Management: Unlike more formal entries, this post is just me kind of freewheeling some hate I’ve worked up on something or other. I intend they be civil, but they are rants. They are demonstrably more passionately accusatory towards something or someone, but the points I’ll make will at least be coherent. I won’t do these on a regular basis. They’ll just spontaneously spring to life one day in a conversation, and I’d rather at least the reasonableness, if not the rhetoric, of my sentiments aren’t forgotten.
Every Death Parade discussion that I’ve skimmed through had people dropping and arguing opinions. Not a whole lot of surprise there. It happens for most, if not all, shows. But there’s something about the type of opinion being expressed and debated in Death Parade that seems to be unique to it, special to it. This “specialness” is where the focal point of these opinions are concentrated: posts and polemics about good and evil and heaven and hell of all variations.
They frustrates me.
My public health professor posed a question about the infamous “Typhoid Mary.” People opined about who was right and wrong, while here I was, the only person in my class who thought this question about Typhoid Mary was dumb.
Here I am now, thinking that these Death Parade discussions about morality were dumb.
Why would I bring a tangent as random as Typhoid Mary into a discourse about Death Parade? Forget about the show for the time being and humor me. I promise to connect this to Death Parade later.
For anyone unfamiliar with Mary Mallon, she was an immigrant to the United States, one of many Irish who fled their homeland during the Great Potato Famine. The US never had a very stellar reputation when it came to the issue of ethnic and racial bigotry, and that proved just as true for Negroes and Orientals as it did for Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, and Irish.
Several factors contributed to their wretched status in the eyes of many Americans.
– They were Irish, and the majority Anglo-Americans didn’t really fancy much Irish in particular.
– They were Roman Catholics, and the majority Protestant Americans had no desire to be controlled by, let alone associate with, Papist outsiders.
– They were cheap laborers, and many labor unions didn’t much appreciate them depressing their wages. They arrived poor and filthy, and lived poor and filthy, and the established American majority couldn’t stand people that chose to exist that way, despite them having often little choice in the matter.
– Many Americans back then were also just generally xenophobic, and all these factors (plus those unmentioned) ended up naturally bleeding into and justifying the other in a sort of circle jerk.
Life in America was hard for the poor and uneducated Irish man. Life was doubly severe for the poor and uneducated Irish woman, who could at most do servant-class work, some of the most tiring and least-paying kinds of labor a woman could get. One of the few exceptions to this kind of livelihood was cooking. Mary Mallon ended up as a cooking-class servant for some of the more affluent families in New York City.
The story goes that some of these families came down with cases of typhoid, a deadly disease transmitted via the fecal-oral route. Even if you wash your hands, fecal matter tends to get on everywhere people touch, and a public health detective concluded after rounds of contact tracing that Mary ended up passing typhoid germs on food she personally had to prepare with her fingers. As a rare example of a healthy carrier of the germ, Mary herself never came down with typhoid, but she ended up passing it along to the people she served food to, through the food they consumed. Some of them fell ill, and some of them died.
She was quarantined from society by city public health authorities her against her will, kicking and screaming and swearing to God that she wasn’t ill with typhoid, that she was not a so-called healthy carrier, that she was being set up by bigots.
Years later, city public health authorities felt guilty about what they now felt was a rash move at her expense. They decided to reintegrate her back into society under the condition that she didn’t work for a living in what she was coincidentally best at: cooking. They even found her a job as a laundress, though that job happened to be a reversal of fortune in employment. Laundry work was one of the most strenuous and least financially rewarding servant occupation one could get.
City public health authorities eventually lost track of her activities. It would be some time until they discovered her again, this time under a different alias. Another outbreak of typhoid struck New York City, another number and illnesses and deaths tied back to the menace the sensationalist newspapers dubbed “Typhoid Mary”.
She was re-quarantined. She would remain in quarantine for the rest of her life. No matter how hard medical and public health authorities tried to convince her otherwise, she remained firm in the belief of her innocence up until the very end.
“Was Mary Mallon a villain or a victim? Why?”
I ended up responding the question my public health professor asked with the following:
“Villain?” The word “villain,” as least based on how I perceive it, suggests an individual who commits evil things for evil intentions. “Evil” itself is a term that’s up for debate, since the designation of “evil,” just like “villain,” is a value-based statement. Value-based statements are subjective rather than absolute. She never considered herself much a “villain” as a “victim.” Who are we, then, to claim she’s definitively one or the other? Because of our faith, morality, some kind of reason? Surely there’s other faiths, moralities, or reason-based systems floating around that could attest that she was “victim” over “villain.” She swore her innocence by her God, after all. Because experts or the public swear she’s a villain? Tyranny of the elite. Tyranny of the masses. Trying to pin the objectivity of “evil” and “villain” on Mary Mallon would be a disservice to her as a person anyway. People are more complex than that.
My classmates debated on and on, however, without anything resembling unified consensus on what, when, and where to pin the tail of “evil” and “villain” on. The only thing they could agree on was that she was definitely and objectively, at some or every point in the story, a “villain” or “victim” . She was always a “villain,” always a “victim,” was a “victim” here and a “villain” there, was a “villain” and “victim” at the same time, etc.
Ignorant as she was by the prevailing medical science of the day and informed as she was by her hard life of personal toil and societal prejudice, it’s completely understandable that she’d behave and act the way she would outside of malice.
A mixture of empathy and an understanding of social reality is key to my thoughts on the matter.
It might have been a fact that Mary Mallon and her behavior brought bodily harm to other people and endangered the public health in such a way that the government had to quarantine her for society’s physical safety, but that, in no way, has anything to do with Mary being a “villain” or a “victim.”
Outside of being a mental journal of record, it is a presumptuous, useless, and dumb question.
And now we’re back to Death Parade. What does this have to do with Death Parade? It has to do with the fact that people are so obsessed with this idea of moral dichotomy, of “villain” and “victim” and right and wrong, that they miss the entire point of the show.
But wait, how could you say that when Death Parade specifically addresses a heaven and hell people go to after they are “judged?”
Except the whole judgment process is flawed. Episode 1, “Death Seven Darts,” shows a game and the arbiter Decim clearly sending one of them above and one of them below. Episode 2, “Death Reverse,” injects doubt into the correctness of Decim’s arbitration through Onna’s insight and prompts him to ask his superior for a redo. Episode 4 “Death Arcade” has Decim pushing the game’s participants to such disgusting extremities that his assistant Kurokami no Onna (literally translated as “Black-haired Woman) breaks the device Decim is using to cause their desperation and berates him for the callousness of his behavior.
Where people go to after they are “judged” bears no objective marker of good and evil because the whole system is flawed.
The matches are divided between the past and present, flashbacks of actions they took when the participants were alive and moments of actions they take while participants are playing their game.
Past flashbacks of them being awful, present moments of them being remorseful, past flashbacks of them being remorseful, present moments of them being awful…
…just like Mary Mallon, all of these experiences and more blur to make the persons we see as the persons they actually are.
People are complex, and trying to impose reductionist assumptions of “evil” and “villain” is a disservice to them as people, as persons.
The show isn’t about the arbiters in its narrative or the arbiters in the audience playing God.
It isn’t about people going to heaven or hell.
It’s about showing people as human beings.
Management: For more on some of the religious motiffs in Death Parade, I suggest checking out illegenes article on the show via this link.