Superheroes and Other Phonies
It seems that another mindless comic book movie comes out every week, now. Currently it’s “The Dark Night of the Vengeancers Arises,” or something like that. All these movies are special-effects driven, with lots of car crashes, explosions, and other weapons of mass distraction. There is little, if any, attention paid to plot or character development; it’s all meant to be eye candy. These movies are usually box-offices smashes. People can’t get enough of this. And they’re all exactly the same movie. There are no nuances, no gray areas, morally speaking. Everything is reduced to simple black and white, good vs. evil. In other words, baby food. And it’s all fake. There ARE no superheroes — they are FIC-TION-AL characters. That’s not Spiderman, it’s an actor in costume. The comics? Nothing but colored ink drawings of fictional characters. They’re all phonies. Even their superpowers strain credulity, an observation made by legendary comic artist Stan Lee at this year’s ComicCon. He called out Superman’s flying ability, “without any visible means of propulsion.”
But wait, I’m being unfair, comparing comic book movies to actual cinema. It’s like comparing the work of Louis L’Amour, one of our greatest Western writers, to real literature. He just doesn’t stand up next to Faulkner, Hemingway, or Steinbeck. For comics to have intricate plotting and character complexity, they’d have to be 800 pages long. The comics genre paints with a broad brush, good guys against the bad guys. It’s meant to entertain; if an occasional social statement can be made, then so much the better. But this stuff isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
I will concede that point, but there are other themes at play here, more subtle and insidious. It’s possible that the real message being sent is part of a narrative going back to the Reagan years. David Sirotta recently wrote about it in Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now.” Ronald Reagan campaigned on a new meme: “Government isn’t the answer to our problems, government IS the problem.” And what was the most popular TV show in the 80s? “The A Team.” These were special forces guys who had broken out of federal prison (unjustly convicted, of course), and solved all the problems government was incapable of, such as stopping criminals and terrorists, or megalomaniacs bent on world control. A host of movies with the same theme were popular, featuring Rambo, Dirty Harry, and Arnold Schwartzenegger. All are essentially independent contractors, like Blackwater, and all operate above and beyond the law, seemingly without any accountability. Superheroes are the same. Are these the types of role models you want your children to emulate? I certainly don’t, and you may now call me an old fuddy-duddy.
Government is too big, it gets in the way, it must be shrunk. I’d be all for that if it meant taking an axe to the NSA’s monitoring of all our communications, police being given military hardware belonging to a war zone, and closing about 650 of the more than 700 military bases around the world. But that’s not what the people on the Right have in mind. They want total deregulation of our commons. The want the quality of our air and water to be placed in the tender mercies of predatory corporations. That’s what they mean by small government.
If there were real superheroes, do you honestly think they’d all work for the overall good of humanity? That’s just magical thinking, unless their superpowers include immunity to corruption and greed. If superheroes existed today, Aquaman would work for the U.S. Navy, The Shadow would be a perfect fit for the CIA, and The Flash would be in TV ads for UPS or FedEx. Captain America would probably belong to the Koch brothers.
There’s something else that concerns me even more, and we see it in every aspect of society — we are all being turned into infants. If we consider the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as being strongly authoritarian and patriarchal, Freud’s idea that religion is a father substitute has merit. We don’t need to worry about destroying the world, Jesus will come out of the clouds and save us. Or our alien space brothers. Superheroes also function as surrogate parents, allowing us to remain in a permanent state of childhood. We have become babies again, sucking on smartphone pacifiers, while Supermom and Superdad solve all our problems. All that’s required of us is to lay there, suckling. I believe all this is intentional. Children are more easily manipulated by fear, threats, and authority. The reductionism of everything to black and white, good and evil, is equally infantile. Real life is full of gray areas.
A recent study found that members of Congress speak at between an 8th and 10th grade level, in public discourse. This is not because they themselves are uneducated; most have law degrees. It’s because they know they’re talking to a dumbed-down population of shit-for-brains Americans who wouldn’t recognize a coherent thought if it bit them in the ass.
Don’t blame the superheroes, though; they don’t exist, remember? We invented them to solve problems we’d rather not deal with, as our ancient ancestors did with their gods (many of whom are featured superheroes in comic-book movies today). Meanwhile, expect more puerile superhero or “A Team” type movies, like “The Expendables 2,” just released, which has the tag-line in their movie trailer: “We need our heroes to keep us safe (and to take care of us). You can also expect more fatuous TV reality shows, more insipid infotainment passing as news, and more flashy hand-held gadgets for us to nurse on. The real danger is that a population of child-like Eloi is more susceptible to a charismatic character like Jim Jones, David Koresh, or a paper-hanger with a funny moustache named Schickelgruber.
So sleep, children, sleep now. Take your soma. Don’t ask questions, don’t make trouble, do what you’re told, and we’ll keep giving you your eye candy. Our militarily-armed police and surveillance will ensure full compliance with law and order, so that no one awakes you. Now shut up and enjoy your freedom.