“Batman” ’66 is Awesome! Well, Except for a Few Things…

I like to think I’m not the only person in this world who grew up watching reruns of the classic late 1960s super-hero series Batman starring Adam West in the titular role. Oh yea, and let me not fail to give credit to Burt Ward, who played Dick Grayson, who was Bruce Wayne’s… well, ward. Interesting, not to mention more than a bit trippy, how things like that tend to work out.

And of course, Grayson was Batman’s useful sidekick Robin, the Boy Wonder, the kid who had the courage to run around fighting crime wearing a thin domino mask, a yellow cape, and a pair of green underoos. I guess Bruce Wayne didn’t want his partner to wear a costume that would in any way detract from the coolness factor of his own set of leotards. I think Robin was damn lucky that the Joker never tried to “pants” him during one of their many onomatopoeia-filled throw downs, since you would think that was totally something a sadistic guy like the Clown Prince of Crime would do during such a melee… not only for laughs, but also to get revenge for the humiliation of having his goons get their arses kicked despite enjoying such a huge strength of numbers ratio.

 

Ceasar Romero Joker01

“Look, Batman, the Boy Blunder is returning my smile with a sideways smile of his own! *cue Cesar Romero’s distinctive “Joker” laugh*”

 

You’d also think it would be rather easy to pull off that domino mask and expose something even more private than the Boy Wonder’s derriere  to a gang of criminal miscreants. I always wondered if the Dynamic Duo had some type of behind-the-scenes arrangement with his famed rogues gallery to prevent such obvious things from being done, or at least repeatedly attempted.

Of course, we’re not supposed to ask questions like that. Rather, we’re expected to simply sit back and enjoy a great bit of psychedelic, totally ’60s form of entertainment. I always felt watching H.R. Puffnstuff was the better choice for that, or maybe to catch a showing of the Beatles’ other-worldly exploits in The Yellow Submarine animated flick, or one of the retro-tastic Austin Powers  movies. But hey, you can’t overlook the similar enjoyable elements present in what we are today often calling and fondly remembering as Batman ’66. Because, yanno, that was the year the series premiered, in case one or two of you couldn’t figure out what the numerals were for.

 

Batman '66-01

BATMAN: “Hello, is this the Green Hornet? Yeah, listen, Robin is very upset, so I have to tell you that if you ever pull his underoos down again during a battle sequence, we won’t allow you to guest star on our show any more.

“Listen, smart ass, I already told you that he didn’t mean that low blow, you just happen to be much taller than him!

“And if  you want to accuse my side of fighting dirty, I didn’t exactly appreciate where that chauffeur of yours kicked me, either!”

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I too grew up loving that show, and I still love it to this day. I catch its reruns each Saturday on the Me network whenever I happen to be home. The colorful, campy, and quasi-satirical tone of this not-so-dark version of the Dark Knight isn’t my fav interpretation of the character by a long shot, and it certainly pays no respect to his truly dark comic book roots. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate what it did have to offer, and I can fully understand the resurgence in popularity that this version of the character has had during the past few years. Go, Batman ’66!

Unfortunately, my esteemed readers, nitpicking such classic and iconic TV series is something that I’m prone to do. This has always been among my many shortcomings, and unfortunately I’m not about to change at this point in my life. I must admit that I find this attribute too much fun to change, anyway. So, please do indulge me as I vent about a few things I noticed in the show while otherwise enjoying a rerun on Me TV earlier this evening. These things tend to bother me, so I’ll respond by bothering the rest of you with my complaints and observations about it; that’s only fair, right? Muah-hah-hah!

 

Batman '66-03

ALAN HALE: “*Screams* Geezus, I’m sorry, um, Batman… I thought it was squirrels I heard climbing up the side of the building! Don’t worry, your, um, secret is safe with me. *nervous giggle*”

ROBIN: “Holy flippin’ exposure, Batman! And I do mean exposure! I told you that halfway up the side of the skyscraper wouldn’t be safe for, um, this!”

BATMAN: “Quiet, old bum — er, I mean, old chum — I’ll handle this.

“Citizen, I assure you, all we were doing was testing the durability of Robin’s new shorts against friction — er, the air friction  from climbing up buildings, that is! Understood?”

ALAN HALE: “*Nervous giggle* Erm, like I said, Batman, your secret about Robin’s friction is safe with me. Er, um, you know what I mean.”

 

First off, why in the hell did Bruce and Dick share their secret with Alfred, but not Aunt Harriet? Why was their surrogate father worthy of the truth and allowed to offer a helping hand in their exploits, but not the lady who passed for their two-in-one surrogate mother and maid? At least I think  that what Aunt Harriet was supposed to be doing in Wayne Manor was roughly equivalent to what Aunt Bea was doing in the Sheriff Andy Taylor’s happy but considerably smaller home. I couldn’t see any other purpose for her being there, other than boring the hell out of Dick by making him do things like taking those piano lessons. Then again, she couldn’t possibly have been more useless at Wayne Manor than Chief O’Hara was at what was apparently Gotham City’s only police station.

 

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BRUCE WAYNE: “Um, Alfred, do you think Aunt Harriet would let me borrow Dick for a while? It seems King Tut is on the loose again, and he’s locked the attorney general in an air tight sarcophagus. There’s no time to lose!”

ALFRED: “My abject apologies, sir, but I’m afraid Madam Harriet is adamant that Master Dick finish his yodeling lessons before going out this fine evening.”

 

And c’mon now, Wayne Manor was a big ass manse, so one might think Alfred could use a hand with the cooking and cleaning, right? Or am I missing something here? Okay, maybe it’s best not to speculate any further on this one, considering the stuff that Dr. Frederic Wertham dreamed up while conducting similar musings on the Wayne household during the ’50s in his uber-paranoid book Seduction of the Innocent  that led to the comic book’s editor introducing Aunt Harriet into the series in the first place. Maybe Alfred just got lonely sometimes when Bruce and Dick were off cape crusading and solving the Riddler’s riddles. Okay, I had best stop now.

Aunt Harriet and Alfred

ALFRED: “May I remind you, madam, that Master Bruce and The Dick are planning to be out quite late this evening?” *wink; glare*

AUNT HARRIET: “Oh, Alfred! You manly man, you! Hee hee hee…”

 

Aunt Harriet01

AUNT HARRIET: “You know, your voices sound very  familiar, boys. Good heavens, if I could only place them…”

 

Anyway, back to the original point: what was so inherently untrustworthy about Aunt Harriet? I really can’t accept the argument that the three men of the manse believed that knowing the truth would put Aunt Harriet in danger, because that poor old woman still got kidnapped more often than Alfred did. So much for her ignorance keeping her out of danger! Maybe Bruce and Dick had a sadistic enjoyment of seeing how long they could pull the woolen capes over the myopic eyes of Aunt Harriet, and Alfred went along with it since he didn’t want to ruin the way cool and high-paying gig he had at the mansion (even if it did mean being kidnapped and tortured on occasion; no job is perfect! And as I said, Aunt Harriet  tended to get kidnapped more often than he did anyway…).

 

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A face that, evidently, only a mother could trust.

 

And sorry, but that’s not all I’m going to gripe about this time around (yup, you correctly discerned the implication that this might not be the last post of this nature that I inflict on my readers! Hey, what can I say? I’ve got a lot of this tripe to get out of my system!).

Next we come to the point of that funky red emergency phone that Commissioner Gordon used to use call Batman at Wayne Manor, while presumably assuming the call went to wherever Batman and Robin actually lived. I’d say don’t get me started on that, but it’s too late, as I already have gotten started on it.

