Alright, so many of you have sent me questions about the television series Dragonball Z. This appears to be a consequence of the fact that I jokingly made a reference to Goku as an example of the Jesus archetype, during one of my talks with Jordan Peterson. Then during the Q&A, I specified that I was in fact a fan and thought Goku was a better character than Vegeta.
So yes, this appears to be a consequence of that, and I say “consequence” because this doesn’t appear to be a positive. The vast majority of your questions lately have been about this topic, often with a high level of anger and criticism, so I don’t think I’ll be able to get to any other questions this time. Instead, I’ll focus on this, however needlessly boring it might be to discuss.
Most of the questions have gone something like this: “Why do you think Goku is better than Vegeta? Vegeta is a smarter fighter. Vegeta has a more interesting story. Vegeta is more responsible. Why can’t you see Goku’s faults for what they are? Why do you celebrate such a simplistic and uninspired character?”
Okay, so, I think it’s first important to specify that I have criticized Goku. Many of you haven’t been there to see it, and many of you still have been distracted by my recent comparison of him to Jesus, as though this implies Goku is an example of human perfection. That was just a remark that made vague sense, in context. It wasn’t an actual argument, and there wasn’t any serious thought behind it. While I constantly talk about the importance of honesty in our discourse, not everything I say in these kinds of talks is going to be one-hundred percent sincere.
But yes, the truth is, Goku has made several avoidable mistakes in his life. He has been excessively merciful to his enemies, even to those who have given him every reason to believe that they will either seek revenge or cause further harm to the universe. He has been too eager to believe in the goodness of anybody, no matter their list of crimes. This naïveté has led him to be deceived in some of the most unlikely ways. Even Krillin led him to believe that he was drowning in a pond, when nearly all the characters had mastered the ability of flight for years already.
Having observed that about Goku, it still appears to me that many of you are confused about the difference between him and Vegeta. Many of you have complete conviction that Vegeta does not make these kinds of errors in judgment. That simply isn’t true. Even Goku’s worst indiscretion pales in comparison to the blunders and ineptitude of his main rival. When winning against Cell in his semi-perfect form, Vegeta decided to stop and allow him to absorb Android 18 and reach his perfect form. And what happened? Vegeta lost that fight and nearly destroyed the Earth.
Just imagine what would have happened if Goku had been in that scenario. Imagine a fight with semi-perfect Cell, where Goku realizes his advantage. What would Goku have done in that moment? Some of you have attempted to answer this already and said that he would have spared Cell. Maybe. I won’t write that off as an impossibility, but it seems unlikely. Goku seemed to understand that Cell was an artificial being and was following the violent purpose that Dr. Gero had given to him. Cell just wasn’t the same kind of independent and potentially rational adversary that Frieza was.
Even if we assume that Goku would have spared Cell, he would have never allowed him to absorb Android 18. He would have instead been inclined to protect her and would have instructed Cell to leave Earth and give up his aims of perfection. Of course, we realize that that was simply not on the table for Cell, so his destruction at Goku’s hands seems to be the only logical outcome that one can imagine.
Some of you have pointed out that Goku did spare Cell and alluded to the senzu bean he gave him after their fight in the Cell Games. This isn’t the same as sparing him. Goku understood that he was unable to defeat Cell but knew that Gohan could. He knew that Gohan had the potential to reach Super Saiyan 2. While weaker than his father in his base form, reaching the next stage would have made that difference inconsequential. And Goku knew that Gohan needed to be pushed to his limits, in order to reach that stage. Giving Cell the senzu bean was a gamble, yes, but given the choice between a gamble and imminent defeat, a gamble is still the rational decision.
What would Vegeta have done in that scenario? Well, he would have likely fought on until his death, in a stubborn refusal to admit that he was weaker. Even if he had backed off, he would not have realized how Cell might have been beaten as Goku did. It’s important to remember that, after training for a year with Trunks in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, Vegeta had no idea Trunks had surpassed him. His gratuitously egoistic nature blinded him to the abilities of his own son. Yes, he was his son from a different timeline, but after a whole year, he had arguably a more intimate knowledge of Trunks’s power than he had with any other warrior, and even then, even with his ability to sense power levels without a scouter at that point, he was stupidly oblivious to this fact. Goku, meanwhile, correctly identified a potential that not even Gohan himself yet knew. And Vegeta’s somehow supposed to be the smart one?
Then there was the time that Vegeta allowed Babidi to take over his mind, just so he could reach Super Saiyan 2, when he knew this would result in the resurrection of Majin Buu. This led to his own pointless death and to the near-extinction of the human race. The most frustrating thing is Vegeta’s repeated failure over many years to learn from these mistakes, especially when he never gained much of anything from them, and you just can’t say that about Goku.
While Goku’s kindness has at times given his enemies new opportunities to cause harm, it has also proved beneficial. It has won him a growing number of allies who have played key roles in either winning difficult battles or buying enough time for Goku to arrive and turn the tide. This is true of several characters, such as Yamcha, Tien, Piccolo, and yes, even Vegeta, and this is what really gets us to the heart of the question.
Without Goku, there is no Vegeta who reforms and experiences growth. While some of you think that this character arc of Vegeta’s is what makes him more interesting than Goku, the truth is that Goku’s story is more interesting, because Dragonball Z and the whole Dragonball series itself is Goku’s story. We watch the show to see what is going to happen to Goku. Vegeta without Goku is just a fundamentally uninteresting character, just as ketchup without a burger and fries is a fundamentally uninteresting meal.
While I realize that I have probably alienated half of you with these views, it seems to me you really have to cast your vote for Goku here. Vegeta is just annoyingly insane at times, while Goku merely makes some inevitably incorrect calls. And this fixation on Goku’s flaws because he is the main character is neither rational nor charitable. The mere fact that his failures are more obvious is not evidence that they are worse.
And to the handful of you who said that Christopher Hitchens would have been a Vegeta fan, you’re just wrong. The Hitchens that I knew would have despised Vegeta for nearly all the reasons I just mentioned and more. I can almost hear him saying “fascism with a Saiyan face.” Vegeta simply has none of the traits that Hitchens respected and valued in other people. He might have lamented the fact that Goku is kind of a hick, but he would have admired him for his defense of liberty and commitment to decency.
And that’s why we all like Goku, even the Vegeta fans. That’s why we tuned our sets to Toonami after getting home. And yet, no one seems to want to observe the reality of this. We need to speak honestly about the fact that writing edgy characters is not synonymous with writing good characters, and until we can do that, we are going to continue to see this plethora of insipid summer blockbusters that we have been getting for the last decade.
The truth is that we are always watching Dragonball Z, in some form or another, and it is impacting our culture. Now is a good time to realize just what exactly those impacts are.