Pop Culture and Personal Morality

Someone in the Night Thread posted 15 minutes of Jean-Luc Picard speechifying and essentially laying out my own ideal set of ethics by which to govern my life.  I realized (like others) that watching The Next Generation as a kid and teenager forged some pretty major moral touchstones in my way of thinking.  Picard wasn’t a man who typically used his fists (until the shitty TNG movies of course), but was a person who directed his crew to behave in a largely moral fashion according to the tenets of the Federation.  He lived by these principles, and demanded that those that served on his crew did the same.

Another commenter talked about Superman as a similar figure of moral certainty.  Superman has really been put through the ringer by adapters and writers, but I think a lot of people recognize his basic goodness and commitment to doing The Right Thing, despite having the power of a God, is what makes him so compelling.  And that tension lies at the heart of most superhero stories.  The superhero subjects their personal power to the service of others, usually humanity, and become protectors and wards of our species.  The villains are the ones that use their power to overthrow, subject, and rule.

So why did I make Captain Kirk the header?

Kirk is a flawed human, a man that has a reputation for brashness, ignoring the rules, and being a dick.  His reputation as a ladies man is actually overstated and exaggerated when you actually watch through the Original Series.  Sure, he can be a leering creep sometimes, but that is more a reflection of the sexism of the time in which the show was created.  Kirk, in essence, is the Frontier Cowboy in space, a man who represents American Imperialism and Gunboat Diplomacy.  But he is also a man that seeks peaceful means.  He has found himself going to the brink of violence, but pauses to remind himself that there is another way forward.  That to use his fists is to succumb to the worst tendencies of the human condition.  He is not a paragon of humanity, but he’s a step towards being driven by curiosity and understanding instead of power, war, and dominance.  He is the captain that sets the tone and forges the path that leads to the enlightened humanism of Picard.  To choose not to kill, to choose to explore and understand, and above all, to co-exist peacefully.  Kirk is not a conqueror, but he is also fighting his instincts to BE a conqueror.  To react, defend, and proceed into the unknown with fear is to welcome disaster.  Kirk’s desire to KNOW and to EMBRACE the mystery is why he’s a heroic figure.

So, I put the question to all of you: what fictional character best exemplifies your morality?  Who do you see as a figure of aspiration when faced with overwhelming odds and/or the temptation of absolute power?