From the Braver Institute
Last week I mentioned that there are some really great young people out there in the world, and I touched on the fact that I wasn’t always a very good person when I was their age. I wasn’t always bad either. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I walked a fence between the two, and the line between good and bad, right and wrong wasn’t always clear.
Once upon a time, the movies were filled with heroes. The hero was always clear cut—there was no doubt that the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, or John Wayne were the heroes. Somewhere along the way the role of hero started to change, and films started to blur the lines between the hero and the villain. Instead of being good, the hero was simply not as bad as the villain—the hero was an antihero.
Actors like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson were the new good guys of film, and they frequently portrayed characters who were technically heroes, but you couldn’t truly call them good. You certainly didn’t want to be on their bad side.
It is little surprise to me now, thinking back on younger days, that we frequently thought the things we were doing were justified and right, even though our methods smacked of vigilantism.
As I am writing this it is the week of July 4th, and I am reminded of an Independence Day where we dispensed our own form of justice when I was in my late teens or early twenties.
The 4th of July has always been my favorite day of the year. A celebration that lasted all day long, capped off with a fireworks display, was my favorite way of spending the day.
Mount Marquette, in my hometown of Marquette, was a great place to do just that. It was a place where we could hang out with our friends all day without being bothered by, or bothering, anyone else, and at sunset it provided an excellent vantage point for the fireworks show at the harbor below. It was open to the public and had ease of access due to the road that went over the top.
For most of the day we had the place to ourselves, but as the sun moved westward the number of people on the mountaintop grew.
Because we weren’t total jerks, we altered our behavior somewhat as to not offend those around us. As the growing crowd moved closer, we talked a little quieter, and we turned our music down until we finally turned it off altogether. We knew that not everyone wanted to hear what we were listening to.
Suddenly, out of the woods behind us, music began to play, and it was more than loud enough for everyone in the immediate area to hear, as were the grumblings of the people around us.
It seemed that some college students had run wires from their car in the parking lot below, up to speakers that reached into the woods near the top of the mountain.
We knew that there was little point in confronting the students about the music. That would have just led to an exchange of inappropriate words followed by an exchange of fists. There was also no way to call the police since, in those days, cell phones were more or less a concept on the pages of Popular Science.
This was not a time for negotiation, or confrontation. No. This was a time for action in the form of direct vigilante justice. We had seen it acted out by our [anti]heroes, and now was the time for us to take a page from their playbook. Now was the time for us to be the antiheroes.
Two of us snuck away from the crowd and into the woods. Armed with pocket knives, we stealthily tracked down the wires to the speakers. Using hands signals to communicate, we cut both speaker wires simultaneously. From the instantly silent mountain top we could hear the cheers of the people above us.
We moved quickly away from the scene of the crime and rejoined our friends.
It was obvious to us that everyone appreciated the absence of the music, with the exception of the college students, of course.
We quietly congratulated ourselves on a job well done, while the students scrambled their forces to determine what went wrong with their sound system.
Fifteen or so minutes later, the music was back.
The thought that the college kids did not get the message, and had the nerve to blast the mountain with their noise, angered us. We now had to make it stop, and make it stop for good.
We quickly devised a plan.
Four of us returned to the parking lot via the main trail, so as not to arouse the suspicions of the college students, who surely would have noticed if we went straight back into the woods.
From the parking lot we walked up through the woods, following the speaker wires—two of us on each wire. We positioned ourselves twenty-five to thirty feet apart along the wires, and using hand signals again, we deftly cut twenty-five to thirty foot chunks out of each speaker wire and took them with us as we ran for cover.
Problem solved permanently.
We could have tried talking. We could have tried violence. We could have tried wishing and hoping that they would go away, but none of those things would have worked, and we knew it.
Yes, we were guilty of destroying someone else’s property, and if we only had self-serving motives for doing so, it would have been hard to justify, but since we were doing this for all the people—people who made it clear that they were not happy with the music—we felt righteous in our actions.
We were The Antiheroes.
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