Friday, October 31, 2008

Save "Heroes," Save the World?

 I've been meaning to write something about the show HEROES, given that this is a blog about heroes...I mean, I bemoan the lack of respect for heroism and here I am, ignoring a show called HEROES that I admittedly watch every week like "clockwork" (heh, get it?)...it's a show that hasn't given me pause as to its treatment of heroes as sacrificial lambs (not yet, anyway...). Well, I was late to the first season, but got hooked on the dvd's before the second disappointing season...I watch it every week, like a soap opera addict...and yet...well, this is a blog meant to analyze the cultural implications of heroes, and, so far, nothing in HEROES really gets my gears going in that regard (although Nathan Petrelli's religious conversion came close...). For what it's worth, HEROES is simply candy for my heroic sweet tooth....and this is a show that is too good, and has too much potential, to be nothing more than brain candy...


 Well, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly inspired me to break my silence, because it sums up just about everything that I didn't want to say. Their cover story says "FALLEN HEROES: "Oh great...Now the cheerleader, the world, and the show need to be saved. But is it too late?" Part of the problem is that the writer's strike stole momentum in the ratings, but there's more to the problem...the first season was GREAT as drama and an origin story, and really stood alone. I think the problem is one of sustainability. It started as a novel idea, superheroes without costumes and silly capes. There was drama, intrigue, and storytelling on an epic scale that has now become formulaic (and predictable, if confusing, stealing too much from actual comics, especially DAYS OF FUTURE PAST from the X-men.) 

Is the show past its prime already? According to EW, creator Tim Kring says that HEROES needs to be "zeitgeist-tapping, blockbuster even television in order to remain viable." That said, EW lays out the main problems of the show, with their suggested solutions: Too many heroes (retire some "capes," absurd plot twists (make the heroes smarter!), overheightened reality (get back to the heroes roots), stale storytelling (get a new bag of tricks), and HEROES is too disposable (FIND A BIG VISION-AND SET AN END DATE). 

The last problem is the big problem. The first season did have a vision, but it's now delving into soap-opera serialization. Like many comic book heroes, HEROES is threatened with the prospect of seeing its once-novel characters become cliche and pointless. The third season shows some ambition in the role-reversal of the heroes as potential villains with some dramatic moral situations. EW suggest that the "redemption of Sylar" storyline could be the theme that could be the show's finale. Whatever it is, it has to be something IMPORTANT, if it's not to become a superpowered version of YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS...

For another take on the EW article, comicbookresources.com has a point-by-point rebuttal defending the show, give it a read. But that said, I will still be tuning in to satisfy that sweet tooth...nothing wrong with brain candy...but I'm really waiting for the meat-and-potatoes...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Leonard Peikoff on Ayn Rand and "Perfect" Heroism

On Leonard Peikoff's recent "Q& A" at peikoff.com, he answered the following question:


 "Isn't it dangerous to hold another person in such high esteem...to admire a hero?" (regarding whether or not Ayn Rand ever acted irrationally). Peikoff first responds that Rand, to his knowledge, did NOT act purposely irrational, but did make errors, particularly in her judgement of certain people, which she would correct "as more evidence came in...". He then added:

"...If you think it's a danger to recognize a hero as a value, it's because you think you have to be evading or distorting reality...why? 'Because there are no heroes! There are no perfect people! Plato proved that, Christianity proved that.' So your idea is that in order to be rational, you should...escape this faith in the supernatural...you should be a cynic and say nobody is this good... You are entirely wrong."

Hear the full comment here.

I touch on this in my recent essay The Epic Ballad of Superman, in how popular music reflects the culture in seeing Superman as futile because people aren't perfect: One particular lyric, Billy Idol's "White Wedding," captures this issue nicely:

Hey little sister, who's your Superman?/
Hey litle sister, who's your only one..."

Why does the singer ask this? Because:

There is nothing sure in this world/
and there is nothing purein this world/

In other words, "Who is John Galt?"

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Epic Song of Superman in Five Parts: Part Five

Part Five

“Doomsday”

 “…I don’t mind it if we had been beaten by a tall warrior in a steel helmet, a human dragon spitting fire. But we’re beaten by a louse. A big, fat, slow, blond louse.”