First of all, I couldn’t help noticing that Gordon kept a glass encasement over the phone that he removed just before using it. What purpose did that damn thing serve? Okay, some of you may argue that the glass encasement was to keep dust from getting into what may have been highly sensitive components of that uber-rare, two-of-a-kind type of phone. But I can’t fully buy that explanation, because the identical one at Wayne Manor had no such glass encasement over it. Was Alfred and Aunt Harriet simply trusted a lot more to keep the red phone at the manor clean and dust free than Chief O’Hara was with its counterpart in the Commissioner’s office? I mean, Chief O’Hara had to have some purpose to justify his paycheck, right? Since catching criminals certainly didn’t seem to be part of his job description — Gotham City didn’t seem to  have much use for the police department  as long as Batman and Robin were on the job — I’m guessing that a glorified office cleaner who was allowed to dress in a lawman’s outfit and to be addressed as “Chief” to feel more important may explain things. Hey, it worked for Barney Fife over in Mayberry, correct?

Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara

COMMISSIONER GORDON: “Dammit, O’Hara, you forgot to put the glass casing over the phone again after cleaning it! Can’t you do even a simple job like that around here?”

CHIEF O’HARA: “Blimey! My apologies, sir! It just musta’ slipped me mind since I cleaned that phone before having me afternoon cup of Earl Grey! Ye know I’m always rather wonky between me second and third lunch break!”

 

Which reminds me of another thing about that freakin’ red phone, particularly the one at Wayne Manor. I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume that Bruce Wayne had something like a social life, and at least occasionally had guests over at the mansion. I mean, if you owned a place like that, wouldn’t you want to show it off sometimes?

Anyway, wouldn’t the guests have seen that red phone where Wayne kept it in plain sight? That thing isn’t exactly easy to overlook. And wouldn’t some of them inquire as to why he was the only person in Gotham, and probably on the entire planet, who had a phone that looked exactly like the one Commissioner Gordon had?

For that matter, didn’t Aunt Harriet ever bother to ask about why the hell Bruce kept that odd-looking phone around? Didn’t she ever answer it when it rang (okay, when it beeped), only to be dumbstruck when she heard Commissioner Gordon on the line asking for Batman? Are we to assume that Aunt Harriet would herself simply assume that Gordon had dialed the wrong number? And that he seemed to “accidentally” dial Bruce’s number when trying to call Batman on a regular basis? Okay, I understand that Aunt Harriet wasn’t exactly the sharpest blade in Deathstroke the Terminator’s arsenal, but frankly, is anyone  actually that dense?

 

Commissioner Gordon on red phone

COMMISSIONER GORDON: “Hello, Batman, the Joker is on the loose again, and he just kidnapped the mayor, and has threatened to make him drink a bottle of Ace Chemical laxative every hour until we pay him the ungodly sum of ten thousand dollars, and — wait, who is this? Harriet Grayson? Oh, I’m sorry to bother you again like this…”

AUNT HARRIET: “Hee hee, oh, it’s alright, Commissioner, I’m quite used to it by now. But you really should look into getting the line on your phone fixed. I mean, I was  just eating when you told me that.”

COMMISSIONER GORDON: “Dear lord, my apologies, Ms. Grayson. I can’t imagine why I so often end up getting Wayne Manor whenever I try to phone Batman’s secret headquarters.”

AUNT HARRIET: “Oh, don’t give it another thought, dear. I couldn’t imagine why that would happen either.”

 

Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll let all of my fellow fans of the show go back to enjoying it without thinking about any of the above (not that you’ll be able to get it out of your minds and ever be able to enjoy the show as much now that I pointed all of that out, muah-hah-hah!). But hey, if anyone can provide some answers for the above conundrums, by all means leave them here in the comments section! You won’t get the equivalent of a Marvel No-Prize from me (anyone remember those?), but you will at least give me the satisfaction of knowing I’m not the only person in the world who spends his spare time pointlessly analyzing TV shows like this 😛

 

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“Let me tell you, Harriet, I go through the same shenanigans with my Andy and Opie that you do with your Bruce and Dick. At least you have that strapping Alfred to keep you company when those two are out, so your job there isn’t completely without reward. Hee!

“And would you believe that Opie got a C- on his civics test and he and Andy elected to keep me ignorant of that fact? Of all the nerve! I’m sure your boys wouldn’t keep any secrets from you, dearie!”

 

 

 

 

My Support for All Innocent Victims of Terrorism – No Matter Where They Live

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I noticed many people are transposing a symbol of the French flag over their Facebook pics to show support for France in the wake of the horrible terrorist attack in Paris on 11/13/15 (yesterday, as I type these words). I share the sorrow for every innocent life lost; people like the rest of us 99 percenters elsewhere in the globe who are overwhelmingly decent (if flawed) people who simply want to live their lives and enjoy the short time we all have on this world in the company of the friends and family we cherish. Innocent people who generally have no interest in war of any sort, and are most certainly not the beneficiaries of it (even though they are the ones who are always expected to take up arms on behalf of the handful who start the wars, but that is a whole other topic for many other blogs).
You will notice, however, that instead of putting up a flag specifically in support of France at the top of this blog, or on my Facebook display, I instead put up a general symbol for peace. Why? Because the innocent victims in the French firestorm the other day were the latest innocent victims in a “war on terror” begun by Western imperialist policies, and these victims are by no means limited to citizens of Western nations.

Countless innocent people just like the French victims have died in Middle Eastern nations when Western-controlled drone planes dropped cluster bombs in their vicinity, or were caught in the crossfire by Western soldiers ordered to shoot and kill national insurgents opposing what they consider an unwarranted foreign occupation who were unjustly lumped in with real terrorists by the Western governments and their corporate-controlled media. Or killed in the crossfire of weapons by true Middle Eastern terrorists–fanatics who target innocents–who are often using weapons purchased by American and other Western munitions companies which are profiting from this perpetual war, no matter which “side” is winning; these companies are more than happy to supply all  sides of a conflict if it makes a buck for their stockholders and executives.

That’s nothing personal against anyone, of course. It’s just business as usual in a global capitalist system that puts profit above any ideology (or where making the most profit at almost any conceivable cost is  the main ideology, and the only point of just about any type of endeavor).

Now before I go on a tangent about this (and damn am I tempted, as usual!) I’m going to stop there and get back to this main point: I do not  consider Western victims of terrorist attacks as the only  victims worth mourning over. I mourn the loss of their priceless lives, and share the sorrow of their families and friends. But I likewise show sorrow and mourning for the innocent people of every nation in the world who are suffering from this never-ending “war on terror.” Further, I oppose the policies of any  government on the planet which results in the creation of terrorist organizations or authorized military (or mercenary) task forces that routinely target or kill any innocent people; and this regardless of what territory they live under, what flags they see floating above their heads, what religion they practice, what color their skin or their ethnic background happens to be, etc.

And this is whether they are deliberately targeted for death just to make a political “message,” or dismissed as “collateral damage” who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or either Western soldiers ordered to occupy another nation or nationalists opposing the foreign occupation of their nation. All of these victims, no matter their country of origin, are equally worthy of mourning, and equally deserving of a peaceful environment of security in which to live and enjoy the short but wondrously rich lives that nature allows us.

I don’t want to see another innocent person in France, or the United States, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Syria, or Israel–or anywhere else in the world–have to suffer needlessly due to the greedy and short-sighted few, whether that handful is comprised of executives in a board room looking out for the “bottom line,” or politicians in a war room planning the acquisition of new territory, or extremely brutal and misguided armed gangs looking for revenge… with none who comprise these three groups caring who may get caught in the crossfire.

