Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quote of the Day: The Integrated Hero

“Because man is an integrated sum of mind and body, because his life requires a smooth causal flow between thought and action, no wedge can be driven into a great man's nature; he cannot be sundered into mindless action hero versus purely theoretical, inactive mental giant. A hero is a man whose life is dedicated to the creation and/or defense of rational values.”

-Andrew Bernstein, "The Philosophical Foundations of Heroism"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Heroism in Music: Captain America heads for Paradise City

 Since Axl Rose has finally deemed the time worthy to release CHINESE DEMOCRACY, it seems only fair to mention the lyrics to "Paradise City" (and not just because APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION is a MUCH better album than the new, Axl?).  "Paradise City", while written in the 80's, seems much more relevant today:

Captain America's been torn apart
Now he's a court jester
With a broken heart
He said turn me around 
And take me back to the start
I must be losing my mind
"Are you blind?!"
I've seen it all a mllion times
(Hat tip to Eric Tipton)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hero Archetypes: the Femme Fatale

The direct translation of the term Femme Fatale is Dangerous or Deadly Woman. The key features of this type of character are a stunning beauty and sexuality coupled with the ability to use that beauty as a weapon. Initially every character who displayed these attributes was automatically a villainess. Over time as a way of keeping things interesting, femme fatales started being written as anti-heroines more and more often.

Because of the controling and secretive nature of these characters they are often able to seamlessly change from one moral allignment to the other with no problems. There was a line from a film which I cannot place which explains the essence of this archetype better than anything else I can think of. At one point when a character is asked what side of a conflict she's on she answers with one word... "Mine."

This archetype is basically what the whole Noir style of writing was based on, so there are countless numbers of these characters in film noir, television noir, and comics noir.

  • Elektra from Daredevil
  • Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity as well as countless other stars of film noir
  • Poison Ivy and Catwoman from Batman
  • Black Widow of the Avengers
  • Black Cat from Spider-Man
  • Eve, Jezebel, Delilah and countless Biblical women
  • Cleopatra
  • Morgan Le Fay from Tales of Camelot
  • Aphrodite
  • Just about every "Hammer girl" or "Bond Girl"
  • Back from the Edge

     My hiatus is over, not that it was ever going to be an epic one like CHINESE DEMOCRACY... and happy to say that the music is done. Nothin' to do now but get it out there...I'm designing a special page for it now, stay tuned...

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Hiatus: Musical Blackouts

     Sorry for the lapse in posts; Davis from SMALLVILLE isn't the only one having blackouts...I've been working on new music, and had to put posting here aside. In the final mixing stage, or so I thought. I WAS in the final mixing stage, and on the last song, I kept finding problem after problem after problem, (which, like Doomsday, are killed, only to come back stronger and seemingly immune to the previous method of killing), requiring me to plug the guitar back in...spent several sleepless nights chasing the white whale of the sonic oceans (tell me there's nothing heroic about musicians; ever face down phantom guitar buzz while trying to recapture the feel of an inspired improvistation? By gum, I'm protecting the integrity of the sonic spectrum!) hasn't been a problem until the previous night, when, at six a.m., I attempted sleep as usual, only to toss and turn with a headache. Finally managed SOME sleep, only to be woken prematurely, and making me feel worse. I went to work that way, since it was my own damn fault I didn't feel right calling out...and continued to torture myself last night until four a.m.! The sounds continued in my head AFTER I turned everything off; matter of fact, EVERY sound I heard seemed amplified in my brain...I think I even started to hallucinate a little...But I slept in today and feel almost better. Good news is that I THINK it's done this time (No comment from the peanut gallery, Landon :P)...well, even if it's NOT, it's closer to what I want it to be, and the good thing is that all this work is not in vain, if it turns out the way I hear it. 

     But if there are reports of a creature with crusty protrusions running amok tearing up barn weddings, well, I don't know...I blacked out, and then...

    Friday, November 14, 2008

    SMALLVILLE: Doomsday is Coming (spoilers)

    Geek Post for the Week:

    So I thought they'd stretch it out 'til next season with a long, drawn-out but suspenseful buildup to Doomsday.

    I was wrong...

    (Which is good, because last night's episode was too suspenseful for my already fragile heart...that's why I watch SMALLVILLE, and not 24!)

