(image found on Pinterest)
You know when there’s some unpleasant niggling at the back of your mind that you can’t put your finger on? Well, leave it to Bill Maher to put a name to it in his closer on May 20th’s episode of Real Time.
Now I have to admit, there’s something about superheroes and the stories. I liked comic books growing up, at least the few I could afford to buy, and loved sitting down Saturday mornings for the cartoon versions, or after school for more. I was an X-Men fan, and a Batman fan (that 90s animated series was a freaking work of art). I even liked my Ninja Turtles, too.
But now, superheroes are everywhere, stretched between the (occasional) extremes of the DC universe and Marvel universe. I loved the Nolan/Bale Batman movies, I thought they were a bit more realistic and a breath of fresh air after the “more marketable” hero movies of the 80s and 90s.
Now we’ve gotten back into the “golden age” feel, but with higher rates of therapy, more innuendo, and more “CGI-gasms” than ever before.
Before I get into this and make you all very, very mad at me for impinging on your inner 12-year old boy, I’ll admit I haven’t watched most superhero movies that’ve come out. Never was a Superman fan, and thanks to Nolan/Bale Batman movies I’m done with him for a while. I saw the first Captain America, first Iron Man (and some of 2 and 3 before I turned them off in disgust), most of The Avengers, and most of Thor 1.
When everybody started going for Round 2 on the franchises, I was bored and didn’t care to watch any of them. I can already hear the keyboards going on about what movies I have to watch and the pros and cons of all of them now.
I found something disconcerting about the superhero universe. It took Bill Maher to label what was already in my mind, but articulate it better. Seriously, when I heard this closer from May 20th, my jaw dropped and I nearly slammed on the brakes going down the feeder road so I could get to a parking lot and re-listen (I have Real Time on my iPod as a podcast).
And obviously, Maher doesn’t like Dump, but that’s not the reason I listen to him–he’s not afraid to have controversy, differing viewpoints on his panel (though he does let the yelling go a bit long at times when it gets REALLY heated) and to hell with being PC. But he said it loud and clear in the middle and end of this 6 and 1/2 minute segment of the show.
(And naturally, being Real Time with Bill Maher, it’s NOT what I’d call kid-friendly, so if you’re annoyed by naughty language…don’t bother watching it. Otherwise, enjoy.)
It got me thinking–when you boil it down, what is a superhero? By necessity, a superhero is someone who–through birth or circumstance–finds themselves with more abilities and power than your Average Joe or Jane, and decides to use that power while playing by different rules.
In the fictional superhero universe, it’s totally beyond what is possible, and so are the villains, so that makes sense. After all, we could only watch Superman or Batman apprehend robbers and kidnappers so many times before it got boring. They had to invent bigger and badder villains, and things just escalated.
And today we throw out the laws of physics and throw in the CGI (shudder).
I don’t know if we did it to ourselves, or Hollywood did it to us, but I think somewhere down the line we ended up conditioned to believe in the idea of ONE MAN (more often than not) being all that can save us mere mortals. I think Maher was right when he said Dump was the end result. Sheesh, when he would get on stage and say all the things he could do, I can almost swear I heard some lame-and-forgettable superhero-action movie soundtrack playing in my head while he gestured and his adoring masses cheered.
It really startled me when family members of mine bought into it, that he would do everything and change everything very fast.
News flash–unless 380 million people get on the same page, and all think the same way at the same time, NOTHING is going to change “very quickly.”
Political discussion in my house died for me the day family members told me “It’s going to take a dictator to get this country back on track.” That was too freaking far.
No, sir. Too freaking far.
I’ve written too many thesis papers and done too much research about Hitler and other “great men” in history, and there are too many parallels. I don’t agree that ONE MAN can really do everything, even if they wanted to…and I damn well don’t believe they should. Besides, I don’t like being treated like a child, a mere mortal that doesn’t need to worry my pretty little head about anything. Just let ONE MAN take care of it.