Let’s also take the time to remember that a desire for revenge is at the heart of any sort of terrorism, as is the de-valuation of any general group of people. Let’s not call for revenge but for justice, and call for the wisdom to know the difference between the two. If we don’t, more innocents will invariably pay the price for our hubris.

Hence, the symbol I chose for this blog and my Facebook display, to show my unity, sympathy, and support for all innocent people who suffer from terrorist attacks, and to avoid giving the implication that I reserve that support for Western victims only.

I Just Finished Reading Michael Crichton’s CONGO… and Compared to the Movie Version, It’s Nothing to Go Ape Over

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Let me admit this right off the bat, despite how much it goes against consensus opinion on the matter: Paramount Pictures’ 1995 big screen adaptation of the late, great Michael Crichton’s novel Congo  is one of my favorite horror/adventure films of that decade. To those who have read even a moderate amount of consensus reviews on the quality of this movie, let me assure you that you did indeed read that correctly. Nearly every single review of the film I’ve read over the years, who are often quick to compare it to Crichton’s 1980 novel–and who range from the most famous film reviewer to the lowliest ad hominem-hurling Internet commentator–is generally this: “The movie totally sucked. You really need to read Crichton’s novel, which was brilliant. The movie version really left a shit stain on Crichton’s great work.”

 

What finally inspired me to compose this blog was my state of mind after finally getting the chance to read Crichton’s novel, completed just the other day. I was hoping that my greatly contrary opinion to consensus thought about the quality of the movie wouldn’t extend to that same opinion regarding the oft-stated “brilliance” of its literary inspiration. It wasn’t to be the first time one of my hopes were cruelly dashed, but it was the one relevant to this blog. So if you bother to stick around after this sentence, you are about to read my pontifications as to how the book compares to the movie, and I why I greatly disagree with the frequently heard commentary from those who have critiqued and compared both.

 

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This mo’ fo’ will do a lot worse than hurl feces at you.

 

 

 

I. Conventional Wisdom is Not Always Wise

Contrary to what those who read my non-fiction scribing and do not know me well personally may assume, I’m not one of those people who knee-jerkedly goes against anything considered to be conventional wisdom merely for the sake of “being different” or “looking for negative attention.” There are, in fact, many aspects of conventional wisdom I do fully agree with, including within the realm of literary and film criticism. I have strong agreements with many consensus opinions (e.g., I think Citizen Kane  is an absolutely brilliant film); and more than my share of disagreements with the vast majority on certain commonly held opinions (e.g., though I concede The Godfather III  most certainly did not match the grandeur of the first two films in the trilogy, I do not  agree that it thoroughly sucked an unmentionable anatomical extension). I’m simply notorious for being vocal about aspects of conventional wisdom that I may disagree with based upon a combination of personal experience and research, no matter how dear to the heart of mainstream thought such beliefs, opinions, or interpretations may be. Just ask anyone who has ever heard me dare to criticize anything about Alan Moore’s attitude and decisions regarding his infamous falling out with DC Comics, or publicly mention that the movie version of The Princess Bride  is not  on my list of cherished cinematic memories (I know what you’re thinking about that last one: “inconceivable!”).

 

Which brings us to my opinion on how CONGO the novel compares to Congo  the film (yes, I’m now going to start distinguishing books from films and video games by scribing the former in all caps and the latter two in italics; I just think it looks better that way!).

 

I insincerely apologize to the vast majority of critics about this, but I most certainly do not think the movie version sucked ass. Was it a blockbuster epic along the lines of Aliens? No, it wasn’t, and no one deciding to watch the film should expect such a thing going in. But it was a slick, relatively well-aced adventure flick with good casting choices, a decent if not stellar script courtesy of John Patrick Shanley, and some impressive physical effects despite a limited budget during the last years before CGI almost completely took over. The species of vicious, gray-furred gorilla which menaced the human expedition to the remote rain forests of Zaire (that’s what they call the Congo now, people!) were genuinely fearsome-looking and deadly… much more so than the versions that appeared in the book, in fact. But I’m getting just a bit ahead of things here.

 

The cast was genuinely likeable, even if over half of the expedition members were comprised of porters native to Africa who weren’t played by well-known thespians, and were simply there as fang fodder for the gorillas to rip apart. And these simian horrors didn’t skimp on any of that in the movie version! These killer gorillas, said to be the product of an ancient form of eugenics developed by the lost populace of Zinj who bred and trained them to aggressively guard their precious diamond mines, kept up a sizable breeding population up to the present and continued their predatory security purposes long after the human civilization that spawned them vanished from the historical records. That spelled really bad news for the corporation which hired the various individuals comprising the expedition to search for the legendary but unsubstantiated old city and its reported store of diamonds. It’s a terrible shame that the company’s intel on the fauna bred by the people of Zinji wasn’t as good as that which they acquired for the lost civilization’s mineral resources. But if it was, the crew would have gone far better prepared, resulting in no loss of human life and a huge loss of entertainment value for the viewers.

 

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You gotta “hand” it to that laser weapon’s efficiency! Bwah-hah-hah!

 

This strange species of aggressive gorilla resembled the two known and gentle conventional species, but had gray fur, somewhat sleeker (and thus faster) bodies, and were much more evil-looking. You wouldn’t want to confront one of these things in an alley, whether dark or fully lit, anywhere in the world. Having to deal with a horde of such killer simians in a very dangerous and remote area of Africa that these apes knew much better than any human was a true nightmare to experience. I think it’s a complete shame that we never saw more of these creatures in either additional movies or other in other mediums, thanks to the film’s lackluster performance at the box office. So I won’t hold out much hope for seeing Dark Horse Comics acquire the license from whoever now owns the copyright to produce a group of Congo  mini-series, including one titled PREDATOR VS. THE APES OF ZINJ IN THE CONGO or something like that. And what a way cool crossover that would have been!

 

 

II. Okay, Why Do I Think the Movie Didn’t Suck?

Shanley’s screenplay was faithful to the main story that Crichton took far too long to tell in the book. To paraphrase an apropos expression that someone living on a farm must have invented, Shanley cut most of the wheat from Crichton’s chaff and took one of the slowest stories I ever read and turned it into a reasonably fast-paced movie without losing anything important. The end result focused largely on the main details of the expedition’s trek into the lost city of Zinj and directly into a brutal life and death struggle with the Zinj Apes (did I just coin that term? We gotta call them something, right? And isn’t this easier to type than “Those Killer Gorillas From Congo “?).  Almost all extraneous details not integral to that particular plot, or even having direct bearing on it, were excised. And there were veritable heaps of this extraneous and semi-extraneous material in the novel. This very necessary excision amounted to cutting literally 70% of the text in the book… trust me, I actually checked the counter on my Kindle tablet at the point in the novel where the expedition finally reached the area where they had to deal with the apes.

The gore and onscreen mayhem inflicted upon human victims were surprisingly intense for a PG-13 rated movie, and what survived the cutting room floor for the theatrical version really pushed the limits for that rating. We see the Zinj Apes’ penchant for literally tearing off the heads of human victims and then contemptuously tossing them at the surviving humans in quite graphic detail. This, btw, was in contrast to how the apes preferred to kill people in the book: they smashed their heads on each side with stone paddles specially sculpted by the ancient citizens of Zinj to be used by their ape sentries for that purpose. Yes, you just read that correctly; evidently, Crichton thought the considerable strength of the apes’ bare hands wasn’t sufficient to do the job. I’m thankful that Shanely’s script rectified that matter.