    So Jor-El and the Fortress is back, Jor and Kal have a heart-to-heart, and Jor-el frees Braniac from Chloe (yes, I said it...I can't stand Chloe...) after revealing to her the Kryptonian symbol for DOOM, Chloe goes running into the arms of Davis as a result, leaving Davis with the wrong impression...and Davis is heartbroken, spelling DOOM for the bride and groom...jeez, the great destroyer is set off by a broken heart? Anyway, we get a glimpse of the crusty crusher in the preview...he's in the the wedding...with glowing red eyes....I'm really hoping this spreads beyond the barn, this is supposed to be epic, not cozy! And he seemed kind of skinny, though it was a split-second view, maybe he's not done growing yet?

    Anyway, on to Doomsday...

    (BTW, WHY didn't Jor-El or Kal forsee that Braniac would spill his goo into the crystals? Geez, I know he's unpredictable, but shouldn't they have had a bucket ready or something?....Plotholes, people...)

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Hero Archetypes: The Selfish Capitalist Jerk

    These are characters who always seem to be too concerned with their latest business deal or sexual conquest to ever be heroic until the proverbial "chips are down" at which point they grudgingly come to save the day. They usually go against every other member of their cast out of selfish concern for their own safety/comfort. Characters like these are often used to show how "heroic and selfless" their teammates are.

    The teammates of characters like this are usually exceptionally tight-knit (or like to think they are at least) and very idealistic. They're always focused on how they'll next save the world or make their next big discovery without much concern for anything besides that... like how the electric bill will get paid for their next big experiment or if they're in the league of the threat they're facing.

    The thing is that no matter how many times you try to manipulate a character or story, some things just shine through. Trautman never comes off as a kind loving father no matter how many times First Blood was rewritten. She-Ra always comes off more as He-man's girlfriend more than his sister. Most importantly, these characters are treated as immature, frivolous. and silly, but when you really pay attention these are the people that save and protect the more "mature" and "idealistic" characters. These people are always concerned with the facts of reality and survival, pragmatic as they may be, and fight for it when their allies would "give" themselves to death and foolishly always seek out danger even when they shouldn't.

    A few examples are

  • Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four (especially the film version)
  • Peter Venkman from the Ghostbusters
  • Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat
  • Styles from Teen Wolf
  • Eric from dungeons and Dragons
  • Shaggy from Scooby Doo
  • Dr Smith from Lost in Space
  • Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    From the Horror File: Bibleman goes to Narnia

    Keeping with the theme of 80's cartoons and the absurdity that followed them. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was one of the first cartoons to really raise the ire of religion in America. The biggest complaint was the heavy use of magical/fantasy elements. This complaint has some validity, since several characters used magic heavily (Orko, Skeletor, the Sorceress etc.) and there were many other magical elements such as the magic of Castle Grayskull and He-Man's magical sword which channeled it.

    Another more telling complaint came in a book by religious leaders written for the purpose of allowing the faithful to know which cartoons were appropriate. [this was years ago and I scanned the book in the store please don't ask for the specifics] But the entry on He-Man registered a complaint along the lines of "The biggest flaw with this show is implying that anyone other than Jesus could be a master of the universe."

    You'd be shocked to see how often this admonishment is taken to heart in Christian friendly cartoons. The key idea is that Jesus is the source of all values and exemplar thereof. A number of cartoons simply feature time appropriate youngsters or modern ones whisked back in time who passively observe Biblical events while taking no active part in them.

    The key idea one takes from these is that heroism is an illusion and no matter what you do, nothing will be of significance, the best you can hope for is a close relationship with Jesus and glory by association.

    The ironic part about this is that Jesus himself isn't very heroic. There's the whole saving the souls of the sinful, but if you really think about that it's just one more thing to make Christians feel even more insignificant. You can't even earn your own way into Heaven, you have to partake of Jesus' sacrifice to do that.

    This point is driven home to this day even with shows like Bibleman. An unabashed knock off of both Batman and Star Wars that proves that even a Christian SUPERHERO is insignificant. Bibleman wears a suit of armor and uses a laser sword but what would he tell you his main power is... the use of scripture. On top of that Bibleman never misses an opportunity to tell you how insignificant he is compared to Jesus.

