, Dr Smith, Shaggy, Scooby and Loki “win”? Why shouldn’t the grand piano fall on the lead man’s head every once in a while? Why shouldn’t Wile E. Coyote blow up the Road Runner? Wouldn’t you like to see Tom chow down on some Jerry ratatouille? Or Scratchy eat Itchy? Why hasn’t Hollywood given us The Lord of the Rings: The Gollum Cut, where Gollum emerges victorious over those thieving “hobbitses”?
Food for thought.

My military thriller, The Spartan, is now available on Amazon.

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