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There is great truth to the sentiment that what appears simple and childish on the surface often hides the most profound and universal ideas of human goodness.
A cultural example of this phenomenon comes in the guise of the animated show, Archer. A show centred around the trials and tribulations of the men and women of the fictional independent, New York-based spy agency, ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service).
That the show is both popular and critically acclaimed is self-evident. It has received an audience score of ‘9’ on Metacritic (based on 375 ratings) and an audience score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critically, it has been nominated for fifteen Annie Awards, and has won the Prime-Time Emmy awards, four Critics’ Choice Awards, and two Gold Derby Awards.
Archer’s popularity comes from two places. First, it’s exemplary use of meta-comedy, referenced-based humour, and use of rapid-fire dialogue that creates comedic elements which are, at the same time, crude and witty, nihilistic and meaningful. And second, its ability to create well-rounded characters who, despite their insufficiencies, are always willing to help one another.
It is the second part of this equation that I would like to focus on.
The primary example of this is displayed in the show’s protagonist, Sterling Archer. A man who could accurately be described as an immature, self-centred, narcissistic, and egotistical man-child. Archer is clearly a man who suffers from an abundance of emotional deficiencies. His abandonment issues stem from the lack of love he received as a child. His constant need to overcompensate for his insufficiencies, typically through drink, women, and sheer stupidity, is the result of being bullied at school.
As a consequence, Archer is a socially inept alcoholic and sex addict. And when combined with his narcissism, results in the kind of man who behaves recklessly not because he is fearless, but because he genuinely believes himself to be impervious to harm.
This is actually the primary joke of the show. Archer is not the “world’s most dangerous secret agent” because he is highly competent. Rather, he is the “world’s most dangerous secret agent” because his ineptitude makes him a danger to everyone around him.
Then there’s Archer’s boss and mother, Mallory. In many ways, she is worse than her son. She is, like her son, narcissistic and self-centred, and perhaps a little too fond of the bottle. However, unlike her son, who is capable of showing some humanity in spite of his self-centredness, Mallory is an emotionally cold, unloving, and hypocritical woman. She berates her employees but frequently embezzles money from her own company (usually for one materialistic splurge or another), and she’s perfectly willing to exploit the talents of her staff for her own personal gain.
Finally, there is Cyril Figgis, the mild-mannered and softly-spoken accountant who is, perhaps, the worse of the lot. Crippled with self-doubt and frequently the target of Archer’s provocations, Figgis is a man brimming with hatred and resentment. He is a man who abuses power once he gets it and fails to accept either advice or help from
What makes Archer a compelling show is that these characters are willing to help and forgive one another in spite of all their insufficiencies. Even Mallory Archer and Cyril Figgis are prepared to help their colleagues when they get into trouble, albeit begrudgingly. Sterling Archer may be a self-centred buffoon, but he’s the first person to come to his friend’s aid when they get in trouble. Heck, he even describes Pam Poovey, the overweight human resources manager, as his best friend.
This is why Archer is compelling to watch. It reminds us that human beings are not perfect, but they can still find it within themselves to help one another.
Our society appears to be suffering a terminal decline. At least that’s the conclusion traditionalists and devout Christian believers like myself have been forced to conclude. As the old-world withers and vanishes, a culture of selfishness, moral relativism, and general immorality has been allowed to grow in its place. The culture that produced Vivaldi, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Aristotle has been replaced with one that has as its major ambassadors the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.
The first clue that a monumental change had taken place came in the guise of Princess Diana’s farce of a funeral in 1997. An event that was cynically exploited by politicians and celebrities and recorded for public consumption by round-the-clock news coverage (her funeral would be watched by two-and-a-half-billion people). As Gerry Penny of The Conversation noted, Diana’s death marked the beginning of the ‘mediated death.’ A death that is covered by the mass media in such a way that it attracts as much public attention, and therefore revenue, as possible.
Compared to Princess Diana, Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965 was a spectacle of old world pomp and ceremony. After lying in state for three days, Churchill’s small coffin was carried by horse-drawn carriage along the historic streets of London to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. His procession was accompanied by Battle of Britain aircrews, royal marines, lifeguards, three chiefs of staff, Lord Mountbatten, and his own family. The silence that filled the air was broken only by a funerary march and the occasional honorary gunshot.
Much like Diana’s funeral, tens of thousands of people came to witness Churchill’s funeral. But unlike Diana’s mourners, who did everything they could to draw attention to themselves, Churchill’s mourners were silent and respectful. They realised, unlike Diana’s mourners, that the best way to commemorate a great man was to afford him the respect that his legacy deserved.
Cynics would dismiss Churchill’s funeral as nothing more than a ridiculous display of pomp and ceremony. However, these events serve an important cultural purpose by connecting the individual with his community, his culture, and his heritage. In doing so, they bring about order and harmony.
Winston Churchill was the great Briton of the 20th century. Like Horatio Lord Nelson in the early 19th century, it was Churchill’s leadership that saved Britain from Nazi invasion and it was his strength and resolve that gave ordinary Britons that courage to endure the worst periods of the War.
And understandably, many Britons felt something approximating a kind of personal gratitude towards him. A gratitude deep enough that when he died many felt it to be their duty to file reverently pass his body lying in state or stand in respectful silence as his funeral procession passed. What Churchill’s state funeral did was give the ordinary person the opportunity to pay their own respects and feel that they had played a part, if only in a minute way, in the celebration of his life.
Winston Churchill’s funeral and Princess Diana’s funeral represent eras that are as foreign to one another as Scotland is to Nepal. While Churchill’s funeral represented heritage and tradition, Princess Diana’s funeral symbolised mass nihilism and self-centredness.
But why has this happened? I believe the answer lies in the dual decline of Western culture and Christianity.
The French philosopher, Chantal Delsol described modern Western culture as being akin to Icarus had he survived the fall. (Icarus, of course, being the figure in Greek mythology whose wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun). Where once it had been strong, resolute, and proud, it has now become weak, dejected, disappointed, and disillusioned. We have lost confidence in our own traditions and ideals.
Of course, the decline of Western culture has a direct correlation with the more consequential decline of Christianity. It is faith that informs culture and creates civilisation, and the faith that has informed the West has been Christianity. It is the moral ideals rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition – that I love my neighbour, that my behaviour in this life will determine my fate in the next, that I should forgive my enemies – that form the axiomatic principles that undergird Western civilisation.
This faith has been replaced by an almost reverent belief in globalism, feminism, environmentalism, diversity, equality, and human rights. Our secularism has made us believe that those who came before us were ignorant, superstitious, and conformist. And what has the result of this loss of mass religiosity been? Mass nihilism and a decline in moral values.
But when faith falls so too does culture and civilisation. If we are to revive our civilisation, we must be prepared to acknowledge that tradition, heritage, and religion are not only integral, but vital.