Sunday, December 26, 2010

Babylonian of the Year: Julian Assange

By now, most people are aware of "whistleblower" Julian Assange and Wikileaks; he was even the runner-up to be Time magazine's Person of the Year (losing out to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg). Assange may not have met Time's criteria, he certainly meets ours; no one else this year so clearly illustrates the division in the cultural landscape of values that makes one a hero and a villain at the same time. Free speech advocate or terrorist? Capitalist or socialist? Libertarian or anarchist? Assange's actions have divided everyone, and has earned him entry into the company of such "criminal" outlaw-heroes like Robin Hood or the heroine of The Legend of Billy Jean ("Fair is Fair!"). It's not simply a question of whether he's seen as a hero or villain, either; many people who disapprove of Assange the man approve of the idea of Wikileaks and the act of "leaking" itself as heroic...


Headlines such as Democracy Now's "Is Assange a Hero?" prove the Babylonian theme for us; depending on where one's values are usually answers the question. But in this case...with so many different factions over the matter...Going strictly by etymology, a hero is a "protector" or "defender." But to know what he is claiming to "protect" or "defend," we'd have to know more about the man and his values and beliefs. That, however, has been the sticky wicket; for someone who fights for transparency, not a lot is know about that aspect of him. His political views seem, to me, an eclectic hodgepodge and his words about freedom and ethics seem to be "floating abstractions":
... I have mixed attitudes towards capitalism, but I love markets. Having lived and worked in many countries, I can see the tremendous vibrancy in, say, the Malaysian telecom sector compared to U.S. sector. In the U.S. everything is vertically integrated and sewn up, so you don’t have a free market. In Malaysia, you have a broad spectrum of players, and you can see the benefits for all as a result.
He also is considered an anarchist, a crypto-anarchist, and who knows what other labels...
It's not correct to put me in any one philosophical or economic camp, because I've learned from many. But one is American libertarianism, market libertarianism. So as far as markets are concerned I'm a libertarian, but I have enough expertise in politics and history to understand that a free market ends up as monopoly unless you force them to be free....WikiLeaks is designed to make capitalism more free and ethical.

He may not be openly communist, but based on the above, he's no "radical for capitalism", either...

So, with that kind of contradictory philosophical base, it came to me as no surprise when, upon being granted release on bail, Assange had requested that his address be kept "private." This one act alone put his status as hero into question; for his defenders, it is a practical, tactical maneuver, while for his detractors, for an advocate of transparency to make this request could only be seen as hypocrisy. (For the record: while I don't approve of the emphasis on "self-sacrifice" usually associated with heroism, in this case, I do question this supposed hero's integrity,given the particular cause...)

Whatever his true character, he has certainly divided not just a nation, but the world, demonstrating that the language of heroism has many tongues. And that makes Assange the "Babylonian" of the Year.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bosch Fawstin: "DC Comics Throws Wonder Woman to the Islamic Wolves"

"Super-powered Muslims wouldn't stone Wonder Woman," writes anti-Jihadist graphic artist Bosch Fawstin. "They'd boulder her."

Fawstin is referring to Wonder Woman's recent costume change, which is rumored to be a concession to Islam. More specifically, to the recent comics crossover between the iconic American heroes of DC Comics and the Muslim heroes known as "The 99." Is it a concession? I don't know for sure; characters are often given new looks to update them, and Wonder Woman has been no exception. It's something that's been attempted in the past, with less-than-wondrous results. But Wonder Woman is a different case, because of her costume, or, more accurately, because she's the first iconic female superhero, and it's demonstrative of the "Babylonian" tendency to communicate iconic figures through various idealistic "tongues." The risque nature of her costume (not to mention the practicality of it), the Betty Page pin-up aspect, and the feminist tone all mean that when there's a costume change, it's usually going to generate social controversy. (One particular change from 1972 got feminists like Gloria Steinem all worked up, ironically enough, because they felt that the de-powered, Mod-clad version was inferior to the bikini-clad version. Steinem is apparently not a fan of the new version, either.)