Travicom’s experimental laser beam, powered by the blue diamonds of a certain size that were found in Zinj’s precious mines, was utilized by the maverick Travicom’s computer expert Dr. Karen Ross to literally slice through the ranks of the killer apes like a hot knife through wads of butter. And it was seriously sweet to behold! Those scenes hardly skimped on the retaliatory onscreen slaughter wreaked upon Zinj’s simian sentries.

The blue color of those diamonds actually signified a form of impurity that made these gems all but worthless in a financial sense, but extremely valuable in a sheer practical manner as a power source for certain advanced electronics. In turns out natural diamonds can serve as powerful semiconductors (remember learning about those things in high school physics class?) if they are put through a synthetic process called boron-doping, said impurities leaving the normally clear sparkling gems with an azure hue. The diamonds in the Zinj mines, however, are subjected to some volcanic process that leaves the lot of them naturally boron-doped, and thus invaluable semiconductors for all manner of technology. In the book, the device intended for this power source was a computer system designed to process command protocols and bolster communication speeds for human-created missile-firing armaments; they served mainly as an opportunity for Crichton to show off his extensive knowledge of late 20th century advanced computer and munitions technology. In the movie, the blue gems were used to power the large sophisticated laser which provided the human expedition members with opportunities to give as good as they got against the apes.

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Karen Ross kicks some serious hairy ass with the way cool weapon that Crichton didn’t include in the book version.

Perhaps I should also mention that the company whose Evil Capitalist CEO, R.B. Travis (Joe Don Baker), employed Dr. Karen Ross and funded the American expedition to seek out the diamonds was called Earth Resource Technology Services Inc. (ERTS) in the book, but changed to the previously noted Travicom for the film. I’m not sure what the reason for the change was, but let’s face it, the latter title sounds much more satisfactory for the arrogance of a wealthy shark in human clothing like R. B. Travis. Even Tony Stark couldn’t resist naming most of his own businesses after himself!

Take a guess which of the two diamond-powered devices I found to be more interesting and exciting. This was another change in Shanely’s screenplay from Crichton’s book that was a great improvement IMHO. The sophisticated automated, laser-guided ground-mounted machine guns used by the humans to guard the perimeter of their camp from the apes appeared in both the book and movie versions, and the book actually used them to somewhat more of an effect. However, the addition of the diamond-charged laser rifle more than made up for that. Crichton’s book described a more elaborate perimeter defense system, which included small but effective moats of water dug by the expedition members to exploit the fear of water that all great apes have. I don’t recall this shown in the film, but the moats were hardly missed due to the movie’s far faster pace than the book.

Dr. Karen Ross was perhaps the main character in both the book and the movie, but in the film (where she was played rather well by a young Laura Linney) this tough-as-nails dame was given more humanity. The book version, while not truly malicious, was more or less totally self-centered, focused on finding the diamonds and making a name for herself in the company at all costs. The movie version was equally driven and determined, but she was greatly humanized by having screenwriter Shanely provide her with a fiancee that her literary counterpart lacked: Charles Travis (the inimitable Bruce Campbell of The Evil Dead  fame!), the doomed son of R. B. Travis, who was pulverized by the Zinj Apes during the first expedition sent by the company to find the diamonds. The cinematic Ross had a clear conscience that caused her to turn on Travis when she discovered the mutilated and largely decayed body of her fiancee in one of the lost city’s stone temples, and realized that her employer and almost-father-in-law cared nothing for his murdered son and everything  for the diamonds and bottom line. In other words, he was a good CEO at the expense of being a bad person, very much in the mold of the Evil Capitalists Obadiah Stane and Darren Cross, whose film versions we saw in Marvel Studios’ Iron Man  and Ant-Man  respectively. The cinematic Ross was ultimately glad to sacrifice her career to make R. B. (“rat bastard”?) pay for his callous attitude towards everyone he ever met, including his son and her fiancee. That was nothing Ross’s page-bound counterpart would have done. The viewers of this movie left the theater with much more respect for that version of Dr. Ross than the readers of the book did for the literary version, I’d wager.

Taking the place of the self-centered, avaricious, and deceptive literary version of Karen Ross in the film was the added character of the bogus Romanian philanthropist Herkermer Homolka (try to say that five times fast; he was played by Tim Curry). Perhaps more accurately, Homolka actually acted as the human repository for the base characteristics of Ross’ literary version, rather than a replacement for the character herself. The movie iteration of Ross was similar enough to the book version to be considered the same character, but one might say she was a different variation  of the same character, with the possibility that the iteration native to the movie reality had her dark side tempered by having a positive love interest in Charlie Travis. The book version seemed to love nothing beyond her career prospects, and the mission that she hoped would bolster her status within it was always her primary concern. Nothing wrong with a dedicated career woman, of course, but one who loves nothing but herself may leave a bit to be desired as a person. Of course, we all knew that from the moment Homolka was revealed as a fake who was simply after the diamonds that he would be gorilla fodder before the closing credits rolled (does anyone seriously consider this to be a spoiler?).

 

Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), the scrupulous but in-over-his-head primatologist, and the sign language fluent young female gorilla Amy (Misty Rosas; I once had a best friend named Amy! And no, she wasn’t an ape!), whom he raised infancy and was in charge of, came into the movie with their literary personas mostly intact. The movie made the improvement of including a device worn by Amy that included a computerized audio device enabling a crude verbal translation of her signs so that individuals not fluent in American Sign Language could understand her. This was a good replacement for the very frequent and tedious signs between Elliot and Amy that occurred in the book, with only the primatologist being privy to what she had to say.

The best character improvement was the book’s Scottish mercenary Charles Munro being modified into the British African-American tour guide Munro Kelly (Ernie Hudson). The book version was an interesting character with heavy knowledge of the continent and the unsavory business that went on within its borders, but Hudson made his version of Munro a true  character. The tough but witty and agreeable mercenary from the book was given a suave, affable, and quite charming personality courtesy of Hudson’s great acting talent. I’ve always believed that Hudson may be rivaled only Michael Ironside (and possibly Lance Henrikson) as one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. The range of characters he plays well is impressively varied, and he was clearly having fun in this movie. The end result was therefore much more of a treat to behold than the written version of Munro in Crichton’s book.

Also included from the book was Mahega (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – try typing that  name five times in a row!), leader of the expedition’s team of African porters. The book version was actually a bit more interesting than his movie counterpart, simply because the latter had a “jolly,” good-spirited nature that intermittently offered relief from the grim situation the expedition crew found themselves in. The movie version had much less to say and do, thus making his character, though important to the expedition, largely come off as “just there.” Still, since neither version of the character had any major bearing on the main plot, so I was able to overlook this personality modification.

III. Why I Think the Book Doesn’t Live Up to the Hype

For one thing, I should note that Crichton, despite being rightfully renowned as a great novelist with a lot of talent, frequently breaks what writing instructors frequently tell their classes to be one of the cardinal rules of writing: show, don’t tell. He never hesitates to include long paragraphs of explanatory prose to describe every bit of scientific information and/or historical background behind anything of even moderate relevance that his cast of characters come across. This includes a long historical perspective of Zaire, and the chaotic political situation going on there since time immemorial throughout the 1970s decade; the scientific process of boron-doping; the history and technical workings of computer, munitions, and satellite technology, and precisely how such tech was all interwoven by 1980; the history of American Sign Language (ASL) being taught to simians and the details of various famous great apes who used it; the fully scientific skinny on the rain forest; the nature of mountain gorillas and the full range of their intelligence in captivity; the historical background of prevalent cannibalism practiced amongst so many African tribes right into the 20th century; the history and status of the various human tribes living there; the nature of vulcanism, complete with an overview of many of the world’s most active volcanoes; etc., et al.