-Stepan Timoshenko, Ayn Rand’s WE THE LIVING

 In the comics, Superman was once killed by a mysterious, spike-covered, indestructible alien named Doomsday, the ultimate agent of destruction. If this were truly the case, there would be something meaningful to his death. And in the comics, not even death as the hands of such a beast could really keep Superman down. But as Stephan Timoshenko calls it in We The Living, “Let the world think that you’re a huge monster to be feared and respected and fought honorably. But don’t let them know that yours is not an army of heroes, nor even of fiends, but of shriveled bookkeepers with a rupture who’ve learned to be arrogant.” Doomsday could not kill Superman, but now, the Man of Steel is diseased mentally and covered with lice.

 With that said, let’s take a look at the next batch of songs.

 The band Our Lady Peace offers this lament in 1997’s “Superman’s Dead”:

 

Alone I’m thinking

Why is superman dead/

Is it in my head/

We’ll just laugh instead/

You worry about the weather and/

Whether or not you should hate/

 

There is a religious overtone to the song as well:


Are you worried about your faith/

kneel down and obey/

you're happy you're in love/

you need someone to hate/

an ordinary girl an ordinary waist /

but ordinary's just not good enough today/

 

Still, it seems that reports of Superman’s death have been greatly exaggerated, given the many songs in recent years about him in recent years. But if he’s alive, he’s slowly dying of infection of lice and mental disease. Some think that "religion" is the cure. After the appropriation of Superman in rap lyrics, it’s no surprise that the biggest contender to Christ-status since John Lennon comes under fire in the lyrics from gospel group DC Talk:

 

You’ll never find peace of mind in your pool of self

You’ll never find peace of mind in a sea of wealth

You’ll never find peace of mind in your rock and roll

You’ll never find peace of mind if you sell your soul

You’ll never find peace of mind in your superman

 

So now Superman is under attack by altruism and religion. It’s not just Superman, but everyman, and especially America, with its history of individualism and wealth, as we are told that we can never be strong enough to compete with the Lord. And it would seem that the culture is only too eager to agree. The Counting Crows make a break with the American Dream in “Ordinary Superman”:

 

He's never that bad, he's never that good/

He's always just a little bit and over understood/

And you say, "He's un-American, a little bit."/

And you think that that's so cool/

You like a little bit, and if he's un-American a little bit/

Then you think that he's no fool/

 

As we see on the television show SCRUBS, the doctors (doctor’s being notorious for having a “god complex” already) raise the white flag, as we here in the theme song:

 

Well I know what I've been told

You've to break free to break the mold

But I can't do this all on my own

No, I can't do this all on my own

I know, that I'm no Superman

 

Not only is this a surrender of the Superman, but a call to a more “democratic” approach to heroism, as argued in the book THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SUPERHERO, which claims that rugged individualism and heroism only lead to fascism. This theme is continued in the lyrics to another TV show, this time, the show is about Superman himself, in his formative years as Clark Kent on the farm in SMALLVILLE. Remy Zero pens the perfect summation of what our idea of Superman has become, depicting the fallen state of the man who made us believe we could fly:


I feel my wings have broken

In your hands/

All my dreams are falling down /

Crawling round and round and round

 

 Now, it’s Superman calling out for help:

 

Somebody save me/

Let your waters break right through/

Somebody save me/

I don't care how you do it /

Just save, save

Come on/

I've been waiting for you

 

(This, incidentally, provides the plot for the recent SUPERMAN RETURNS, sharply marking the difference between that film and the Christopher Reeves versions.)

 If Superman is still alive and in need of us, it still seems many are in need of him. Maybe some want to keep him alive, if only to save their own hides. Maybe the world, like the Flaming Lips, is “Waiting for a Superman”:

 

Is it gettin' heavy?/

Well I thought it was already as heavy

As can be/

 Is it overwhelming

To use a crane to crush a fly?/

It's a good time for Superman

To lift the sun into the sky?/

 

Well, the Lips are here to advise us:

 

Tell everybody

Waitin' for Superman

That they should try to hold on

Best they can

He hasn't dropped them

Forgot them

Or anything

It's just too heavy for Superman to lift

 

Well, if the lyrics elsewhere are right, it certainly has become to heavy for Superman to lift. But the assumption is that he hasn’t forgotten…but what if he has? What if, like the titans in ATLAS SHRUGGED, Superman has decided, “enough’s enough” and gone on strike? One band recognize the possibility, as the Crash Test Dummies pointed out in “Superman’s Song”:

 

Superman never made any money/

For saving the world from Solomon Grundy/

And sometimes I despair the world will never see/

Another man like him

 

For years, Superman played by the rules of altruism and self-sacrifice.

