Greetings fellow heroes,
Before we begin, there’s a reason the latest few posts are so far apart. I’ve started writing for a second online source, the Subculture for the Cultured. Its a great site, and I encourage you to check it out, especially if you love superheroes, comics, and taking these things seriously.
That said, enjoy the following, which is posted here, too.
Warning, spoilers abound.
After returning from viewing The Avengers this weekend, we decided to put aside our planned post and discuss the Hulk instead.
- He made a compelling case
Joss Whedon’s interpretation of the Avengers is second to none (seriously, go see it), and the Hulk’s character is likewise amazing. Whedon brilliantly captures the terrifying power of the Hulk and contrasts it with the demur and frightened Bruce Banner’s struggle to contain that power. Because if Dr. Bruce Banner, brilliant physicist, becomes angry, he transforms into the Hulk and places all those around him in danger. Any attempts to stop the monster directs the Hulk’s deadly fury against those who try to contain it. While the Hulk is on his rampages, he lashes out at anyone and everything he perceives to be a threat while providing clumsy protection to those he loves. But Whedon gave the Hulk a telling moment in The Avengers. In the climactic battle, Captain America gives orders to each member of the team. He concludes by turning to the Hulk and saying,
To which the Hulk smiles and proceeds to smash. Effectively.
If anyone has the ability to give the Hulk an order, its Captain America. And without denigrating Cap’s superlative leadership, telling the Hulk to smash is like telling a dog to sniff or a clock to tick; its in his nature. But the moment the Hulk smiled and acknowledged the order, it implied that the Hulk had a choice, accepted it, and was pleased by the choice.
And that, fellow heroes, presents a dilemma.
If the Hulk has the ability to make decisions based on morality, he is what’s known as a “moral agent”. This means that he can examine a situation, consider actions which are “right” or “wrong”, and understand and act based on that decision.
On the other hand, the Hulk may not have the ability to make moral decisions. He may simply react to stimuli and respond without thought, in which case Cap’s order to him made him happy for the same reason a dog is happy when its master throws a ball. He is like an animal, and at most his will follows the philosophy, as Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, that
“Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”
The story ends with Hulk, alone, without Banner or any living human anywhere. The Hulk is finally by himself, the remnant of humanity’s nuclear ambition and a symbol of the uncontrollable power which destroyed it. But this decision, though satisfactory, does leave us with a moral problem. If the Hulk is not a moral agent, who is responsible for what he does? Do we blame Bruce Banner for being in the way when the gamma bomb went off? Do we blame the military in the form of Nick Fury (and thus, the government) for not ridding of or at least containing the danger?
Unfortunately, neither answer satisfies, as neither can control the monster. The nuclear problem is such that, just as in The Avengers, it would only take one decision maker, either government or scientist, one moment of unrealized anger and passion to unleash nuclear death on the world. And this may be the ultimate message of the Hulk: the key is not to make the holder of the weapon angry, and if we are the ones holding the weapon, not to become angry ourselves. While emotions have their place, when dealing with a Hulk or a bomb that has no moral agency of its own, we need to exercise our own moral agency to the absolute best of our abilities. Because all of the Hulk’s strength ultimately lies in our hands.
And as Bruce Banner’s struggle for control demonstrates, the greatest strength is avoiding the power until it is truly needed.