The more things change...this new change is no exception. What's interesting, though, is that if one looks close enough, the seeds for this can be seen in Paul Dini and Alex Ross's prestige-format Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth book. Published in November of 2001, it was 9/11 conscious, with our heroine's overtures of friendship met with fear and mistrust, and, yes, she is stoned. She goes undercover in several different scenes, in order to blend in, and in one instance wears a burka. She rips it off in a dramatic confrontation with soldiers and frees other burka-clad women, but knowing that they will fear her, and expects no gratitude. Still, the image is one of defiance against Islamic oppression, when such a thing was not so controversial in America. With that explained, the sequence below should become quiet clear...






Now, as mentioned, the Ross painting was done in 2001, but, as we know, "9/11 changed everything." Can you imagine, in the wake of death-threats against Danish cartoonists for drawings of Mohammad, the outrage if that was published today? So what's next? If Fawstin has it right, probably something like this:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean Miners Coming Out Like Champs

The Chilean miners, trapped for over two months, are coming home...in style.

The media keeps talking about how the miners will be dealing with "severe emotional trauma" for some time. They most likely will have trauma, and who would blame them? But from what I've seen, these are pretty hardy guys, and they're coming out like champs. (One guy they call "the rock star"; instead of crying, he was passing out rocks from the mine.)

That's awesome.

(Apparently the media assumed these guys were raised in some suburban day-care center with Barney...)

Kudos to the rescue workers, from the creative and technical minds who devised the escape, to the workers who helped sustain the miners, and to the Chilean miner's spirit. Considering that no one has every survived this long in such an incident, this has to be recognized as truly heroic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

SMALLVILLE: Clark's Dark Side=Pride?

Smallville's final season premiere has Jor-El and a Lex Luthor clone telling Clark that he has a "darkseid" just like his enemies. His sin? Oh, no...Pride!


Clark: "You may not see me as a hero, but the rest of the world does, and I decide my fate!"

Luthor clone: "The only reason anyone ever calls you a hero is because you clean up the disasters you unleash…"

Wait...is Clark the one blowing up buildings, or unleashing Doomsday plots? Oh, what's that? He's dark because he was proud of saving people, and leaping a tall building in a single bound? Because he took pride in his accomplishment? Please, let it not be that. Sorry, Luthor, sorry Jor-El. Clark may buy into that, but I don't. Compare and contrast:
The virtue of Pride can best be described by the term: “moral ambitiousness.” It means that one must earn the right to hold oneself as one’s own highest value by achieving one’s own moral perfection—which one achieves by never accepting any code of irrational virtues impossible to practice and by never failing to practice the virtues one knows to be rational—by never accepting an unearned guilt and never earning any, or, if one has earned it, never leaving it uncorrected—by never resigning oneself passively to any flaws in one’s character—by never placing any concern, wish, fear or mood of the moment above the reality of one’s own self-esteem. And, above all, it means one’s rejection of the role of a sacrificial animal, the rejection of any doctrine that preaches self-immolation as a moral virtue or duty.
- Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics"

You see, heroism doesn't have to be a dichotomy between selfishness and protecting the ones you love. Enough of the damn "Jesus Christ Pose" already, enough of this "original sin."

With that, what more can I say about this show that hasn't been said? I don't want to not like it, but despite all the entertainment value, and the "sense of heroism," I stand by my original assessment: the sooner this show is off the air, the better.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burning the Koran: Is Terry Jones a Hero?

Is Terry Jones "heroic?"


Well, he's not my hero, but...

I am not a Christian, and I view this fight the religious aspect as a fight two gangs, the Christian and Islamic churches. As a homosexual, I view Jones as my enemy for his support of the Westboro Baptist Church (you know, the "God Hates Fags" church of the holy bastard Fred Phelps). He and they illustrate the reason why we are to separate Church and State; to the extent that they use the force of the government to infringe on the freedoms of homosexuals or any other offender of their faith, they are hypocrites in the battle for free speech. (But then, do we really need "The State?").

Well, then, why do I defend Jones's Koran-burning? "Sticks and stones...". They are entitled to their views and opinions, as long as they keep their hands to themselves. Yet, by standing up to the threat of Islamic terrorism, putting himself on the line to defend his right to free speech, Jones meets the etymology of hero: "protector/defender," in this case, standing up for a larger issue: freedom of speech. In a limited aspect: Yes, by definition, Jones is acting heroically...for his cause, when it suits his purposes. He is putting his own life on the line to defend his right, even if his actions and preaching continue to undermine the rights of homosexuals like myself. It just so happens that, on this one particular matter of free speech, our paths align...in this limited context.

