Versus: An Ancient Trend in Popular Culture, Revived

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Godzilla vs King KongWhen it comes to movies and TV shows, comic books, and novels or even video games, there’s always a “versus” hidden inside the story. It’s good versus evil, us versus them, cops versus robbers, smurfs versus Gargamel, and the list could go on forever. The “versus” is not always as obvious but rather implied without saying. Yet it is often emphasized right in the title of movies, video games, novels, and comic books: think Frankenstein versus The Mummy, Godzilla versus King Kong, Freddy versus Jason, Aliens versus Predator, or more recently Batman versus Superman. Most of the times, when “versus” is emphasized, it’s implied that us, mere mortals, can have little to no influence on the final outcome of the story. The tagline of the first AvP movie, released in 2004, has perfectly put this into words: “Whoever wins, we lose”. The tagline was revived as a famous meme during the 2016 Presidential campaign but that’s a story for another time.

The confrontation between two parties, usually a good one and an evil one, has been with us since the beginning of history. Think of all the conflicts between the ancient gods and the more recent ones – it was (Greek) gods versus titans, (Norse) gods versus ice giants, and more recently, (our) God versus an opposing angel, Lucifer. This confrontation between good and evil seems to have been imprinted into our genetic code since the very beginning of creation (or the start of the evolution, whichever you might prefer). Throughout history, we always had an “us versus them” going on somewhere in the world, with the antagonists – Nazis, Russians, Muslim terrorist organizations, you name it – always being depicted as evil, a threat to our way of life. The same duality can be observed in many products of popular culture over time, from paintings (Saint George vs. The Dragon) to comic books, pokies, and the recent products of Hollywood. It’s always like permanently having two angels sitting on our shoulders, perfectly depicted by the logo of the Good Girl, Bad Girl pokie game.

Last year, a very interesting “versus” made it to the silver screen. Of course, I’m talking about “Batman vs. Superman”, a highly anticipated movie ultimately bashed by critics and viewers alike. If not long ago audiences had two options to hate – Freddie or Jason, Alien or Predator, Godzilla or Mothra – this time they had two heroes fighting each other on-screen. Both of them were always perceived as positive characters: Batman was the caped crusader of Gotham City, while Superman was the protector of Lois Lane, Metropolis, and the Earth – in this order. Pitching them each other on the silver screen has most likely confused viewers, considering that they have rooted for both of them in the past. The confusion was most likely the biggest among those unfamiliar with the history of the Justice League, not knowing that the two would ultimately make up in the face of a new, bigger threat… but once again, that’s a story for another time.

Even if the “Batman vs. Superman” movie was not what most of us have expected, we have to appreciate it for its boldness in breaking out of the obvious patterns. Hopefully, the idea of the forces of good fighting each other will not disappear from popular culture, giving us a bit more thinking material about morality, situations, and perspectives.

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