    Sadly even the best heroic fantasy ever written isn't much better. C.S. Lewis was one of the fathers of the fantasy genre alongside J.R.R. Tolkien. His Narnia books were deep and complex stories that go to a lot of trouble to...point out how insignificant human endeavors are when compared to Jesus sacrifice. Granted the young children in this story are more heroic and less bystander than in other works, they're all still pretty helpless without Aslan (Jesus) and his sacrifice.

    You spend any time watching Christian fiction and you quickly begin to realize something. They're not angry about the magic in Masters of the Universe, they're frustrated with the idea of humans existing as the masters of their own destiny whose actions have genuine meaning.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    From the Horror File: The Get Along Gang

    I've been revisiting my roots lately. I was a child of the 80's and many of the cartoons of that era were often viewed as little more than half hour toy commercials. Looking back that assessment was very accurate, but it's not the point of this blog entry.

    Today's entry is in reference to another trend in 80's cartoons. Since cartoons like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe were bringing new levels of conflict and violence (as in the characters actually got into physical confrontations with each other) a counter-reaction was brewing. This counter reaction was the policy of writing by "parents groups." There were groups of parents who were aligning for the purpose of controlling the moral content of children's television. This affected the "toy commercial" programs in the form of a short moral at the end of each episode, but in some cases it was flatly ridiculous.

    On the show Dungeons and Dragons (based on the role playing game of the same name) you had a cast of mostly heroic characters. The premise was that a number of teens went on a carnival ride together and said carnival ride sucked them into a world of wizards, warriors and monsters.

    Each of the teens adapted to their new roles. The athletic looking one became the fearless warrior leader. The nerd received a magical hat and became a wizard and so forth. The one exception to the heroism came in the form of Eric. He had a suit of armor and a shield but no weapon. He was the sole creation of a "parents group" to teach children a lesson about being democratic. Eric ALWAYS went against what the group wanted and was ALWAYS wrong to do so. The lesson he was to teach is that you should always be "democratic" if all your friends want pizza and you want a hamburger, you're horrible and evil and need to be destroyed.

    Nevertheless, they all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had enough clout to cause the networks to yield. Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include certain "pro-social" morals in our shows. At the time, the dominant "pro-social" moral was as follows: The group is always right...the complainer is always wrong.

    This was the message of way too many eighties' cartoon shows. If all your friends want to go get pizza and you want a burger, you should bow to the will of the majority and go get pizza with them. There was even a show for one season on CBS called The Get-Along Gang, which was dedicated unabashedly to this principle. Each week, whichever member of the gang didn't get along with the gang learned the error of his or her ways.

    We were forced to insert this "lesson" in D & D, which is why Eric was always saying, "I don't want to do that" and paying for his social recalcitrance. I thought it was forced and repetitive, but I especially objected to the lesson. I don't believe you should always go along with the group. What about thinking for yourself? What about developing your own personality and viewpoint? What about doing things because you decide they're the right thing to do, not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted?
    Fortunately this trend didn't last once parents discovered that this particular moral lesson could have negative ramifications when the stakes aren't getting into an unpleasant argument or sharing your toys but instead are things like drug use and premarital sex.

    Once again, the Reagans came to the rescue of individualism. At least something good came from the "Just Say No" campaign.

    What makes this even sadder is there is a trend/subgenre in slasher films, best exemplified by the film
    I Know What You Did Last Summer, were a number of young people do something terrible and "democratically" agree to keep the secret "together." The beauty is that this usually leads to the ones who happily accepted this fact meeting terrible fates, while the one who stood up against the group is proven right and almost always saved in the end. It's a sad day when you need to search out slasher flicks for a sense of moral certainty that you can't find in "heroic" fiction.

    Heroes of Joy: The Music of YES

    The music of the band Yes stands out among other rock bands, even fellow progressive rock bands, for one quality that most others lack. Though they may share all of the technical virtuosity, grand vision, and the triple-gatefold sleeves of King Crimson, Genesis, ELP, and Pink Floyd – Yes cornered the market on one commodity – joy.