He is also fond of using this info to make largely incorrect future predictions. Then again, he didn’t suggest there would be a skyline full of flying cars, numerous kids enjoying the use of hovering skateboards, and giant holograms on movie-advertising billboards engaging in simulated attacks on people who walked past the theater by 2015, so I’ll give him a break on that.

Large swaths of the above were not presented to the reader via the dialogue and actions of the characters, but through countless paragraphs of textbook style documentation. Don’t get me wrong, I consider few rules presented by writing instructors to be the equivalent of holy writ, and to be much more than a combination of the instructor’s personal tastes or popular convention amongst the writing community at any given time (for example, look at how many college and graduate school instructors frequently pontificate about how they loathe genre writing and consider it the nadir of the literary realm). Every reader’s preferences differ outside of a basic united desire to see coherent grammar, spelling, and formatting. For those who, like myself, enjoy absorbing knowledge off the page like Superman’s arch-enemy Parasite sponges the life energy from others, you may find Crichton’s work–including this novel–an excellent source of info. I was highlighting passages of such dry information-laden text left and right for this reason.

Amy the Gorilla01

Behold the glorious days before Andy Serkis came along.

But for those who prefer storytelling over big helpings of raw information, they would likely find Crichton’s writing style to be ponderous, not to mention an unwelcome diversion from the main plot and characters of the story. This is a problem you will not have with the movie. I suspect that this is why so many critics and reviewers applaud Crichton’s novel as being brilliant in comparison to the movie. The thing is, it can well be argued that his genuine brilliance may be better served writing textbooks than prose fiction, or at least leaving the heavy helpings of scientific and historical information out of a tome devoted to telling a fictional narrative rather than simply providing paragraphs of facts. This happens so often that the novel often reads like an educational book for grad school students rather than grammar school kids.

The pacing of the book is also incredibly slow. I made no exaggeration when I said that you don’t even get to see the expedition encounter the Zinj Apes and volcanic bedlam until 70% of the way into the book. We barely see the killer gorillas prior to that, save for an early prologue sequence at the beginning of the book where their handiwork is shown inflicted upon the first expedition, and a brief image of one of the apes is caught on one of their cameras. Dr. Elliot also takes long stretches of time to  analyze and theorize on what type of animal is shown in that hazy image.

The day-to-day travails of an inexperienced group trekking through the unforgiving rain forests of Africa take up a huge bulk of the story, but it never really becomes interesting enough to build a compelling narrative. No real tragedy occurs amongst the expedition during this time, and their encounter with the Ghost People tribe is pretty much a diversion to get them to encounter the traumatized and soon to die sole survivor of the first expedition so they can learn something horrible happened. The only hint as to what that horrible thing may have been was the man’s horrified bellow upon seeing Amy the ape just before he collapsed dead. And that’s another thing: a further huge portion of the book is taken up with Elliot’s cute relationship with Amy. Charming interactions to be sure, but hardly necessary in their entirety. This relationship between man and ape was made pretty clear in the movie without it taking up huge portions of the allotted time.

Then there were the many changes in the cast of characters I noted in the previous section. With the exception of Mahega, all of the character alterations in the movie improved over the versions seen in the book. Some of the humor in the film was strained and forced, but it was usually quite welcome, particularly those moments provided by Hudson. The subplot of the consortium composed of foreign corporate agents mounting a rival expedition to Zinj, and the Phileas Fogg-ish race between the two to be the first party to reach the ancient city, was left out of the movie. No great loss there, since despite the suspense it may have added to the book, it was hardly necessary to the plot and simply served to pad the book further. If anything, it took up further space in the book simply to keep the page count up.

Amy the Gorilla02

Nothing “great” about this ape.

[in sign language]: “You fuck off you, Nigro. Amy know you can’t sing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in sign like Amy. Amy good gorilla.”

Let me also make it clear that the enormous length of novels prior to the previous decade was often insisted upon by publishing houses of the era, since a bloated page count allowed them to justify charging more for the books and the establishment of monopoly price control. As a writer who worked during the era prior to the new possibilities offered by digital publishing, Crichton may well have inured himself to filling a book with 600 pages as an editorial demand. It’s just how it was done back then. The self-publishing revolution which began in the previous decade has alleviated that requirement, but in those days there was little way around it if you were serious about being published, at least by a major label. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make the reading experience any less exhausting or tedious.

More action was featured in the book regarding a short span of pages following the expedition’s departure from Zinj (leaving the vicious gray gorillas behind for good) where the surviving members had to contend with repelling a savage attack from a group of deadly primitive tribesmen from the  remains of their airplane (those bastards even shit on the seats of the plane, I kid you not!). Moderate suspense was to be had here, but considering how much more exciting the confrontations with the gorillas were in the movie than the book, the removal of this sequence in the film version was no biggie. In fact, the earlier scene of the expedition members dodging hostile government missile fire while traveling over Zaire airspace was even more exciting in the movie version, with Dr. Ross finding a most clever way of diverting the government’s heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. The very suspenseful volcano erupting sequence from the book was retained in the movie, with the latter going much further with showing cool scenes of the killer gorillas getting filleted by the raging rivers of red hot liquid rock.

I have since found a few others voices of agreement with me in regards to the quality of the movie, despite the legions of naysayers out there. This includes both my friend and colleague Derrick Ferguson, who describes the film version of Congo  as a cool modern pulp adventure on the Blood & Ink blog here; and the detailed analysis of the movie provided by PhilipJames1980 for the IMBd entry on this movie (just scroll down the page to the top of the ‘User Reviews’ section). I was also recently informed by a valued member of one of my writing groups that Amazon has several reviewers who likewise enjoyed the movie and were not so keen on the book. Even though the absence of these other praises wouldn’t have affected my opinion, it’s always a bit refreshing to find out that you aren’t the proverbial lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to a certain strong minority view. Conventional wisdom isn’t always wrong, but it’s certainly important to question it on matters where we happen to feel that it is. As such, I fully recommend that everyone who enjoys good, fun pulp-style adventure to give the movie a chance, and to only take the time required to read the book if you happen to be enamored of Crichton’s specific style of writing. To each their own, bro.

Ceasar01

“Okay, I may be from that other  movie about apes who war against humans, but since I’m sure lots of humans can’t tell the difference between a chimp and a gorilla anyway, who cares, right?”

How Important is “Mature” Content for Super-Hero Fiction & How is It Defined?

Batman confronts Sewer King

“Calm down, evil-doer… it’s not like you’ll bleed if I punch you in the nose! The network used up its blood quota in the first episode aired this season.”

This post is inspired, like others before it, by a conversation I recently had with a group of fellow authors in one of the many online groups I’m honored to be a part of. The topic in question focused on whether or not we agreed with the points made by the author of this article. That led into further discussions on what constitutes “mature” content in a movie/TV show/video game (etc., et al.), and whether or not such material (however defined) is required for super-hero fare to be considered good or relevant. My contributions to this conversation were less-than-well-received, which inspired this blog, as I wanted to discuss this topic in a bit more detail, including to better extrapolate my thoughts on this subject. There is also the simple matter of me being me, in that I never back away from an opinion I firmly believe in after a lot of thought simply because it’s outside the consensus.

Nevertheless, I do want to make it clear that I greatly respect the contrary opinions of my fellow authors, I’m often greatly inspired by much of what they write and say, and I do tend to understand why they think in opposition to me regarding some of my more controversial opinions. I’ll endeavor to make all of this clear in what follows.

