“Yes . . . swooping is bad. . . .” OR: Alistair, Captain America, and the Value of Ethics, Character-Consistency, and Human Potential.
So, here’s another thing I saw on my Tumblr dashboard:
Alistair is a Grey Warden and a companion to the Warden. He is a romance option for a female Warden and also teaches…
Do I stan? Maybe. Probably. Yeeeeaaaaah . . . definitely.
SPOILERS for the Dragon Age series of video games, novels, short stories, comic books, and other media, AHOY. . . .
Alistair’s always felt like a kindred spirit. Heroes of Ferelden, Champions of Kirkwall, and Inquisitors come and go. ALISTAIR, whether Warden or King, is someone I’d trust with my wallet and my life. Though . . . maybe not cooking for me. . . .
Basically, every fandom has a Little Black Dress of Pairings, and for many, it’s Dorian or Fenris or Zevran (I feel the Zevran love STRONGLY, and no shade regarding any of these characters). But for me, it’s ALISTAIR. He’s got a balance of snark and naivete, hope and cynicism, sterling and tarnish, sweet and salty, that I’m always there for. Alistair, aside from being my Little Black Dress, he’s also my PIZZA of the Dragon Age fandom. Because even THE WORST pizza I’ve ever eaten (or read, in this case), was still acres better than damn-near anything else or no pizza at all.
Faves, yo. Plus, I like that he’s not problematic in cruel, resentful ways. Mostly. I get his flaws and can work with liking him not in spire of, but in part because of.
And those flaws are rarely for lack of trying to be and do better. I respect that in art and in life. It’s what I call The Captain America Paradigm, and why I’ve always been Team Cap. Not JUST because Stark is an asshole (and he is . . . so much of one). But because in contrast with a genuinely good person who’s good no matter how badly he’s hurting . . . Stark don’t look like shit.
And full disclosure: Tony Stark is a LOT of the reasons (along with poor representation and lack of inclusion, in general) I stopped with the main arm of the MCU after Civil War and still haven’t seen Infinity War, Endgame, either of the Holland Spider-Man movies, the most recent Thor, and whatever else happened in the past four years that wasn’t Black Panther, Deadpool, and Ant-Man. Spoiled, rich white guys who are assholes despite their privileged lives and their near-limitless resources and ability to HELP (things that often go wasted or mismanaged) just ain’t my thing and never will be. I can see a lot of that in other Dragon Age characters, too, but there’s a level of self-awareness in the characters who have those traits and in the writers behind them that says that shallow selfishness is often a LAUNCH PAD, not a LANDING PAD.
I can work with that. And it’s a thing that made me eventually OKAY with Dorian Pavus and his continuing growth as a human being, though I will never be entirely comfortable with him as he is in canon, for pretty obvious reasons all having to do with his ancestral homeland’s enslavement of people, whether elves, human, or Qunari, and the disenfranchisement of those who don’t have magical ability.
But, again, there’s growth and betterment there, in Dorian, if few others ‘Vints. When character growth seems absent or infinitesimal in a character — no matter how pretty and funny and whatever — so’s my interest. The more present that growth of character and ethics and goodness is, the longer I stick around. The more likely I am to be a forever fan.
Again, hiya, Cap!
And speaking of Cap . . . Steve Rogers ain’t perfect, and he’s not trying to be. He just wants to be a good man and keep bad shit from happening to people. Like . . . that’s it. Where Stark’s agendas and methods are . . . varied and layered, if I feel like being facetious (mostly, I don’t and don’t actually give two shits for his dangerous, self-indulgent, rich-boy shenanigans and angst), Cap’s agenda is simple and laudable, even when his methods are complex. And his reason is almost always: “I want things to be better and safer and happier. I want to help. We can make this world better if we keep trying and fighting to do that.”
Cap doesn’t ever stop trying to be good and/or better. He doesn’t rest and make a full-time home in his lowest baseline of decent behavior. Or sink lower, still. He tries. He doesn’t succeed all of the time, most of the time, and maybe not even a decent plurality of the time, but he NEVER GIVES UP ON GOODNESS. On human decency and potential. That kind of hope and determination, seen by someone with MY life-experiences, history, and reality, is INTOXICATING. And Stark’s . . . whatever-the-fuck he’s got going on just seems like EVERYTHING that’s wrong with the world — rich people doing whatever the fuck their money lets them get away with, because THEY WANT TO, not because it’s what others want and need, and what will actually help.