    The work of Yes presents a sense of life that can only be described through Ayn Rand's favored term, "sunlit universe." Indeed, many of the lyrics of Jon Anderson, not only in his Yes work, but his solo work as well, mention the glory of the sun. (See his contribution to the film
    Legend, "Loved By The Sun.") As a motivating factor, they use religion in the best sense that one can, one that Rand, an atheist, would approve of. The music of Yes is an anthem to life, and the very name of the group is a reflection of that.

    The band is given a lot of flack from more cynical rock fans who dismiss them as little more than "sunshine and rainbows." But that is a superficial reading. Yes is not ignorant to pain and suffering. The music of Yes, which is, admittedly, something of a "utopian" project, addresses the suffering in the world in relation to their songs of elation...theirs is not a Pollyanna solution, and a few of their songs are about epic heroes and their struggles. And, they offer no sanction of the victim. "If the summer changed to winter, yours is no disgrace!" They do not celebrate the dark, they fight through it to make their way towards the sun.

    With that said, let's take a look at some of their key "works of joy":

    "Sweetness" from YES (1969) From the first album, the lyrics to this song may seem a bit treacly to us today, but it was a perfect sentiment for the summer of love. A nice love song from a strong first album:

    She brings the sunshine to a rainy afternoon;
    She puts the sweetness in, stirs it with a spoon.

    "Time and A Word" (1970) The title song provides the group's first anthem, with the sing-along lines:

    There's a time and the time is now and it's right for me,
    It's right for me, and the time is now.
    There's a word and the word is love and it's right for me,
    It's right for me, and the word is love.

    "I've Seen All Good People" (1971)
    The Yes Album song that showed a new dimension through the exuberant guitar work of Steve Howe, and the immortal line:

    I've seen all good people turn their heads each day
    So satisfied I'm on my way

    The song starts off in a pastoral mood and kicks into a rockabilly rock-out that shows the lie that rock music can't be anything but "anger, hurt, and rage."

    "And You & I" (1972) When Yes went
    Close to the Edge, you knew they wouldn't abandon you, as demonstrated by this magnificent musical piece, at once childlike and mature, simple yet orchestral...

    Tales from Topographic Oceans (1974) This whole album, a tribute to what religion can represent at its best, is a tour de force, with several highlights of soaring vocal chorals, spiraling guitars, and orchestral keyboards, all culminating in the finale "Nous Sommes Du Soleil." It's a challenging work, not only musically, but spiritually, which is probably why it is so hated among many "rock" fans, but for those who seek something more, nothing less than a journey of joy.

    Going for the One (1977) Another album of continuous joy and clarity. From the exhaustingly joyous "Going For the One" to the gracefulness of "Wondrous Stories..." "Turn of the Century" tells the love story of Pygmalion in a hymn to creation itself, while the album culminates in the last great epic of the Jon Anderson-led yes, "Awaken."

    "Future Times/Rejoice" (1979) may be considered the poorest of the Yes albums, but Yes at their worst offers much more than most rock bands at their height. The opening track here is a very creative one, encompassing many moods and textures, and a childlike sense of possibility in an era of increasing despair. That a band could still find a way to rejoice in the age of punk was no mean feat...

    "It Can Happen" (1983) The band had changed by the time Jon Anderson rejoined the band for 90125, but the spirit lived on, most notably in this track, a song of optimism that was perfect for the "morning in America" ushered in during the Reagan administration.

    These songs are the key highlights to the joys of YES, but are by no means exhaustive. If you've never taken them seriously, you may want to give them another try. You have nothing to lose, but a world of joy to gain...

    Saturday, November 8, 2008

    Smallville: On to Doomsday (Spoiler)

      Geek post for the evening...

     Ok, in spite of my last post about Smallville and shmoo-zing, there's a reason why I still tune in...they've established that the character of Davis will become Doomsday, the creature who killed Superman in the comics some years ago. A h0-hum Mcguffin of a character, actually, in the comics at least. But they've really come up with something to develop the character for the show:

    He's the son of General Zod. As in "Kneel Before Zod." 

    Fuckin' A.

    Heroes are defined to an extent by their villains, the bigger the hero, the bigger the villain has to be in order to have maximum drama. Superman was long plagued with cheesy villains, Luthor excluded. Zod, who first appeared in SUPERMAN II, really made you feel like Superman had a challenge. To make Doomsday his son is nothing short of brilliant, IMHO. (And the irony that he is currently a paramedic on a planet he is meant to destroy, even...).

