Monday, May 20, 2013
Sunday, May 19, 2013
“The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.”
— George Bernard Shaw
By Dan Hagen
A riddle worthy of the Batman.
From childhood on, I understood with a boy’s instincts why superheroes had to have colorful costumes, dual identities, spectacular powers, formidable foes, fast and fabulous vehicles, even Fortresses of Solitude and Bottled Cities of Kandor (think tree houses and ant farms writ large).
Only two conventions persistently puzzled me — why these perfectly self-contained superheroes bothered with girlfriends, and why they seemed to be constantly confronted by their doubles.
The girlfriend thing eventually resolved itself, but the seemingly weird obsession with doubles continued to puzzle me.
The theme of doubling was especially prevalent in the comics. The double was built right into the concept of most superheroes in the form of the secret identity or “alter ego.” Superman and Clark Kent, Batman and Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker and Spider-Man, always the two who were one.
And then there were the archenemies, who always turned out to be, in one way or another, funhouse mirror dark doubles of the hero.
Thus, Lex Luthor is an evil intellectual superman opposed by a heroic physical Superman. The Joker is a cackling costumed sociopath opposed by a grim costumed crime fighter. Dr. Octopus is a mature, many-limbed creature-themed villain opposed by a teenaged hero whose costume suggests a creature with many limbs.
|The Thing battles the Thing.|
Not only the heroes’ enemies but also their allies often mirrored them. Early on, Batman acquired a Robin and Captain Marvel was assisted by Captain Marvel Jr., Mary Marvel, various Lieutenants Marvel and whatnot. Superman was echoed in Superboy (literally his younger self) and then in Krypto the Superdog and Supergirl, while Batman met Ace the Bathound, Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Batgirl (two different girls, don’t ask). Hawkgirl, Spider-Woman, the She-Hulk, the Bionic Woman, the Greatest American Heroine, the list is inexhaustible.
The mirror-nature of the archenemies and the alter ego and the sidekicks is obvious, but the comic books didn’t leave the double theme there. They underlined it repeatedly and directly with robot doubles, mirror creatures, clones and various other dopplegangers.
Thus Superman faced any number of literal duplicates, the most prominent of whom was Bizarro. Batman, with his Batmobile and Batplane and Bat Signal, fought Killer Moth, with his Mothmobile and Mothplane and Moth Signal.
|Wonder Woman battles the villainous Super Woman|
So why were all these doubles redoubled? The answer has deep roots, I think.
Critic Mark Schorer noted that the Gothic tradition, or what Nathaniel Hawthorne would have called the romance tradition, refers to “...stories that are set in a world where we continually move without transition or warning from the actual into the dream, from the real into the surreal, from the natural into the supernatural.”
That’s a description that neatly fits the comic book superhero stories, which shift constantly from mundane and recognizable urban reality to nightmarish mythological battle zones and back again.
“They are stories whose central concern is with the theme of the Doppleganger, the alter ego, and the supernatural is, in fact, symbolic of the world in which that other self, which we cannot ever confront in the busy social world, exists.
“These are stories generally about lonely, loveless people — or, at any rate, they seem to be lonely because they are loveless — who encounter strange, often offensive creatures with whom they are, in one way or another, trapped and whom they cannot and usually do not wish to escape, for these creatures are their selves, their fate, whom they are helpless to shun.”
So it’s all a metaphor, unconscious but existentially valid. As we journey though life, those of us who are paying attention can’t help but notice that the greatest constraints are invariably those we place on ourselves.
We wonderful creatures, so noble and daring in our dreams, are self-shackled, self-disappointing. Our most persistent recurring foe, the archenemy of our splendid ideals and aspirations, is always the self.
|The Flash meets the Flash in September 1961|
Saturday, May 18, 2013
By Dan Hagen
Fox News is a fierce and relentless advocate for all 14 elements common to fascist regimes. Those are nationalism; disdain for human rights; using scapegoats to direct hatred; avid, bootlicking militarism; rampant sexism; a controlled, dishonest mass media; panicked obsession with national security; religiosity used for political manipulation; corporate power worshipped; labor power suppressed; contempt for intellectuals, education and the arts; obsession with crime and punishment; rampant cronyism and corruption and fraudulent elections.
Tune in to Fox News at any given moment and the odds are extremely high that one or more those propaganda points is being peddled -- whether it’s Hooters Girls being interviewed about their economic views on deregulation, Wonder Woman and Superman being attacked as “un-American,” Fox’s political desk falsely calling the 2000 election for Bush in Florida, a Fox pundit “joking” that Obama or Pelosi should be assassinated or a “news panel” sagely discussing whether Barack Obama and his wife engaged in a “terrorist fist bump.”
Thursday, May 16, 2013
|Print by United Emporium of Kyle Louis Fletcher|
By Dan Hagen
Eager to learn to read, I learned early because I wanted to read comic books for myself.
The contemporary equivalent of that literary siren song was even more effective, I believe. I don’t think we are in danger of overestimating the number of children who wanted to become proficient readers in order to share the adventures of Harry Potter.
That lure was redoubled in the texts themselves. J.K. Rowling created a Bildungsroman for Harry Potter showcasing magical power that is education-based and word-based, reinforcing the value of literacy.
So fundamentalist Christians entirely miss the point of the Harry Potter novels, but then point-missing is the single skill they have truly mastered.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
By Dan Hagen
Let’s say I propose a solution to some problem, and you tell me:
A ) that trying to solve the problem will make it worse;
B ) that the proposed solution will accomplish nothing whatsoever and/or;
Congratulations, sir. You’re a reactionary.
In the 1980s, observing the rise of the new American right, the late philosopher Albert Hirschman identified a rigidity in their thinking characterized by these three standard jerks of the conservative knee. He branded them, in order, “perversity,” “futility” and “jeopardy.”
“Hirschman shows that these objections are stupefying, mechanical, hyperbolic and often wrong,” wrote Cass Sunstein in the May 23, 2013, New York Review of Books.
“The current debate over gun control is a case study in ‘the rhetoric of reaction,’” Sunstein said. “Those who object to legal restrictions urge that far from decreasing the risk of violence, such restrictions will actually increase it. For Hirschman, this objection would be an example of ‘perversity.’ Opponents also contend that if we want to save lives, gun control will have absolutely no effect — the argument from futility. We can find precisely the same rhetorical gambits in countless other debates, including those over Obamacare, increases in the minimum wage, affirmative action and same-sex marriage.”
In the 1980s, Sunstein noted, “Hirschman was struck by the routine, stylized, even mechanical character of much of conservative thinking.”
Hirschman died late in 2012, but had he lived longer, he might have added a fourth standard response to his reactionary trio: “fantasy,” the claim that the problem itself, however glaring and obvious, does not in fact exist.
For example, right wingers routinely deny the existence of the American health care crisis with an angry, dismissive claim that access to an emergency room and — presuming one survives that experience long enough to receive the subsequent staggering medical bills — access to the bankruptcy courts is more than enough “health care” for ordinary Americans. It’s more than Daniel Boone had, you whiny weaklings.
Meanwhile, the congressional Republicans who make these claims receive free outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center, and a generous variety of other comfortably subsidized health care services.
See? No problem at all.
Sources: The article An Original Thinker of Our Time by Cass R. Sunstein, based on the book Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman
|I was invited by college students|
to lecture on super heroes and ethics
at a fun evening event.