“Reality is often disappointing.” Thanos said that in Infinity War, and it’s true. Now, someone might posit something to the effect of: “But reality is what you make it. It doesn’t have to be that way.” To which I would ask, “How many people do you think strive for failure, want to live in poverty, wish to have their ambitions and and their goals and their dreams never come true?” My guess would be not many—hardly anyone. (As a side note, try not to get hung up on arguments where we should “lower our expectations” or “set more achievable goals.” That’s not the point.)
I adhere to the idea that everyone should have equal opportunity, but, as most who have lived or are currently doing so might have noticed, that doesn’t guarantee equality of outcome. Take success: people, for the most part, view their success as something they made themselves—and why shouldn’t they? Most go through an escalating series of steps to achieve what they do, so they deserve their outcome, right? They can show us all the little things, all the nuances where if that hadn’t happened, they’d have been up Shit Creek. One misstep could have fucked it all, so what happened?
Luck. It doesn’t always manifest as something miraculous; in fact, a lot of the time, it’s just things managing to go right. So successful people, for the most part, fell headfirst into or slipped on a spot of luck, and their ten-percent-effort got a leg up from ninety-percent-happenstance. Perhaps their parents fed them with a silver spoon, maybe they knew someone who knew someone who got them in, or they just happened to be in the exact right place at the exact right time. That’s not to say that those who achieve success don’t work hard, but so do a lot of other, unsuccessful people. Doesn’t everybody who works hard, in that case, deserve success? What separates the failures from those who made it?
I’m sure many experience the frustration of something always going wrong. The remote stops working, a light burns out, the oven won’t stop beeping—hey, when did that chair become wobbly?—a monitor dims and never comes back to life, then the A/C unit gives out on one of the hottest days of the year, and life becomes a strung out series of varying calamities. But we don’t deserve those things happening to us, despite how much our human minds try to find patterns. In the same way, we don’t deserve good things happening to us, either. Shit just happens sometimes, and there’s nothing we can do to explain it.
Philosophically, this is pessimism, but take off the human varnish and we arrive at realism. Disappointment is simply a philosophical viewpoint, a lens through which we view our lives when reality fails to meet our expectations—whatever those might be. Life is what it is, and despite how much we complain about it, how often we opine how unfair it is at times (because it is—it’s extremely unfair from an equality standpoint), and how deeply we fall into the pit of misery that awaits most of us simply for wanting, life remains ironclad, like a dropped rock obeying the simple laws of gravity. That misery, that disappointment, turns us into grotesque versions of ourselves where we can only scream against our lack of control while life hurtles in directions we couldn’t have foreseen and desperately don’t want it to go. Other times, life will keep us hanging on with a glimmer of promise, and it’s that promise to which many of us cleave—the promise that the disappointment and misery are worth it because of what’s on their other side.
Getting back to the first point, I think most us, when we watch superhero movies, want to imagine ourselves as heroes, be it in our own stories or in others’, because rarely do we want to envision, or far be it accept, how often we fill the role of villain in both cases. Being a hero sounds great, right? Yeah-ha! Batman and Superman fight for good because they must. Captain America fends off corruption and tyranny with his faultless Morality Compass. That sounds fantastic—an ideal we can strive for, one that we should strive for. But I’ve often identified with villains, apart from those who commit heinous crimes in pursuit of their goal. They’re the characters that writers use to explore the crucible of reality. Oftentimes, a villain’s actions are simply them manifesting their goals through whatever means they can use, justified through a prism of truth and necessity rather than right versus wrong.
My ability to see from a villain’s point of view used to disconcert me—bad is bad and good is good. But I realized over the course of many years that nothing exists on the extreme ends of absolutes. No, everything rests somewhere between, in lighter and darker shades of gray.
So on one end, we have success, and on the other, failure. Then in the middle, there’s all of us clinging to the obsequious hope that we might one day get just a crumb of the curve’s top end.