Here's where I'd like to leave this: the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend...I am not defending Jones, but the larger principle involved. If the worst among us can defend their rights to free speech, the best of us better sure as hell do the same. So, Pastor, enjoy my support against Islamic oppression while it lasts...because I, as well, will defend myself from your own brand of religious tyranny.

A Most Un-Heroic President and General

Reprised for Pastor Terry Jones's Koran-burning on the anniversary of 9/11...From A Show of Hands: A Cautionary Tale of Heroes in Exile...Did I call it, or did I call it? (click images to enlarge.)

Blow up American buildings and lives, you get to build a mosque on the grave site. Speak up against it, and you're suddenly an enemy of the State. As an American, I say that Obama, General Petraeus, and anyone else asking us to cave in to Islam can suck it. Seriously, to say that exercising one's free speech will endanger the troops is paramount to treason, IMHO. And most un-heroic; soldiers are there for that very reason, to defend our freedoms. Whatever happened to "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?"

Jones is not my ally (more on that in my next post), but on this, I have to defend his right to free speech, and I will. People in the Middle East burn American flags and presidential effigies at will. The President is attacking this Christian pastor, yet "artists" here are tax-payer funded for exhibits like Piss Christ...I, an atheist, am offended at such blatant hypocrisy. I have to hold my nose to do so, mind you.

Free speech applies to all, like it or not. And if America wont' defend it at home, then it's all over.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

...Well, Then, The Critics Are Wrong

Saw this article today on philly.com (I just wanted to check the weather, damnit): "Superheroes Are Selfish, Violent Pop-Cult Models, Critics Say." Ok, what are the critics saying? (Like I don't already know, from the puke-inducing opening line...)

Your little boy is damaged.

He's been traumatized by violence, oversexualized, and indoctrinated to believe that to be a real man he must be aggressive, narcissistic, manipulative, and misogynistic.

The perpetrators, the people behind such evil victimization, are - superheroes.

So says Boston psychologist Sharon Lamb, a University of Massachusetts scholar who claims that superheroes - once role models who inspired confidence - today are laying to waste America's boys by teaching them a perverted image of masculinity.

Uh, oh...I see where this is going...

Lamb asserts that today's heroes are motivated by selfish desires, including the desire for vengeance, and not justice and the common good.

Lamb is joined in her sheepish bleatings by John Arcudi, author of the comic A God Somewhere:

Philadelphia comic-book writer John Arcudi agrees that movie superheroes are too aggressive, cocky, and narcissistic....Arcudi says this is part of an overall tone of triumphalism that he believes predominates in American culture. If defeat isn't an option, he asks, then how are we to teach kids how to deal with failure?

He also worries that the traditional superhero just seems too naive to today's media-savvy kids. "Today's audiences have a lot of difficulty swallowing the idea that the hero is totally committed to an ideal" and not to personal desires, he says. Being cool and kicking derriere, he notes, always trump social justice in the movies.

Well, Mr. Arcudi, I hope you've learned how to deal with defeat, because your comments are an "epic fail."

The "common good"? Well, spank my ass and call me Stalin. There's nothing new in these criticisms, and nothing that hasn't been addressed over and over throughout this blog already (especially in my posts regarding romanticism versus naturalism, which would make short work of the "triumphalism" complaint.) And yes, there are a few valid criticisms, such as the misogynistic traits in some characters, and I've had plenty to say about movies like Kick-Ass. The problem is in the continuing package-deal of equating those things with "selfishness," as identified by Ayn Rand:
The meaning ascribed in popular usage
to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating
intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single
factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

In popular usage, the word
“selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous
brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for
no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims
of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and
dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own
interests.

This concept does not include a
moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests
is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It
is the task of ethics to answer such questions.
So, with the Trojan Horse of violent misogyny comes the call to self-sacrifice, but I see right though it. They'll be more Trojan Horse dung to clean up for some time, so here's a really big shovel to clean up after those who continue to force the false dichotomy between rational selfishness and "the greater good":

The word "We" is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.

What is my joy if all hands, even the unclean, can reach into it? What is my wisdom, if even the fools can dictate to me? What is my freedom, if all creatures, even the botched and impotent, are my masters? What is my life, if I am but to bow, to agree and to obey?

But I am done with this creed of corruption.

I am done with the monster of "We," the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame.

And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride.