I. The Double-Edged Sword of Maturity

Before the super-hero sub-genre of sci-fi went mainstream in the 1990s–and achieved its renaissance in mainstream pop cultural sensibilities thanks to great cinematic achievements beginning with the release of Blade  circa 1998 to the present (the successful release of Ant-Man occurring just the previous weekend at this writing)–comic book fans in general were truly a niche audience. Comic geeks were among the least respected amongst the crowd, as the general public had little to no knowledge of the content of comic books. They seemed to presume (much as they still do with animated fare in America) that the comic book format constitutes a genre  rather than a medium,  and were intended only  for children. And very young  children, at that. It was common for ten-year-old comic book fans to be considered “too old” for comics, and to be derided by peers and the oh-so-wise adults alike for reading “kiddie books.” Just ask my life-long friend John, who was amongst many for giving me more than a few sniggers for still being a comic book fan past my eighth birthday (until I successfully convinced him to read Watchmen, but that’s another story!).

This attitude was part of a type of pressure younger people were subjected to by peers back then which insisted that when you “grow up,” it’s necessary to put aside many of the things you cherished in childhood. It was simply considered silly and “childish” to continue to enjoy certain things past a specific birthday. So, for instance, if you were a fan of any material that was widely accepted as being geared towards children, by the time you’re nine-to-ten years old, you were criticized with much vitriol if you maintained interest in said subjects or characters, even if only to a purely aesthetic degree (e.g., you still liked wearing shirts adorned with images of Mickey Mouse). The idea that concepts like the Looney Toons cartoon characters, anything produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, etc., might have appeal on myriad levels beyond being simple juvenile trash was anathema to this bullying mindset that you had to give all of this up to be considered properly mature (or maturing,  at least).

And of course, adults could be just as harsh on kids for not “growing up” sufficiently to give up so much of what we loved and resonated with as young children. Such was the case even as they then turned around and gleefully reminded us that we were “just kids” if we wanted to exercise anything akin to civil rights. Yanno, those freedoms that only legal adults are allowed to enjoy regardless of individual levels of competency or the number of mistakes we vaunted grown-ups routinely make. Yup, my status as a youth liberationist since I was 13 will factor into this, so even though I expect the great majority of my fellow authors not to agree with me on this, please bear with me here; hey, if I’m allowed no civil rights at age 14, then at least allow me to still enjoy watching Looney Toon cartoons, dammit! 😛

Bugs Bunny01

“Network warning: If you’re over nine years of age, and your friends or parents catch you watching this program, you will be ridiculed. Viewer discretion is therefore advised.”

This once commonplace attitude was addressed thusly by the legendary sci-fi author C. S. Lewis: “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” I’m sure I’m far from the only person who is thankful that Mr. Lewis didn’t give up his “childish” creativity and interests! I think these words of wisdom from a great visionary author should speak volumes to everyone who has such stringent definitions of “maturity.” Many “childish things” continue to inspire the creative imagination long past our legally extended childhood, and we would be much the poorer for just arbitrarily “giving them up” as the equivalent of mental garbage as soon as we become X years of age.

I personally think it can be cogently argued that “maturity” may be a mixed bag, with both positive and negative points, depending upon which traits in the popular definition of the term one may choose to adopt. Or perhaps depending upon the circumstances at hand in any given situation. I think giving up idealism, creative imagination & ponderings, a love of fun & adventure, and a sense of wonder with the phenomena of the universe are negative aspects of our society’s commonly defined version of “maturity” that fails to benefit us, either as individuals or as an overall culture, and is directly responsible for much of the less than joyous aspects of our present world order. I think there is good reason why so many in our culture poke fun at fictional characters like Ward Cleaver and Mike Brady. We would all have loved to have had them as fathers when we were children, but few of us actually wanted to grow up to be  them! They were depicted as idealized (male) adults: good-hearted, hard-working men who were fountains of wisdom and benevolent authority figures whom their kids could do nothing but respect. However, in many ways they are no more realistic than the idealized children, tweens, and teens that are still commonly depicted in popular Disney series and movies. But at least the latter still have a strong sense of having fun  that appeals to so many real younger viewers, as well as adults like myself who do not consider “fun” as something that largely revolves around sitting around the house while consuming alcohol, smoking pot, and complaining to each other about financial & marital problems (and complaining about how our kids want to do the same things). I also believe the above attitudes are directly responsible for the reasons, commonly attributed to adolescents, for assuming that “maturity” can be defined by waves of gratuitous nudity, sex, gory violence, profanity, and heavy grim & gritty themes.

II. So Are Super-Heroes Primarily for Kids?

As I have argued in a previous blog, I take great umbrage with statements like this one spoken by the author of the above linked article: “Superheroes work best as all ages entertainment because the roots of the genre are in the children’s daydreams: to be able to fly like Superman, to wield a lasso like Wonder Woman, to run like the Flash, or to leap from building to building like Spider-Man. A good all-ages superhero story works to satisfy the core desire that these emblematic heroes embody, while also providing a narrative hook that allows adult readers to enter into the innocence of a fantasy world.”

Here’s the thing: I think it’s very clear that super-heroes truly embody adult power fantasies, along with an assortment of archetypes related to what the entirety of any given society may consider its version of the heroic ideal. These are hardly the sole province of “kiddie” dreams. Conceptions of beings with exceptional intelligence and/or superhuman power fighting whatever aspects of society that the prevailing culture may have considered “the enemy” go back to the roots of classical deities and heroes from world mythology and folklore (not to mention popular organized religious texts). These tales of old were hardly intended to provide lessons, ideas, and fulfillment fantasies to children alone. Jesus Christ is worshiped seriously by many as a Great Martyr archetype, yet definitively fictitious characters who also represent this archetype–such as the character of Adam Warlock from Marvel Comics–are dismissed as “kiddie” fare and mental junk food simply because of the medium in which they appeared.

Note how until just very recently, schools have diligently taught the value of stories and figures from mythology, theology, and folklore while ignoring their modern manifestations in comic books. Let’s not forget that comic book heroes have always included versions of classic mythological heroes (and villains) such as Thor and Hercules, as well as heroes like Wonder Woman, whose backstory is steeped in classical Greek mythology (her mother is Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons), and major villains like Morgan Le Fey (having important versions in both Marvel and DC comics), who just happens to be a major figure from the Arthurian legends. Let’s further remember how heroes like Captain Britain have a mythos that is integrally interwoven with those same Arthurian legends. The same with DC’s classic horror hero Etrigan the Demon, who is likewise tied to the legends of Camelot and other aspects of Celtic mythology.

It’s also important to realize that in the modern world, where adults rule completely with little interest in any feedback from younger people–who are mostly regarded as incompetents who need to be interchangeably ignored and “protected”–it’s adults who wield all the power, both for good and for ill. The type of corporate villainy that Lex Luthor personifies–not to mention villains like Obadiah Stane and Darren Cross, who were the Big Bads of the recent Iron Man  and Ant-Man  movies, respectively–is represented in reality by adult CEO’s, not children. The type of crusader for the common person embodied in larger-than-life fashion by the limited numbers of scrupulous lawyers like Matt Murdock (a.k.a., Daredevil)–who recently had an extremely popular live action series premiere on Netflix–occupy offices filled by adults, not children.

