My father used to watch kung-fu theater on the weekends, so I became familiar with the archetypes at a young age. There are five I recall very well: The Hero. The Villain. The Love Interest. The Witty Old Person. And The Chicken Shit. (That’s what my mother called him, and every single movie had one.) My favorite part of the movie was the ridiculous battle royal, where The Hero faces off against all of The Villian’s henchmen, one at a time. As a child, it made no sense to me. Later on, while learning kata in karate class, I was reminded of these epic fights. Facing multiple opponents, but not all at once. It’s not about sport. If it were, they’d pick one guy and let the best man win, but no. They send in a guy. He falls. They send in another guy, and then another. The Hero hands each opponent his ass until there are no more asses.
Of course, the mob get their shots in, because what fun would a battle royal be to watch if The Hero gets out clean? It actually makes for a better show when The Hero is left for dead, requires rehab, or gets thrown someplace dark and smelly. And The Villian’s response to the broken Hero? Laughing. Gloating. It’s never pretty, and if you think about it, that’s the point. He didn’t catch The Hero. The four dozen men he sent did, but not before The Hero broke arms, legs, ribs, noses, and a whole lot of pride for The Villian’s supposed victory.
What I like most about the kung-fu battle royal is that I can enjoy it because its not real. The human body can’t take the beating, certainly not for any sustained period. For a dose of reality, take the theater out of the clip above. If O-Ren Ishii wanted The Bride dead, the Crazy 88s wouldn’t have attacked her two or three at a time. They would have come at her all at once, subdued her with overwhelming force, and she would have been dead. Instead, they toy with her.
What, you ask, is my point?
While reading some internet posts this weekend, I came across a forum thread that reminded me of a kung-fu battle royal. A number of people singled out a person out, and took turns twisting the responses given to each other’s comments. What had been a platform to ask a question quickly became a stage, and the only mistake I saw the person make was not recognizing the mob as it was forming. When the thread was closed, I thought it would be over, but it wasn’t. The Crazy 88s followed the person onto other sites. They did unkind things. The reality made it unpleasant to observe. It’s no less than bullying, something that takes place every day in schools. In neighborhoods. In the polarized, national political conversation.
The Internet is a big place. An anonymous place, where you don’t have to see the response in someone’s eyes when you speak your mind. You type something, you put thought into it, you press send and the response you get is not the one you expect. Suddenly people hate you, not for who you are or even what you said, but because of their impression of what you said. Because you tried to explain, but it made matters worse. Because you tried to back away before they were done ranting at you.
This weekend, I found myself very grateful for kung-fu theater with my dad. I credit those weekends for my wariness of crowds, my empathy for Heroes facing impossible odds, and finally, my determination to be fair and objective with those whom I interact. I do not, for even a moment, wish to be among the Crazy 88s.