This god, this one word:

"I."
— Ayn Rand, Anthem

Now, there's a "god somewhere" for you.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

FUTURAMA Nails It, or, Leela Kicks Ass

Just heard on the lastest new episode of Futurama:

Fry: What you want to hear is that I fixed my comic book! Now the hero is more relatable because he has no ridiculous powers."

Lrrr: "Let's watch."

(In Fry's comic:)

Monster: "One more step and Little-Ms.-Constructive-Criticism here gets it!"

Fry "Oh yeah? I may be just a simple delivery boy with no superpowers, so there's nothing I can do."

Monster: "Ok!" (Vaporizes Leela, hero cries.)

Fry: "So? Give me your honest praise..."

Leela: "I've now seen two comic books, so listen to me. Why should I care about the hero when all he does is cry?"

(Fry cries.)

-Futurama' Season 6 Episode 12 'Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences'

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UNDER THE RED HOOD, or Jason Todd's answer to KICK-ASS

I just recently saw Batman: Under The Red Hood.* I went in with pretty high hopes and wasn't really disappointed; by and large, it's a solid piece of work. The voice cast is great, and even though I have some complaints best left unsaid, I still think Neil Patrick Harris did a good job with Nightwing, (but I just wish the context was different.) He's used very infrequently and could be cut completely with limited effect on the plot. John DiMaggio plays a very interesting Joker, who I'd say is one-half Mark Hamill-animated Joker and one-half Heath Ledger-Dark Knight Joker. His voice is a little lower and gruffer than I expect the Joker to be, but his philosophical dilemmas seem almost straight out of The Dark Knight. Bruce Greenwood plays a good tortured and brooding Batman, who is given much to brood over. Wade Williams plays a darkly hilarious Black Mask, a deformed criminal overboss who makes you forget how brutal he can actually be by delivering a wisecrack with each act of violence, though not in the same sense as a character like the Joker or Freddy Kreuger. Jensen Ackles of both Supernatural and Smallville fame rounds out the cast as the titular Red Hood/Jason Todd.

This story is very continuity heavy, but pulls it off well. You can watch this with no prior knowledge of the history of Batman and Robin and still follow along very easily. Conversely, you'll spot even more nods to important stories if you are familiar. In fact, continuity plays such a big part in this film that I'm likely going to do a second review
just on the continuity issues within this story. By that, I mean issues as in things mentioned, as opposed to problems or headaches.

The main storyline is the one with the greatest philosophical significance. A new crime boss comes into town. His approach is setting the rules by which criminals are to act, to serve as their protection if they stay loyal, and kill anyone who gets in his way. His initial goal is to undercut the authority of the standing crime boss, The Black Mask, who is the first to ever unite all the gangs of Gotham under one umbrella.

Batman crosses paths with the new crime boss,
conveniently, after having run into Nightwing and going out for a team-up. Seconds after giving up the first information about the Red Hood, three of his men are killed by the man himself. What follows is the first of a handful of chases, by which Batman and Nightwing notice the amazing set of physical skills the Red Hood employs racing across rooftops, a skill set which should look very familiar if you're watching the other end of the chase. After a short period of investigation, it's made clear that the crime boss/vigilante being called the Red Hood is the former and presumed-dead Robin, Jason Todd.

In the middle of all this is the Joker. The Red Hood was the identity he took on in his first criminal job, the one which lead to his disfigurement (and subsequent insanity) at the hands of Batman via a vat of chemicals. With this in mind, he is a major person of interest throughout the story to all involved. Also, he is the person who killed Jason Todd all those years ago. During one of his stays at Arkham Asylum at the beginning of the story, Batman and Nightwing go to interrogate him to see if he knows about why anyone would be taking his old identity. His only response is to bait the Batman about all the crimes he's committed, most notably the murder of Robin. When Batman falls for it and strikes out, attacking the Joker, he responds with "Are you going to do it this time, or just put me in another full body cast for six months?" Hearing that makes Batman relent, though he does seem close to killing him before that happens.

After this, a second encounter happens with the Red Hood, far more directly this time, kind of a repeat of the first that ends in a subway station. Nightwing gets injured, so Batman has to tend to him. With this distraction, the Red Hood decides to make a very Batman-like exit using the noise of a passing train. He gives Batman a parting comment as he goes, however. It's not audible at the time, so Batman has to use his computer to eliminate the sound of the passing train, but the Red Hood's parting comment is "You haven't lost your touch,
Bruce." The middle portion of the movie is Batman testing and ultimately confirming the theory that the Red Hood is Jason.