And it made me think about two things, very different hero-movie moments. First of all, I think Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight had one of the most true statements ever made for a superhero movie:
The other was the repetitive background noise from Watchmen, where the graffiti and signs often said “Who Watches the Watchmen?” That’s just as true.
Take a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe–we have some heroes that started out playing by the rules (Captain America–which is why I liked him so damn much even if most other people I knew thought he was a wuss), some that made their own rules (Iron Man), and others in between who worked for a pseudo-shadowy agency to do what was necessary (SHIELD).
I got a little more hesitant to enjoy the Marvel universe with the creation of SHIELD because I felt they operated all by their own rules, and who the hell were they accountable to? Oh, some shadowy council somewhere is who Nick Fury reported to, but other than that, who were they accountable to?
I find it hard to find anything heroic when the rules are all thrown out the window.
Taking a detour, this has actually been going on for some time, and I noticed it first in the much-beloved TV series NCIS.
Yes, I hear you sharpening the pitchforks and lighting the torches now. Don’t think I can’t.
Because it was on all the damned time, I couldn’t help but get suckered into the world of NCIS. I call it “the world of” because no way in hell could that stuff really happen. I mean, agents who operate by their own rules with very little oversight and rarely a consequence? Yeah, not supposed to happen. That’s probably why I didn’t care much for Gibbs as a character. And I freaking HATED Mike Franks when he showed up.
Franks was a cowboy who played by his own rules. Gibbs wasn’t much different and just intimidated everybody to get his way. Of all of them, I liked Tony best (and not because he was the cutest one, dammit). I liked him because he was a cop before, and he’d experienced a lot, he knew the laws and did his damnedest to stay within the lines, even if others didn’t want to. I got tired of watching him stuck as the class clown while most of them hacked, used lock picks, or threatened to get their evidence.
I’d gripe about that and kept hearing “It’s just a TV show” or “It’s just a movie” when talking about superhero movies.
But are they “just” TV shows or movies? As often as people tell me that, they sure don’t know where to draw the line themselves. When Abu Gharib hit the headlines a decade ago, some people were okay with it because “Hey, Jack Bauer does it on 24 every week and he gets results, so why not?”
Except that it’s illegal and supposedly against everything we stand for.
TV gives a VERY unrealistic expectation of how to do with evildoers.
Not to mention, when you get to NCIS‘ McGee hacking (aka, cheating) to get info that they’re not warranted to get, people shrug and say “it’s just TV.” But if a government agent did any of that without a warrant TO THEM, they’d balk and sue faster than you can blink.
That’s why I liked Captain America–he had lines he refused to cross, even if he got hurt in the process.
That’s why I liked Tony from NICS–he knew the laws and even if things didn’t go right, he could sleep at night. I read a REALLY good piece of fanfiction where Gibbs and someone else were reflecting on Tony and Gibbs realized is that Mike couldn’t be considered the best agent because he couldn’t do anything by the book. Tony did, even when he’d get hurt or it’d cost him something major. (I wish like hell I could find the link to let you read that chapter yourselves, but I’ll keep looking).
That’s the one thing I think Superhero culture has taken away, our autonomy and ability to take care of ourselves. Worse, our desire to want to take care of ourselves. Putting all our eggs in one basket, with one strong leader (or one desperately trying to be that way) means in a nutshell that we’re screwed.
I agree with Bill Maher–we need to learn how to be our own heroes.
I know my fellow history geeks out there have had the phrase “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” pounded into our heads over time. It’s incredibly true. While some don’t mind that this ONE MAN, this self-appointed Superman should take the reins, or that these heroes should take us under their wing and protect us…what if they live long enough to become the villains?
What the hell are we “mere mortals” supposed to do then, when we’ve given it all away?
Ben Franklin said probably one of my favorite quotes of all time, and it’s more necessary now than ever before. I cling to it:
We’re children looking for leaders, but we’re prey to charlatans. We need to be our own heroes, to help our own communities, and to do the right thing even when the wrong seems easier.
I don’t want to feel like Captain America after he came out of the ice–not understanding or recognizing his own country because the values have changed so much and the citizens’ place is so different.