Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Something that horrible couldn't be real, could it?

A while ago I was developing a comic project with a collaborator. At one point in the story it was recommended that an event take a "grander scale." Keep in mind we were trying to go fairly realistic with the story. To this I responded with a question:

"What affected you more in an emotional manner, Alderaan being destroyed by the Death star in Star Wars episode 4, or Uncle Ben dying in Spider-man?"

The reasoning behind this question is that most people cannot fathom large scale tragedies as such, especially in a work of fiction. He responded that "9-11 might've changed that." While that may be true to some degree, the large "9-11 Truth" movement says otherwise.

For around 70 years in superhero fiction one of the staples of the genre has been a villain trying to "Take over the world." It's even been made into a joke multiple times, the most notable version of this being the show Pinky and the Brain. It's rather funny that the birth of this genre was inspired by real life men trying to do exactly this and having a great deal of success with it.

Dr. Doom is laughable because he tries to take over the world from a small European country. The man who inspired most super villains was doing exactly this at the time of the superhero's birth; his only obstacle was another man who had the same idea. But no one thinks that Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin is a joke. Hitler did far worse things than any super villain. He conquered whatever nation he wanted, and nearly exterminated a number of racial/religious/ethnic groups while he was at it. And while holocaust denial is a fairly rare phenomenon, people seem quick to attribute outside factors to the rise of the Third Reich. This is especially true in fiction.

Hitler is often cast as a pawn of Satan or other mystical factors. There are also a number of stories where the real power behind the Nazis was aliens. I'm reminded of a scene in the comic Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. A giant alien named Galactus comes to earth in order to feed on it, and he is only able to be defeated by a group of superheroes called the Fantastic Four. Within days of the event most of the world is saying that the group who saved the world staged the whole thing... the world was never actually in danger.

A more recent Ross project crystallizes this view. After another typically mystical explanation of the Third Reich, a character gives his view on the subject:

"I'd rather die than live in a world where so much evil where so much evil was merely a choice."

Hitler wasn't twisting his moustache thinking of how dastardly he was as he enacted the final solution. His view on the nature of his action could be seen on the belt buckle of every Nazi soldier "Gott Mit Uns" God with Us. Just like this, George Bush and Dick Cheney weren't gleefully cackling together about the money that their brilliant 9/11 plot would make them. 9/11 was the work of men, who their own view did nothing evil. In fact that day was the one singular shining moment where they lived their moral ideal. A few men exploited a few of the loopholes that a civilized society leaves open on the mistaken assumption that ruthless barbarians don't still exist.

In the past our enemies were kind enough to organize within specific national borders (regardless of how ruthlessly those borders were expanded). They wore uniforms that bore the symbols of their ideology for all to see. The enemies of our nation have no borders and do their best to blend in until the moment it strikes. And each strike more ruthless than the last.

There's a peculiar idea that there isn't a single person who would see a serial killer like Ted Bundy or Jeffery Dahmer as anything but legitimate evil, but when the question is the evil of a dictator responsible for millions of deaths as opposed to the one or two dozen that can be credited to any serial killer the certainty just isn't there in the same way. Call it crow epistemology or what have you, but there is a thin line between the statements "I cannot understand how something so big and horrible happened" and "I can't believe something like that could (or did) happen at all."

On a personal level I can understand this mentality to a degree. I live in fly-over midwest America. There are times where New York city seems as unreal to me as Hogwarts or the Emerald City it's so far away and beyond anything I've ever seen personally. But much like everyone else in the days that followed I watched the footage over and over and I couldn't look away but the whole thing never connected in my mind. Three days later I was sitting at McDonalds with a band mate, we were discussing the future of our band since another of our bandmates had recently died in an auto accident. It had been hard on us to say the least, kid was in the prime of his life and his death came from out of nowhere.

He had a group of about 8-10 close friends and 20 or so close family members. So that meant that there were 30 people heartbroken at his death. Then I thought of the number 3000. 3000 people who had similar trails of other people who they had affected in a major way. Kids would never see their parents again. Parents would never see their children. Wives and husbands became widows and people lost their best friends. This happened to 3000 people and the trails of friends, lovers and family each of them had.

I just sank at this thought, connecting something so big on such a personal level.

Years later something else connected. Contrary to Ross' apparent wishful thinking, EVERY act of great evil is a choice. But so is every act of great good. Inventing a machine that makes countless lives easier and opens opportunities that would never happen otherwise is a choice, and constantly respecting the laws of reality where you choose to build that machine is a choice as well.

Another choice is burying your head in the sand and obsessing over mystical worlds which may or may not exist but likely don't at the expense of the one life you have and know to be real. It's also a choice to take your dedication to your mysticism and your hatred of reality to its farthest limits and destroy not only the life you possess and deem meaningless, but the lives of countless others who probably don't see their lives as meaningless as yours.

We live in a complex world, and what we do not need are comforting fantasies that we can get lost in, but the greatest understanding we can achieve of the real world that we live in. The funny thing is that sometimes we need fantasy worlds to stand up as a reflection of our reality to point out what's right in front of us.


Joe Maurone said...

It is rather offensive to see writers explaining the Third Reich via aliens and black's easier to swallow than accepting that human beings CAN be that evil...

Let's hope that 50 years from now the events of 9/11 aren't depicted in the comics as the result of aliens...never forget the real bastards who did it.

Bosch Fawstin said...

Sometimes art says it better than anything else can, as you mention in your last line, Landon. I think it was Churchill who said that a film, Mrs. Minerver?, did more for the war than any other propanda. I'm going on memory, but that was his point, that it sometimes takes 'unreality' to bring a reality fully to those who may not be open to it.