The rest of the movie is the escalating war between Black Mask and Red Hood, and how Bruce and Jason react to all the cards being on the table. In his first major counter-strike, the Black Mask sends a group of armored mercenaries after the Red Hood. When this happens, Batman arrives on the scene, and most of the fight comes off as a heartfelt reunion and reliving good times. That is of course until Jason kills one of the mercenaries and tells Bruce that "[He] should be happy I only killed one of them." Frustrated, the Black Mask makes the proverbial deal with the devil, and breaks the Joker out of Arkham.

The Joker immediately turns the whole thing around on Black Mask by subduing all of Black Mask's men as well as the Red Hood's men, threatening to burn all of them alive if the Red Hood doesn't show himself. When the Red Hood finally does show himself, he tells the Joker to go ahead and do it because everything he did was for a chance to get the Joker alone with him.

The Red Hood takes the Joker to an abandoned building as a means of drawing Batman in. Here, we find the best philosophical discussions in the movie. Now, I have to preface this by making it clear that both of the primary characters arguments could easily be demolished if The Question happened to walk in. I'm going to go as far as to say that possibly even the Renee Montoya version could accomplish this, provided she took her lessons well. But, for the sake of this argument, Jason Todd/Red Hood is a pure pragmatist, and Bruce Wayne/Batman is a dogmatist.

Earlier in the film ,Red Hood draws Batman into the chemical plant where the original Red Hood became the Joker. Red Hood ominously calls this Batman's first and biggest failure. This is important because Batman considers Jason's death (and he did die, but explaining it is a bit too complicated for the moment) his greatest failure. Jason follows up on this comment once Bruce arrives by saying that he knows Bruce considers that his biggest failure, but that he's forgiven him for it long ago. What Jason has not forgiven him for is the fact that
the Joker is still alive.

Jason has regularly stated by this point that, as the Red Hood, he was a better Batman than the real one. Batman is trying to stop crime, the Red Hood simply tries to control it by taking over. Batman thinks taking a life is never justified, but the Red Hood doesn't bat a eyelash at the thought of taking a life. The Red Hood's mentality is that since the villains are the only ones allowed to be truly efficacious, it stands to reason that in order to combat them you must first become the worst among them.

Batman gives a somewhat satisfying answer in that he wants to kill the Joker, but that's a line that once crossed he could never come back from. It's pretty standard, but heartfelt. In the last moments of the story, Jason holds one gun to the Joker's head and hands a second gun to Bruce, stating that the only way he'll be stopped from shooting the Joker is if Bruce kills him. In a powerful moment, especially from an Objectivist viewpoint, Bruce simply puts the gun down and walks away. He isn't going to be a pawn in a game like this and isn't going to allow himself to accept unearned guilt from either death. This leads to an action climax and Bruce being left with a lot to think about, and a number of regrets.

*My co-workers are so awesome for loaning me stuff.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who Needs CGI When There's...PREMAKES!

These are too freakin' cool. I discovered these on the Comic Book Resources site: "Premakes":

Ivan Guerrero has caught a lot of attention on YouTube for his "premakes" series, where he makes 1950s-style trailers for various movies. Following up on trailers for Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ghostbusters, his latest one is for the Avengers. And apparently even Stan Lee has watched the video.
What I found interesting is how the soundtrack made a difference; the retro-version of The Empire Strikes Back certainly benefitted from the John Williams score. (Of course, the idea was to harken back to the old-styled Korngold scores of the Golden Age...). When I consider how much impact it had on the original Star Wars film (early trailers of it did not contain the store, and it is a lesser experience for it), I'd hope that filmmakers today would realize that a great score is just as important as the CGI (looking at you, Clash of the Titans remake...).

Overall, these come off as more heroic than some of the more recent CGI spectacles...hmmm...Way to go, Ivan.







Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steve Slater, Hero?

Really?


"Move over, Sully Sullenberger, there's a new folk hero in the skies. OK, maybe not a universally acclaimed hero. And not a 'hero' in the sense of, like, saving lives, or stopping a terrorist, or really doing anything traditionally considered 'heroic.' Still, Steven Slater—the JetBlue flight attendant who reportedly had an altercation with a passenger who injured him in the head, cursed her out over the PA, then deplaned, with a beer, via the emergency slide—is the talk of the country today."