Like Alistair, Cap’s willing to walk his talk even when shit is awful and most people just don’t do that. And I understand why. It’s not easy BEING GOOD WHEN IT MATTERS MOST, instead of simply preaching it. Being good and kind and decent when everything’s roses is nothing. Being that way when the sky’s raining shit, blood, and bricks is . . . fucking SPECIAL. THAT’S the height of human potential, right there. And anything in the shadow of that light ain’t gonna look good by comparison, to me. It’s the difference between Doctors Without Borders and all the plastic surgeons in Hollywood. Both have their time and place, but I know which set of doctors I want to see and hear more about, which ones I’d want taking care of me, which ones I’d want in my family. Which ones I’d trust quicker and at all.
That’s what I see in Alistair, too. A person of character and ethics who’s continually trying his best. His success matters — or would in a conversation about effectiveness and method — but people who AREN’T trying to be good probably fail at it a lot more than the ones who do try and fail most of the time. So, struggling, sometimes misguided goodness? Fuck, YEAH. And without weird religiosity and preachiness, please! Alistair and Cap just DO AND ARE GOOD, for goodness’ sake and for the sake of the people who need them. And don’t talk it up or sermonize at folks. They don’t whine about their tough lives then do awful shit as a seeming consequence, as if a terrible past excuses terrible behavior (it may EXPLAIN, but it doesn’t EXCUSE . . . there are NO EXCUSES . . . EVER). They live an example and if people are moved to try it out, so be it.
I get that a lot of people enjoy problematic characters with huge-ass flaws or whose self-expression trends that way, and then the characters wallow in it a LOT before maybe trying half-assedly being better or trying for better. But I don’t like that shit in reality, so, why on earth would I want it in my escapism, no matter how clever it talks or how pretty it looks?
Full disclosure: branded psychopaths are different, as far as I’m concerned. A Vulpes Inculta or Hannibal Lecter (and Raleigh Samson . . . who’s an un-ethical villain BUT only because his tries to be an ethical, then un-ethical hero were so badly stymied and ultimately destroyed by HIS ENTIRE WORLD AND RELIGION AND WAY OF LIFE . . . and there’s a whole dissertation on cases like his) is a VILLAIN and a villain I LOVE TO HATE (and, yeah, love to love . . . I’m lookin’ at YOU, WOOL-pays) is better than a hero I HATE TO LOVE, or even think about. In my opinion. PLUS . . . those aforementioned villains and others operate under their held and well-documented standards of ethics. THEY ARE PRINCIPLED AND STICK TO THEIR PRINCIPLES. Those principles and ethics simply (ha!) differ VASTLY from my own and most other people’s. But they are character-consistent and predictable in their actions and opinions. We can trust that Hannibal Lecter will do what Hannibal Lecter does. Character-consistency and, after an odd and sadistic fashion, character. It doesn’t waver. He and similar villains don’t fall asleep on their codes, but live them fully. They stand by and in those ethics. They are not un-ethical people. Un-ethical people are, say, heroes and anti-heroes, or anyone, who shares a general and common idea of right with most human beings on most things. They are aware of what falls under that category and what does not . . . then they still KNOWINGLY do wrong, hurtful things, because . . . REASONS????
That hero or person or whoever, IMHO, is worse than ANY villain.
Cap and Alistair and so many others in Fandom, some who are relatively unsung, are and do good to the best of their ability. Not just because it’s their ethic, but BECAUSE that’s what being good is . . . doing what’s right and best/better, to one’s knowledge, and as one can, no matter what. And while also doing as little harm as possible.
Simple, but so hard to figure out the nuts and bolts, then maintain the ethic. But, again, it’s the attempt that matters. It’s NOT a principal until it COSTS YOU SOMETHING DEAR.
TRUE HUMAN POTENTIAL lies in the striving and persevering, more than the winning and achieving.
So, here’s to the heroes. To the good people. To the people who care enough to keep trying, and to stick with doing and being better. To Cap. And, to Alistair, everyone’s favorite cheese-addict.
(Lamb and pea stew, tho? Nah . . . not cool, my dude. Love ya, otherwise.)