Friday, January 13, 2012

Love 'Im or Hate 'Im: Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Honestly? Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the reason I'm still self-publishing comics, because inner conflict is the most poignant conflict of all.

I should preface this article with the following disclaimer: I'm not a law student. I know next to nothing about criminology. The following observations and opinions are from a purely layman's perspective, from a guy that pays attention to current events via "infotainment."

That said, I can safely say, Sheriff Joe is paradoxically the most hated official that everybody keeps voting for. Most recently, the Department of Justice has joined in Arpaio's perpetually vocal detractors, yet, the guy is still in office -- and is planning to run again this year. As a loud-mouthed, polarizing galvanizer, and as such the epitome of what makes the news my guilty pleasure.

But, in comic book terms, is he a good guy or a bad guy? During my brief media blitz last summer, that was the most commonly asked question, and I wonder if reporters expected to hear "bad guy" from an artist like me, since artists are often perceived as liberal-types. Actually, my answer was rather political, if I do say so myself: I explained Arpaio was neither hero or villain, but rather a catalyst for the actions that made the other characters heroes or villains. Yeah? Yeah? See what I did there?

Actually, I do have an opinion of Arpaio. It's the same opinion I had of Tommy Lee Jones' portrayal of Deputy Gerard in The Fugitive. Remember that scene in the sewer tube, before Harrison Ford/Dr. Kimble jumps into the waterfall? He shouts to Gerard, "I didn't kill my wife!"

Gerard answers, "I don't care!" That's Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

For years now, those supporting the immigrants Arpaio has fought to deport have shouted at the system, "They're good workers! They have families to support!" Sheriff Joe has stood against the current, as Gerard did in that tube, and replied, "I don't care." It's that simple.

"Caring" isn't Arpaio's job. Law enforcement is. Of course, a degree of compassion toward one's fellow man is a part of law enforcement, but the how is a separate argument from the what, and I think many of Arpaio's detractors blame him for their disagreements with the law. That's like blaming a plumber for why the sewer stinks. The Sheriff is just a regulator; you can blame him when things don't run smoothly, but he didn't invent the way things run.

Guys like Russell Pearce do that. But I digress.

So, no, Sheriff Joe isn't a hero or a villain; he's just a guy enforcing the law, which isn't a black-and-white kind of job. Sometimes, it's a whatever-it-takes kind of job -- which is how I see Commissioner Gordon. Jim Gordon is a good cop -- but he also endorses the activities of vigilantes. That's a whatever-it-takes attitude.

The premise of Amazing Arizona Comics is that Sheriff Joe secretly does the same thing. In fact, his recruiting a "secret superhero deputized posse" is a great way to explain some of the more outrageous events in and around Phoenix, because it often really is the stuff of good superhero comics. But, most importantly, the ambiguity of a superhero's existence in general is a poignant allegory to Arpaio's "love him or hate him" impression.

Because, frankly, if you hate crime, you should hate vigilante superheroes, too. Yet, crime in its most extreme incarnation seems to require superheroes to fight it, so they're accepted as the much lesser of two evils. Maybe that's why Sheriff Joe is paradoxically the most hated official that everybody keeps voting for.

Remember when I said inner conflict is the most poignant conflict of all? Yeah, I wasn't talking about Arpaio's. Sheriff Joe doesn't care about that, remember? That conflict is ours. We need him, and we hate it.

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