Or, from PEOPLE.com: Is JetBlue Flight Attendant Steven Slater A Hero of Felon? And so on...

Again, a real-life demonstration of why this blog is called Superhero Babylon; the language of different values make's one man's hero another man's disgruntled employee. His story is nothing new, of course; Johnny Paycheck already cashed in on this theme years ago with "Take This Job and Shove It." His story is interesting because of the unusual exit strategy, but the theme is as old as employment itself. Is he really a hero, though? Well, let's think about it; what's a hero? A "defender" or "protecter." Who was Slater defending?

Well, the "pro" side would say: First and foremost, himself, by standing up to a rude passenger. What about the airline? He was enforcing the airline's rules as part of his job; whether or not he did it well is another matter (though I'd be pissed to if I were hit in the head because of a passenger's defiance...) Then there's the case that he was, implicitly or explicitly, standing up for the "working man," the "serving class," if you will. That's where the "folk hero" aspect comes in.

The naysayers might say that the "folk hero" label can be a double-edge sword; think Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, The Legend of Billy Jean, where the "hero" label is attached to actions where heroism was not the intent. (And remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where Bobby had nightmares about his hero, Jesse James, killing his family?). Ok, Slater is no Jesse James, but I think you get the point...He might be more reasonably compared to someone like Howard Stern, the kind of person who gets away with "saying what everyone else would like to say." There's a fine line between being heroic and simply being pissed off...and why, if this was building over a long time, didn't Slater take a more practical approach, in the long run, by changing jobs or finding something less demeaning? Or, if the "pro-hero" side objects to his being forced out by rude customers, why didn't he work to change the landscape internally?

Having been on both sides of this kind of situation, I can see valid points on both sides; nothing trumps personal responsibility, but close quarters create pressure-cookers as well...Hero? Villain? What do you think?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Superhero Babylon: The (quick) Heather Langenkamp interview


A condition of the interview (and the potential legal ramifications of posting it) was that I would only be allowed a verbatim text recap of it. Which is more or less what this is. (I edited out the "Ums," etc...). I appreciate the fact that Mrs. Langenkamp took the time to answer the questions of the co-owner of a blog with 10 subscribers and was so kind and gracious with a first time interviewer (well, second, counting the other one I did that day, but that's another story).

I will, however, mention a couple things which I didn't get time to ask her about. What can be called the definitive documentary on the
Nightmare on Elm Street series was released this year entitled
Never Sleep Again, with Mrs. Langenkamp both hosting and being interviewed. Also, Mrs. Langenkamp has a documentary of her own coming out soon, entitled I Am Nancy. Without further ado, onto the interview.

Heather Langenkamp: I’ve got you on the clock here.

Superhero Babylon: Is there anything you were drawing on the first time around to fill out the character of Nancy, inspiration-wise?

HL: I think my first inspiration was probably someone like my grandmother, who was, I thought...was a really strong woman and was very inspirational. And then I loved, believe it or not, I loved nature movies when I was little, where someone was in the woods and they would have to survive, like Grizzly Adams, like those kinds of movies. And in a lot of ways, if anything, Nancy is like a girl Grizzly Adams, the way she has to survive in this really hostile environment.

SB: I’d definitely agree with that. What do you think makes the "final girl" so strong within the Nightmare series itself? Because it’s stronger there than it is anywhere else.

HL: I believe that Wes Craven [Nightmare on Elm Street creator] just wanted to have a strong girl figure, as the lead in this movie. And he had a daughter of his own, and knew that there were a lack of positive role models at that time. So, those two things and he just hired a girl like me who was really interested in portraying a strong person like that.

SB: When I saw the recent documentary Never Sleep Again, I remember that you specifically mentioned that you kept your pajamas from Nightmare 1.

HL: Yes.

SB: Was it a conscious decision on your part to create to create your own iconography, like the same way Freddy has the sweater, the hat, and the glove?

HL: I knew that those were going to be important, you know, parts of my own personal history. So I think when I had the opportunity to keep them, I just stowed them away. But, at the time, I did not know that this movie was going to be a success. I mean, I don’t even know, I think it was just more of a sentimental gesture. I just asked the wardrobe lady “Do you mind if I take these home?” and she didn’t think it would be important because they would NEVER let me take them today. None of us had any idea that something like her pajamas would be important.

