Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Sunday, October 31, 2004
 
Bride, Batman, Bush & BinLaden
(Please click on Permalink/Full Post to read whole thing.)

Over at John&Belle Have A Blog, John Holbo points out that Wonkette has made the requisite Princess Bride joke, before launching into an interesting Batman&Joker meditation on the bizarre cultural relationship between Bush and Bin Laden.


But the two [Joker&Batman] feed off each other, define each other in the weirdest way. Jim Henley made this point a couple days ago - with regard to Republicans and the War on Terror. Matthew Yglesias made it yesterday. It's unhealthy for the Republicans to self-define as the party of the War on Terror.Incentive structure all wrong. We want it to be easier for us to bring ourselves to end our wars than it is for Marvel or DC to bring themselves to kill off a popular character. (We know the REAL reason the Joker always gets away every time.) And there isn't any particular reason to exacerebate the other guy's sickness by playing along with the whole comic book arch-enemies storyline . . . .OBL sending us tapes is, as everyone has long since noticed, like some sort of super-villain grandstanding nonsense. You can't blame Michael Moore for getting dragged into this. You can't even blame George Bush for providing Moore with the material - the goat fodder. What you can do is decline the invitation to hallucinate that we are living inside a big superhero comic.

This touches on some inchoate thoughts I had after watching Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow at the Parkway the other night. (The visuals were great, the story okay, the acting not so much.) The times when we, the rowdy Parkway audience, applauded and hooted loudly, were the times when the one of the heroic types dove nose first into some totally, ludicrously dangerous situation and escaped it by pulling out an even more ludicrous trick or skill or special machine. And this, of course, is how comic books and action movies are supposed to work. We want our superheroes to have stubborn grit and determination, to be extreme risk takers, to pull out surprises and do wonderful things without explaining them to us before hand.

But even in most comic books, these arrogant, slap-dash, gut-instinct followers build up a lifetime of preparation before they grab the helm so cavalierly--and even then, they are almost never the ones actually in charge. The President always summons the superhero to go forth and perform some specialized task, remaining behind as the cautious, grateful, endearingly square executor of the will of the people.

Regardless of the fact that, as Matthew Yglesias has pointed out over and over again, GWB's cult of personality is rather ridiculous, the fact remains that such a cult exists. I have to wonder if the modern disparity between fictively glamourous actions and the day to day work of political leadership has created an emotional gap in people's understanding of what makes a good leader. Are we collectively so far removed from both the real work of policy and the real work of war that we can be easily fooled by a man costumed in a flight suit? Most of the people I know who avidly read comic books are also fairly sharp about policy; from this highly unscientific sample I'd have to guess that if you are practiced at getting your superhero kicks from the world of fantasy you don't need to get them from the world of reality. At the same time I have to wonder if the truly heroic qualities needed in our modern reality aren't being adaquately addressed in the world of fiction. In the old days people drew inspiration from" good guys" like Roland and Beowulf, but fictional heroes in the more useful mold of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. haven't really taken hold in popular culture. Maybe it's time to try and change that.

 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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