There is good reason why adults began gradually embracing super-heroes in an increasingly open fashion as time went on. This first occurred with the type of more sophisticated takes on the genre introduced by the then upstart Marvel Comics from the early 1960s onwards, embraced during that decade by younger adults on college campuses. Later, they became popular with even older adults in all areas of the mainstream beginning in the 1980s thanks to the success of works such as Frank Miller’s “Born Again” story arc in Marvel’s Daredevil  comic; Alan Moore’s ground-breaking work on the U.K. series revamp of Marvelman  (re-titled Miracleman  for its U.S. run), as well as his work on Saga of the Swamp Thing (which later became Swamp Thing Vol. 2) and Watchmen  for DC Comics; Miller’s subsequent work for a certain costumed DC vigilante with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and the “Batman: Year One” story arc for the regular Batman  title; Neil Gaiman’s title The Sandman,  which spear-headed DC’s “mature” line of titles under their still extant Vertigo line; and the amazingly well-written and sophisticated runs on mainstream Marvel titles like Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men and its first spin-off title, New Mutants, to John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight, to Marvel’s introduction of Epic Illustrated–its version of Heavy Metal, as the beginning of its more “adult” creator-owned Epic line of comics; and great runs on mainstream DC titles like Marv Wolfman’s & George Perez’s New Teen Titans  and John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad.

ice cream eater

“Gee, I wonder if I’m now too old to still enjoy Tooty Fruity flavored ice cream! I hope not, or my friend John will start making fun of me!”

By the time the 1990s rolled around, comic books and super-heroes in particular were good to go for the mainstream, and comic geeks were no longer the vilified group they once were. The latter part of the 1990s began the modern era of highly successful super-hero movies, TV series, and video games that have enjoyed great mainstream success in both all-ages projects and strictly “adult” fare like Unstoppable, the Watchmen  movie, and Kick-Ass.

But most non-comic book fans do not realize that adult appreciation for fantastic fiction didn’t start there. The ancestors of super-heroes are the noir-ish and often fantastical pulp heroes from the 1920s and ’30s that preceded the emergence of the modern super-hero as we know with it with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics Vol. 1 #1 circa 1938. The great pulp heroes continued to proliferate in prose magazines, made of cheap pulp wood (which is how the genre got its name) until the early ’50s (pulp heroes have undergone a major resurgence in popularity over the past two decades, both in the prose and comic book mediums, with yours truly having prose work published in this genre). Early American pulp heroes included the likes of the Shadow, the Spider, Doc Savage, G-8, the Green Hornet, and the Phantom Detective. These incredible heroes–who often wore masks and capes–directly inspired Superman, Batman, and the multitude of super-heroes that followed them in the comic book format. In fact, the pulp heroes were often translated into comic book versions that, until more recently, lacked the lurid, dark, and “mature” sensibilities of the pulp magazine format. The pulp magazines were largely geared towards adults, even though, of course, children and teens also read them.

 Punisher and Deadpool

Disney executive to staff:

“C’mon, guys, I see no reason why we can’t produce The Punisher/Deadpool Super Fun Adventure Hour with a TV-Y7 rating!

“We can still show them with guns, we just can’t let them actually hit someone with a bullet, or kill anyone, or have anyone bleed if they get punched in the face.

“And their knives and swords can only be used for cutting wire and rope and stuff like that. We have a cool scene written where the Punisher uses his projectile blade to cut the rope holding a chandelier over the heads of these criminals, which then falls on them and knocks them silly. It’s fucking hilarious!

“Oh, and speaking of which, we can’t have any swearing on the show, but isn’t ‘heck’ a harsh enough word to have these guys and the mobsters use? I never took Jigsaw as the type of guy to cuss anyway. I didn’t think the live action version of him in the movie was very realistic; since when do homicidal mobsters use such language?

“And he’s just as horrifying when he merely threatens someone in a vague fashion rather than actually killing them. Wait until you watch the scene in the first episode when he intimidates this stock broker who cheated him by saying he’ll ‘chop up his numbers.’ Bwah-hah-hah!

“And you ask how we’re going to show Deadpool’s regenerative healing power when he won’t ever get hurt worse than getting hit on the head by a falling log? Well, the network said we can  have him joke about how his healing power made the lump on his head go away real fast. See, it’s totally doable!”

This restriction on comic book format content compared to prose occurred because attitudes of the time felt that comic books should  be geared largely towards younger audiences due to their resemblance to another important ancestor to the format: comic strips that appeared in nationally syndicated newspapers. The wane of the super-hero genre following the end of World War II caused their books to be replaced by the rise of the very lurid and dark true crime and horror genres. Their domination of the medium during the late 1940s and early ’50s largely resulted in widespread social panic that led to Congressional hearings in the early 1950s, which in turn led to the establishment of the major comics companies’ self-censorship board known as the Comics Code Authority (CCA). This fascistic document effectively neutered and sanitized the comic book format until it began to be notably challenged by Marvel, DC, and the underground comics movement in the 1970s. This heavy sanitation of the medium courtesy of the CCA was largely responsible for the great limits to what types of themes and subjects could be explored in comics. This didn’t stop good and fun stories from being told, of course, and I do not want to imply that the lurid material often found in the true crime and horror stories, or even in many tales told in the prose format, were necessary to tell a good super-hero story. Marvel proved this when its modern version came on the scene in the early ’60s and provided confirmation that the medium can produce quality tales which can appeal to children, adolescents, and adults (which we today refer to as all-ages  material).

III. What Did Marvel Accomplish?

Here I reiterate my main point: There were still many themes you could not broach in these early Marvel comics due to a combination of the still omnipotent CCA and general attitudes of the time in the wider world of pop culture. I’ll get to that, but first let me give all due credit to the amazing all-ages material produced by Marvel with the advent of Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #1 circa 1961, and exactly how it was such a game-changer for the medium. This is also to make it clear that I’m far from against quality all-ages material, and I read and watch it with aplomb.

Marvel basically revolutionized sophisticated storytelling in the comic book medium by creating more complex characters that readers could readily identify with as human beings. No longer were invariably heroes one-dimensional characters who were depicted as unflinching paragons of wisdom, heroism, and Ward Cleaver-style maturity. They had foibles and character flaws that all good people have, they made mistakes, and they even sometimes got married. As for the super-villains, a lot more “gray” was introduced into the moral codes depicted in those pages. We had some heroes who started as villains, and later reformed (note Hawkeye, Black Widow, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, and Marvel’s version of Captain Marvel); anti-heroes (note the Hulk and Eclipso… sort of); bizarre and flatly unattractive heroes who represented the “ugly ducklings” of the hero mold (note the X-Men and the Doom Patrol); and even a few heroes who fell from grace. The first black super-heroes were introduced during this era–including the Black Panther and the Falcon, along with the John Stewart Green Lantern over at DC; more strong female characters were introduced (though still rather weak in character compared to many excellent female heroes we read about today); and despite the many fantasy elements that were part of the Marvel Universe, the Earth we read about in its pages resembled the one outside our window quite a bit more than any previous fictional version of our planet traditionally presented in the format.

This extended to the point that Marvel dispensed with the fictional cities so popular in DC Comics, and based most of their heroes in or near a fictionalized version of New York City (after using the fictitious California metroplex of Central City in the first two issues of The Fantastic Four  only). This, of course, opened the door for the crossover phenomenon that has just recently become hugely popular among mainstream audiences thanks to the cinematic universe established by Marvel Studios. Not only that, but the scripts become much better quality than most of those we saw in the medium prior to that (with a few notable exceptions, such as Will Eisner’s awesome decade-long tales of the masked pulp-style hero The Spirit, particularly the tales that followed World War II). Adults could appreciate and even marvel at (pun intended) the many complex philosophical ideas trotted out by the characters, and be awed by the mind-boggling cosmic themes explored in titles like Fantastic FourThe Avengers, and  Doctor Strange. If you wanted the mind-expanding aspects of taking acid without actually taking the drugs, you only had to read these titles (or watch episodes of Sid and Marty Kroftt’s children’s show H. R. Puffnstuff, which debuted near the end of the ’60s decade… provided you managed to catch it before you turned ten and your peers expected you to give it up or be laughed at!).