SB: Ok, Your character had three very distinct permutations over the three different movies. You had scared little girl Nancy, surviving elder Professor X Nancy, and then Heather Langenkamp. Do you have a favorite out of those three versions and are there any things you like better or worse about any of them? Because they’re very different.

HL: Well to have the opportunity in a movie to play those three phases of life, where you’re growing into an adult, becoming a woman and then having a child is so rare, just to me the opportunity to do that is so fantastic. Because she’s most like me, I probably like the “Heather Langenkamp” Nancy the best, but I have the fondest nostalgia for the young girl Nancy.

SB: Thank you so much for your time.

HL: Oh you guys are so sweet.

Friday, August 6, 2010

On Meeting My "Cyrus"

Most people who know about Ayn Rand have heard the story of Cyrus. He was the lead character in a pulp magazine she read as a child which later became the model from which she would later mold all of her heroes. Because of the theme of this blog in particular, we’ve had a number of discussions of how this relates to us personally. We always ask each other “who was your Cyrus?”

Well, last weekend, I met mine. I’ve
spent a lot of time writing about an amazing character she helped create through through her portrayal of her. Seeing this character for the first time changed the whole way I thought about heroes, and heroines, specifically. The movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master, and the character was Alice Johnson, the eponymous "Dream Master."

It had a major impact on me at the time I saw it. I was about 11 or 12 and watching my first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. It was on network television so it was pretty heavily edited. I found it very fascinating; the dream element was an interesting angle, and, in all honesty, I was already well aware of Freddy Kreuger, who at the time was one of the biggest “horror heroes” in a new subgenre of "slasher" film that had developed in this time frame.

But back then, and even more so now, what caught my eye was Alice Johnson. She seems like a fairly minor character at first (as is often the case in slasher films), very mousy, too shy to let her crush know that she likes him, suffering silently the abuses of an alcoholic father. But, over the course of the film, she slowly develops into a genuine heroine whose crowning moment is when she does the unthinkable in a Nightmare film.

There are always subplots in Nightmare movies about the lengths to which people go to avoid sleep: caffine pills, coffee, cola, loud music, etc. But Alice? After all her friends have been killed and the only one left is the boy she had a crush on who is now at Freddy’s mercy, what does she do? She races home, she suits up for a fight, does some other really cool things, and takes SLEEPING PILLS! She is so tough and so brave that she intentionally takes sleeping pills in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. This leads to her fighting Freddy on his terms, in his world, and winning.

She would go on to star in one more movie, which dealt with themes of entering adulthood and taking the responsibility that implies. Between the two films where she’s entered a relationship with her crush, Freddy finally gets him, but not before the boyfriend leaves her a gift.

There’s an idea that the "final girl" of horror movies has to be very chaste, drug free, and virginal, but, in this story, Alice gets pregnant. She keeps the baby and defeats Freddy one more time.

This story and this character just resonated with me, then and now. I went through a phase early after discovering Objectivism where I tried denying my love of horror at its best. In the long run I realized that this is a very personal decision, and the gyst of Ayn Rand’s dismissal of horror ultimately amounts to “Horror is vile, repugnant, anti-mind, and anti-life, except when it isn’t.” And just because I want to write characters like Francisco D’Anconia doesn’t mean that now I don’t want to write characters like Alice Johnson.

All that being said, I had the opportunity to meet Miss Wilcox last weekend. There’s an inherent problem when you’re a fan of genre fiction, especially films, that your heroes will often disappoint you, simply because they don’t place as much importance on certain aspects of their work that you do. I don’t necessarily think that it’s something you can blame on the performer, but it doesn’t make your heart sink any less when it does happen. But at the same time, it’s all the more impressive and fulfilling when, even if they don’t share your level of enthusiasm, they understand it, they respect it, and they appreciate it. When they can see through the jitters, and the gushing, and the trivia you recite, and understand that there is a meaning behind all. “Your work means something very special to me. Something sacred, something that defines a big part of who I am. I know that even if it was the job that defined your career, it was just a job to you at the time. What you helped create was something wonderful, thank you.”

Keeping in mind that I had a much less sophisticated version of this going through my head for the interview she granted me, enjoy her basically carrying me through this interview.