 

Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job/

Even though he could have smashed through any bank

In the United States/

he had the strength, but he would not/

Folks said his family were all dead/

Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself/

To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going

 

But will he?

 

Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes/

I'll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back

On man, join Tarzan in the forest/

But he stayed in the city, and kept on changing clothes/

In dirty old phone booths till his work was through/

And nothing to do but go on home/

 

 

Big Head Todd and the Monsters, also point out that what we have on our hands is a “Resignation Superman”:

 

And today the bad guys win/

Cause he turned his cape in/

Now, he says/,

And I'll turn my back on this world/

Yes I'll turn my eyes from this world/

Oh well...

 

Why? Well:

 

Yes he's tired of fighting in this town/

All the suffering and vice/

He wants to fall in love/

Maybe settle in and live a life/


The singer claims that

 

Oh I want to believe in you now that I'm suffering/

Oh lord, I need to receive your hand in my heart.

 

But it’s too little, too late:

 

And he keeps an eye upon this town/

The resignation superman/

He'll keep himself amused/

With the evening news/

Oh my...

Now I broke my back on this world/

Now I'll wash my hands of this world

 

 Coda

Whether Superman returns remains to be seen.  What doesn’t kill him may make him stronger…and wiser…and this time, he may not come back at all, leaving us in a world without a Superman, in a Superhero Babylon...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Epic Song of Superman in Five Parts: Part Four

Part Four

“A Pocketful of Kryptonite”

 When Superman is painted a braggart, a fascist, a misogynist, it’s no surprise that the next batch of songs decides “enough is enough.” But instead of fighting the real enemy, and without making the distinction that heroes are contextual, they decide to take down the man of Steel himself. How’s the best way to do that? Kryptonite, of course…

 The Spin Doctors take on the alter ego of uber-nerd in “Jimmy Olson’s Blues.” Watch out, because “Superman’s pal,” maybe after listening to Eminem, doesn’t think Lois is with the right guy:

 

It drives me up the wall and through the roof/

Lois and Clark in a telephone booth/

I think I’m going out of my brain/

I got it so bad for little miss Lois lane/

 

Jimmy tells Lois:


Lois lane please put me in your plan/

Yeah, Lois Lane you don’t need no super man/

Come on downtown and stay with me tonight/

I got a pocket full of kryptonite/

 

Jimmy, of course, the score:

 

I’m Jimmy Olsen, not a titan, you see/

He’s faster than a bullet, stronger than a train

I can’t believe my dilemma is real/

I’m competing with the man of steel

 

Women want the man, not the nerd…and while I pointed out earlier that one of the flaws of Superman is the “brawn over brains” approach, and that it’s admirable that Jimmy is reading Shakespeare instead of leaping tall buildings in a single bound…well, it’s not that Jimmy wants to build himself up, but to take Superman down…and if he’s not able to take him down physically, he can do it psychologically, with mental Kryptonite, which we find Three Doors Down: let’s point out that not even Superman can solve everything, and punish him with his own virtue for not being omniscient:

 

I took a walk around the world to

Ease my troubled mind/

I left my body laying somewhere

In the sands of time/

I watched the world float to the dark

Side of the moon/

I feel there is nothing I can do

 

 Superman tries to defend himself, saying

 

You called me strong, you called me weak

But your secrets I will keep /

You took for granted all the times I

Never let you down/

You stumbled in and bumped your head, if

Not for me then you would be dead/

I picked you up and put you back

On solid ground/

 

Still, the damage is done:

 

If I go crazy then will you still

Call me Superman/

If I'm alive and well will you be

There holding my hand/

I'll keep you by my side with my

Superhuman might/

Kryptonite/

 

 With this dose of Kryptonite, the Man of Steel has been emasculated…in this weakened state, the “man of tomorrow” can barely get out of bed…the man who can move planets can’t even get it up, as we are told by Five for Fighting:

I can't stand to fly/

I'm not that naive/

Mean weren't meant to ride/

with clouds between their knees


And if that weren't enough, we find the Man of Steel given to self-deprecation:

I’m only a man in a silly red sheet/

Digging for kryptonite on this one way street/

Only a man in a funny red sheet/

Looking for special things inside of me/

And the would-be nail in the coffin:


Up, up and away...away from me/


It’s all right...you can all sleep sound tonight/


I’m not crazy...or anything.../


Is this the way our heroes end, not with a bang, but a whimper?


 NEXT: Conclusion: Doomsday