Part 1 of 2
What’s a Vigilante anyway?
As with the Spanish term ‘Vigilare’ – to keep watch – a vigil is a period of watchfulness, a commitment to be aware, often while others get to sleep in peace as a result. Likewise, a vigilante will often be up and about their business while his or her township sleeps, and while the darker forces they seek to challenge, or indeed eliminate, are at large.
A vigilante, by definition in the Oxford Dictionary is A member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate.
An interesting phenomena in the 21st Century when technically we are more protected by laws than ever before, but which, nevertheless, is on the increase, and not just in films and comic strips, but on our streets.
In August 2014, the Daily Mail reported that in Detroit, one of America’s most violent cities, self-defence killings, or ‘justifiable homicides’, showed a 79% increase. Citizen ‘patrols’ have been set up by retired police officers tired of a lack of official policing in their neighbourhoods. This trend, of course, ties in with slashes to police budgets. Similarly, as police response times plummet, private security businesses are doing very well, thank you.
In the UK, a BBC documentary: Welcome to Vigilante Britain, highlighted one of the greatest concerns of the authorities as being the rise in ‘paedophile hunting’ groups. In recent years, a kind of national rage has built up against those who predate on children and the lenient sentences doled out to offenders, sometimes with tragic consequences, for example, the gang-style execution of a lonely misfit, wrongly accused of sexual crimes.
But by African standards, the Western World’s style of Neighbourhood Watch is pretty tame. In Nigeria, for instance, you could be lynched for committing a robbery, while your executioners get a pat on the back from the police for “complimenting their efforts”.
So, when did a watcher become a doer?
Certainly, there are a mass of influences that can be cited on the back of this trend. But vigilantes are nothing new; some of them go back decades, even centuries.
Akira Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai, a Japanese masterpiece, offers one of the finest examples of what vigilantism is all about (later, The Magnificent Seven, USA). A group of like-minded individuals combating lawlessness in defence of poor defenceless citizens.
Typical of the vigilante, they are fearless, ruthless, prepared to kill and ultimately to die in the name of justice.
This Parallel can be found in any number of vigilante based movies dating back to Shane, 1953, and the 1960s and 70s Spaghetti Westerns featuring Clint Eastwood as a lone blonde cowboy who, though narcissistic in many ways, steps up to form a shield between the little man and the tyrant.
Here we see the vigilante is a loner, a drifter, a character perfected in the 1970s series Kung-Fu, starring David Carradine. The genius of this series is that, while sticking with the theme of a cowboy loner, it harks back to greats like Seven Samurai by delivering martial arts style kicks in every episode.
As with the rise of vigilantism in society, so we see a rise in the more ruthless style of avenger, apparent in the ever darker Batman movies, also notably in recent years in landmark films like Kickass. It’s fair to say that the violence in this and other movies, such as Ghost Rider, reflects the viewer’s growing intolerance towards sparing the baddy.
This takes us over to the comic-strip vigilante, a super hero who may or may not have super powers. So who is your favourite?
Have a look at Marvel and DC’s top ten and post a comment with who, in your opinion, is the number one superhero:
And music, The Hip Hop / Rap artist Vigilante, set to strom the UK, reflects public rage at gang violence with hard-hitting lyrics:
My fascination with vigilantes and superheroes, angels and demons, all come together in Melt, where I explore the scenario of a dark, super-powered avenger set loose on modern day society.
Watch this blog and my website for the autumn 2014 release date.
So, a question for you: if you were a vigilante, what superpower would you choose in order to right the wrongs of the world? Flight, a light-sabre or super strength? Or, like Kickass, would you just wing in as a simple human, do the best you could with what you’ve got?
Next post: Joe Average turns vigilante.
COMING SOON – MELT, the novel: ‘Desecrating an ancient graveyard can unearth enough trouble to shake up the world.’
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