Do you remember the original Die Hard? Of course you do! It gave us a distinct action movie setup: hero is trapped with a bunch of armed terrorists who turn out not to be terrorists, has to use his cleverness and bravery to take out the bad guys one by one. It’s a great idea for an action movie, and it inspired a lot of movies that were slight variations on the same theme: the official Die Hard sequels, of course (which were in fact the least slavish in their imitation), a movie that was basically Die Hard on a Navy boat (don’t remember the name, the one where the cook turns out to be a Navy Seal or something like that), two that were Die Hard on an airplane (one with Air Force One and an earlier movie on a regular airplane), and even an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation, where Immanuel Kant, I mean Jean-Luc Picard, is trapped alone on the Enterprise with terrorists-who-aren’t-terrorists. Unfortunately for the knock-offs, I must conclude after seeing all of them that the original Die Hard really had already realized all the potentials for this general plot.
What is it about the Die Hard setup that makes it so appealing as a heroic fantasy? (If I were in the mood to fantasize about being an action hero, I probably couldn’t do better than imagine my work building has been taken over by terrorists, and I have to take them out using my physics, princess-trivia, and blogging skills.) On the one hand John McClane is outnumbered by Hans Gruber and his goons. That’s what makes his beating them so impressive. He’s cut off from direct help, so everything comes down to his own guts and ingenuity, just as you’d want for an action hero. On the other hand, McClane isn’t really outnumbered. Everybody outside the Nakatomi Plaza is on his side. If he can survive this ordeal, he’s going to be a hero. (Note the advantage of the supposed terrorists turning out to be just sophisticated thieves. That way, the whole thing is uncontroversial. If Hans had been tied to the IRA or PLO, he would have had some supporters somewhere.)
This is how it must feel to be a social justice entryist in an apolitical or conservative organization. On the one hand, she gets to feel brave for working in enemy territory like this. She’s outnumbered by institutional racists and sexists, but not really. History is on her side, like a vast audience, and she can almost hear it cheer as she takes down the bad guys’ careers, one by one. All the people who matter to her, all the people of her education and social standing, are on her side. If her quarrels ever get into the newspapers, she can count on the journalists to be on her side. Even if she gets fired, she needn’t fear rebuke from the consensus of the society that is most real to her. Social justice advocacy is the ideal way to win glory!
Plus, we racists/sexists aren’t carrying machine guns.
Sticking your neck out to oppose immigration or letting people choose their gender, on the other hand, has a whole different feel. You can still feel like John McClain if you want, but in an alternate universe where there is no one outside the Nakatomi Plaza, or where everyone in the outside world is on Hans’ side, and journalists are writing editorials to express their outrage that anyone would be getting in the way of his taking the wealth he so richly deserves. And in this alternate universe, you always lose. If you want to imagine an audience on your side, History won’t do; you’ve got to look all the way up to God and His angels.
Really, though, it’s best not to imagine that you’re any kind of hero.
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