I typically have one show I choose to watch religiously on Hulu. My latest go-to has been Marvel’s “Agent Carter”. After watching the season finale yesterday, I realized the show could serve as a strong case about ethics.
As a spin-off for one of the characters in the Captain America film, the show depicts Agent Peggy Carter as a marginalized, government secret agent who must go behind the back of her agency in order to help the man she should be hunting – Howard Stark. If caught going on her secret missions for Stark, hoping to clear his name, Peggy could be targeted by the government as a traitor and spend the rest of her days in prison, or worse.
The YouTube clip depicts a preview for the episode in which Peggy’s secret is discovered by her agency and she becomes a wanted fugitive. Despite the fact that she has betrayed her agency in working as a double agent for Stark, to the viewer, Peggy is still the one righteous, ethical character. Why do we believe her to be so honorable and ethical?
Her ethical dilemma is one most superheroes encounter. The most ethical scenario would be for Peggy to be loyal to her agency, convince her other agents of Stark’s innocence and fight the bad guys alongside her government peers. However, as a marginalized female agent who is largely ignored and only trusted with secretarial work, she knows that convincing her agency of Stark’s innocence will essentially be impossible. By the logic of utilitarianism , in order to save the entire world from destruction (the Russian’s are after Stark and his weapons in order to take many lives), Peggy chooses to disobey orders, defy her boss, ignore her job description and the government’s wishes, all for the greater good. She may be risking her own life and happiness, that of her coworkers, and her boss’, but she is potentially saving millions of people from the plots of Russian terrorists, and saving Howard Stark’s life and happiness.
Superheroes are exempt from many actions the average citizen would find unethical. Peggy gets to lie and steal, as well as punch, kick, and shoot anyone who gets in her way. As the audience to this show and to superhero films, we accept these actions as being necessary. We commend the hero for hurting the “bad guys”, or anyone interfering with his or her job of saving the world. The hero’s actions are acceptable so long as they are for the sake of the majority, or society overall.
Suppose the superhero got it wrong and went after an innocent man? Or perhaps the hero’s good-intentioned actions hurt more people than did good? Do we write all these off? Do we still root for the hero? By the standards of dual consequentialism, we would. Superhero shows and films exemplify how some consequences can be ignored so long as the main consequence benefits the most people.