Monday, September 15, 2008

Superhero reviews in LIBERTY magazine, or, ROTHBARD RETURNS

LIBERTY magazine has just published a slew of reviews on the recent rise in superhero movies, including the much-discussed DARK KNIGHT. The increase in superhero movies certainly is telling about our need for heroes, but the theme of these movies is also telling, in that heroes are increasingly seen as ideally being self-sacrificing Christ-symbols with feet-of-clay, whose redemption comes from service to others. Jo Ann Skousen, in her review of THE DARK KNIGHT, writes:

There is an unsettling undercurrent about the superheroes that Hollywood is producing...The new breed of superhero still stands for "truth, justice, and the American way," but the new truth seems to be the American way really isn't full of "justice." In fact, the new episodes released this summer focus more on the damage left by the superheroes than on the good deeds they perform–a not-so-subtle jab at America's self-imposed role as the world's policemen.

I agree with Skousen that this is 'disturbing." Witness the reaction in SUPERMAN RETURNS to Superman's, um...return: "Does he still stand for truth...justice...all that stuff?"

The American way is reduced to "stuff." Whether one is a friend of foe of Libertarians, the current consensus is that America has either betrayed or been betrayed its ideal. I have a problem with the Libertarian critique, however, for their misuse of Ayn Rand's principle of the non-initiation of force. Under the influence of Murray Rothbard, the Libertarians condemn America for taking self-defensive measures. A full explanation is beyond the scope of this post, but I want to make the parallel between the Rothbardian ideal and the current perception of superheroes as fascist-like big brothers, i.e., THE DARK KNIGHT and Alan Moore's WATCHMEN. (A full argument is made for this in the book THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SUPERHERO, which erroneously makes the argument that the answer to fascism is an American democracy, as opposed to an American republic.)

The Libertarian view finds itself with a strange bedfellow in the Christian take on heroes. Both try to put shackles on the self-preservation of the individual to the benefit of the aggressor, Christianity, with its mantra of "turn the other cheek," and Libertarianism, with its abhorrence of violence by the state to protect its citizenry (in favor of anarchy or "competing defense-agencies.") Christians would have their god do the dirty work, while Libertarians would not have the government get their hands dirty with the one job it's supposed to do (protect people from other people, delegating the use of force not to "men" but to "law." Rothbard wrote, in FOR A NEW LIBERTY, that "not only should there be a joint disarmament of nuclear weapons , but also of all weapons capable of being fired massively across national borders...Only if governments are deprived of weapons of offensive warfare will they be forced to pursue a policy of isolation and peace." Um, okay...different methods, different philosophies, same outcome: any hero who stops a villain or dictator is to be punished, whether it's the Christian commandment of "thou shalt not kill" or the Libertarian prohibition against taking down murderous regimes.

At any rate, an interesting collection of articles that, for better or worse, show that heroes are important, too important to be defined by just anyone. Whatever valid points they might have (I certainly don't see proper heroes as being my overseers!), they undercut those points with a skewed view of what America was meant to be; not a democracy, but a "republic...if you can keep it."


Bosch Fawstin said...

Got the issue the other day, enjoyed most of it, some good insight into some of the films, but The Libertarians, esp. since 9/11, have proven themselves to be out of touch with reality in this dangerous world, so out of touch that any strides they may have made prior to that were brought way back to the point that they deserve the derision of being a fringe party right now. But as with, I liked seeing Superheroes discussed in nearly like-minded people's publications.

Mike Vardoulis said...

I haven't read the latest Liberty magazine (not a subscriber), but I can pretty much tell that I agree with your assesments entirely, Joe and Bosch. I guess that's not too surprising....