John Lydon, Richard III, and the False Choice Between Empathy and Strength

KevinSpaceyRichardIII

Those that have been reading along will know that lately I have been fascinated by the career of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten).  I have read his two autobiographies, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and Anger is an Energy, and I have watched the Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury.  One of the things that many people don’t get is that Lydon has a great sense of humor and fun.  Although he felt there were important things that needed to be said, he knew how to get a crowd wound up, and he always did things with a sense of fun.  I found it really interesting that his Johnny Rotten persona was partially based on Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Richard is a deformed scheming character that uses his wits to rise to power.  

That led me to wanting to learn more about the play.  Tonight I am watching the Al Pacino documentary Looking for Richard.  This is a documentary where Pacino is trying to figure out how to get the average person to understand and open up to Shakespeare.  The film is scenes of the play intercut with discussions about what the play means and how to perform it.

This little bit of dialog interested me:

First Murderer:

Relent!  Tis cowardly and womanish.

Clarence:

Not to relent is beastly, savage, devilish.

What is happening in that scene is that Richard has sent two murderers to kill a character named Clarence who is in line for the throne.  Clarence is trying to talk the murderers out of killing him.  The above lines are just a very small snippet from the scene.

I want to take them out of context for a moment.  I’ve been thinking lately about how males are given false choices about being macho and being weak.  The murderer says basically that showing mercy is to be weak.  Clarence replies that to murder is to be savage.  So many times in our society men make choices about what to do based upon if people will perceive them to be weak or strong.

Morrissey sang, in the song I Know It’s Over, that it, “takes strength to be gentle and kind.”  Well this is true, so often people send the opposite message.  Why is it that caring about nature and other people is often perceived as being weak?  How many times have you heard someone say, about someone that cares about the environment for instance, that they are some kind of, “faggot hippie.”  Meanwhile, men that rape the earth and exploit other people are often thought of as being strong and powerful, when they are really just giving in to their own ego?

I have seen so many times when males, who are really quite frightened of the world, hide behind a macho exterior.  I remember a gig in a redneck area where almost every single vehicle in the parking lot was a pickup truck.  The males at that show acted very macho.  There was clearly something tribal going on.  They were acting proud and macho, but they were really a part of a herd mentality and were clearly afraid of standing out as individuals.  It doesn’t take any strength to go along with the crowd.

And yes there are plenty of people on the left that subscribe to the herd mentality as well.  When I see a crowd of hipsters or hippies they are basically just wearing a different costume.  They are part of their own little tribe with its own rules.  They may think that they are individuals, but they are no different than a group that is all wearing suits or cowboy hats or whatever.

So many of the problems the world faces right now require cooperation with other people.  Many of our problems require national if not global solutions.  We need to get things done and macho male pride will only get in the way.

It takes strength to be gentle and kind.  It takes strength to be open minded and to be an individual.  It takes strength to stand up to a crowd when they are doing something wrong.  We need to make it more clear in our society that empathy and strength are not opposites.  Males are often taught the opposite of this.  However, if men keep acting this way, and one should mention that women have played their part in allowing this kind of attitude to persist, it will eventually lead to our doom.  The world can no longer bear males that are afraid to look weak in place of the common good.

The above photo is Kevin Spacey as Richard III.

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