    I have a feeling that the setup will be better than the payoff, but what a setup!

    Friday, November 7, 2008

    Of Villians and Innocent Bystanders

    So where does an 'innocent' bystander end and a 'villian' begin? Far too many comic books and their adaptations suggest there is little difference between the 'hero' and the 'villian' apart from circumstance, thus making circumstance, i.e. fate, the ultimate power determining all outcomes. But what about the innocent bystander, the dupe, the 'patsy' who is either caught in the crossfire or decieved by the villian into becoming an accomplice. Almost a 'legal' question requiring a legal definition, I'm left wondering how much culpability one should assign the 'folks caught in between' the conflicts of heroes in villians. Naturally, this extends from beyond the metaphors in the comics medium into 'real life' good and evil.

    Let me pose the question in light of our 'real' world: how much are VOTERS responsible for the people they (as a majority) elect? Is the 'innocent bystander' of a voter responsible for the incredibly limited choices of whom they get to cast their vote an if so how much and how much are they to blame for the outcome of their elected choice? There are some obvious answers just as it is obvious I would be posing this question on Superhero Babylon, a site ripe with intelligent discussion into the nature of heroism, and by contrast, villany. Hence, my desire to open a discussion both metaphorical in heroic/super-heroic context and literal in view of recent events in the United (Police) States.

    So seriously, give me some feedback because I'm not always sure where my anger should be directed....

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    Smallville: The Sacrifice Begins...

    Now that I've written about Heroes, it's time to turn my attention to that other show about heroes, Smallville. Another bit of superhero candy, even if a little to WB for me...but I did finally get into the show last season, and very curious about how they will play out Doomsday.

    Unfortunately, Clark's biggest battle is not with that nemesis, but with altruism...we currently see "Smallville" in Metropolis, working at the Daily Planet (finally, get off the farm, Tom Welling's gotta be hitting 30 by now...). Anyway, he's trying his damnedest to be everywhere at once, to save everyone at once...Martian Manhunter has to tell him to slow down, that he can't save everyone, to which Clark replies "The day I believe that is the day I quit." Ok...of course, Jimmy Olson reminds us why SUPERMAN is a hero and says that Clark is the kind of guy people can count on, that it's rare for someone to be there for friends and strangers like Clark.

    That's because Clark is a shmoo. And because Superman is the ultimate "Christ Symbol," Clark is going to find that the biggest threat is not a spikey monster, but the begging hands and bleeding hearts of altruism. Consider these words from Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness:

    "In the normal conditions of existence, man has to choose his goals, project them in time, pursue them and achieve them by his own effort. He cannot do it if his goals are at the mercy of and must be sacrificed to any misfortune happening to others. He cannot live his life by the guidance of rules applicable only to conditions under which human survival is impossible."

    Rand is not talking about truly emergency situations. On the contrary: "An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible...In an emergency situation, men's primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions."

    But that's NOT what Clark is attempting to do; he is actively on the lookout for disasters. It is not as if he's being compensated either, like the police or fire department, he is doing it because it is his duty, his "destiny." So why does he do this? "The altruist ethics is based on a 'malevolent universe' metaphysics, on the theory that man, by his very nature, is helpless and doomed-that success, happiness, achievement, are impossible to him-that emergencies, disasters, catastrophes are the norm of his life and that his primary goal is to combat them."

    So in other words, Superman, like Christ, does not believe that people are capable of taking care of themselves (even spunky, sassy Lois, with her kung-fu fighting, can't do without him, apparantly...). Big brother is here to take care of you now...

    Only, we can't really blame him, can we? After all, he, like Christ, is simply a projection of humanity's vision of itself as helpless and guilty. So he's nothing more than a wish, a wish to evade responsibility to take care of ourselves. This is the artistic version of moral hazard, combined with a "waiting for Godot" attitude.

    "Somebody save me," indeed...only what if he doesn't come? What if Clark catches on to his folly? What if Clark is listening to some Elton John one day, and decides that he should have stayed on the farm and listened to his old man? What if he rejects the idea that life is one big emergency, one big Doomsday? What if he realizes the virtue of selfishness?

    Fortunately, we now have Barack Obama to save the day. Ne'er mind...

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008


    For Election Day:

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