There was another terrific aspect of these tales that I would like to mention, as it does justice to the respect that I think younger people should be afforded. Youthful super-heroes in the tweens and teens age group, and even younger, were nothing new to comics in the ’60s. The introduction of Robin to the Batman mythos in 1940 started the super-hero sidekick craze of that era, which gave us such other classic teen sidekicks as Captain America’s young partner Bucky–who has since been re-imagined as an adult who was roughly Cap’s age in certain re-tellings of the story, including in the Marvel Cinematic version of Cap’s mythos–and Green Arrow’s famous sidekick Speedy. These teen heroes fought beside their adult mentors in the most hazardous and dangerous situations imaginable, and provided more direct figures for younger readers to identify with, and be inspired by. Robin regularly stood successfully at Batman’s side amidst a crime-ridden Gotham City and against the likes of the Joker, while Bucky accompanied Cap on the battlefields of World War II and against the likes of the Red Skull.

Robin later gained a solo series in the DC (then National) anthology Star-Spangled Comics. DC later introduced an all-teen team of soldiers with the Boy Commandos, and Marvel (then Timely) had Bucky lead a team of youthful heroes (including the Human Torch’s similarly powered sidekick Toro) called the Young Allies, each in their own titles. DC brought us the Star-Spangled Kid in Star-Spangled Comics,  who was actually a teen hero with an adult  sidekick! Many, many more followed since, but were mostly extinct save for Robin after a few decades… and even the current version of Robin (Damian Wayne) runs largely solo these days. Fawcett Comics’ uber-popular hero Captain Marvel was 12 years old when he first gained the power of Shazam, but he turned into an adult, magickally-derived version of Superman when he summoned his powers (though his two fellow members of the Marvel Family, Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel, remained super-powered adolescents). National/DC followed suit (not the lawsuit; that’s another story) with Fawcett Comics by creating Superboy in 1945, who may have been the first adolescent super-hero to (literally) fly solo without debuting under the watchful eye of an adult mentor/partner. That was because creator Jerry Siegel designed the Boy of Steel to  be a younger version of Superman rather than a separate contemporary hero to avoid appearing to rip-off Captain Marvel Jr., especially since DC was already suing Fawcett over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman (yes, the comic book world is full of ironies). Of course, this status has changed in more recent decades, when Superboy has been re-imagined as a contemporary young clone of Superman who struck out on his own.

Marvel,  however, brought us Spider-Man in 1962, who began his career as a younger adolescent without ever having an adult partner, and who called himself Spider-Man  rather than Spider-Boy.  This development had far more significance in the wider cultural & political scheme of things than most people today imagine, as it was indicative of wider changes in society at the time whose progress has since suffered a setback. The Spider-Man title depicted a young hero who, despite all of his human flaws and mistakes, nevertheless went solo against a slew of dangerous menaces that his adult counterparts regularly dealt with, and with less than a fraction of the power enjoyed by Superboy. He proved as competent as any of his adult contemporaries without their direct aid or the god-like power of the Boy of Steel (who still called himself Superboy ). Moreover, his youthful exuberance and idealism were presented as an asset to his status as a hero rather than attributes commonly dismissed as traits which adults routinely deride younger people for having.  And he became perhaps the greatest of  Marvel’s many revolutionary heroes of the ’60s.

How is this relevant to the context of what was occurring in the greater world of that era? I’m glad I asked that question for you 🙂 The 1960s was a pivotal decade in the 20th century for many reasons, among which were providing the foundations for the following: a highly thoughtful youth culture that wasn’t pre-packaged for them by adults; the creation of a new Constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, and thus granted suffrage to large numbers of people who were previously denied a voice in society; and spear-heading the establishment of the youth liberation movement which began in Ann Arbor, Michigan that made surprising progress during the 1970s until the conservative takeover of the government and popular cultural thought–beginning with the formation of the Thatcher regime in Britain and the Reagan regime in America–derailed all of that progress. That derailment has resulted in even post-’70s liberals and progressives frequently proclaiming that people under 18 need to be protected from viewing or reading “inappropriate” material.

In fact, the average person in today’s society, regardless of political affiliation, will react that way as something akin to a cultural instinct. This is because when it comes to people under a legally demarcated age of majority, conservative thinking is now considered a major facet of overall conventional wisdom that trumps mainstream progressive principles. Spider-Man01

“Oh, damn! I mean, darn ! (Was that word okay for the network?) I had no idea that after defeating Doc Ock’s latest scheme to blow up the Big Apple, and then coming up with that scientific apparatus to circumvent Dr. Doom’s mind-control device, and then rescuing a crowd of people from the Man-Wolf’s attack on that family barbecue, and then  concocting the newest serum to reverse Dr. Connors’ transformation into the Lizard before he clawed his family to bits… I would be late for my curfew, and fail to get my homework assignment for art class done in time to hand in tomorrow morning! Or that on top of it all, I’d be too tired to clean up my room in the afternoon!

“It soooo sucks being a competent, formidable solo hero while still having to live under the full control of adults in my civilian identity just ’cause of my age! I hope Aunt May doesn’t ground me, ’cause you never know when Galactus may decide to invade the Earth, or the Scorpion might try to kidnap Jameson again.

“Ah well, if I bring all of this up to Aunt May *who I think knows my secret identity this week*, she’ll only give me the lecture on what my priorities as a teen have to be, followed by the ‘as long as I live in her house’ spiel.’ *Sigh* I wonder how the Teen Titans deal with this shit (omg, did I say that would aloud? Disney is soooo gonna kill me!).”

Though the youth liberation movement is now back in action, and making modest accomplishments (including getting certain small jurisdictions to lower the voting age to 16), it’s currently largely ignored by contemporary progressives, who often refuse to support it even after discovering the platform. The lessons imparted by what the archetypal meaning of comic book heroes like Spider-Man and the Teen Titans represented alongside the real world political forces which resulted in the creation of that new Constitutional amendment, and what was started in Ann Arbor, have been successfully wiped from the cultural zeitgeist. This wipe, of course, includes any recognition of this platform from the mainstream progressive mindset. Empowerment of the young has been replaced by knee-jerk emotional sentiments to play White Knight protectors and saviors of their perceived blissful ignorance of the world. This tends to translate as a powerful desire to “protect” them from doing all the same things we did as kids behind the scenes… and didn’t  end up ruined as a result. This is not really off-topic IMO, since I think it may well be the crux of the discussion to determine what constitutes “mature” content and why. I will get to that in the next and final section of this blog.

IV. So How Does Our Culture Seem to Define the Term “Mature”?

Yes, during the 1960s decade, Marvel told many great stories that didn’t require sex (or even many allusions to sexual activity), boobs, swear words, majorly dark themes, or violence accompanied by gallons of blood and gore to be good. I fully agree with my friends and colleagues on this. I further agree with them that we got many good all-ages stories and even many dark noir-ish themes with Warner Bros.’s ground-breaking show Batman: The Animated Series that debuted circa 1992. That show went on to inspire a whole group of very good all-ages animated super-hero shows as part of what came to be called the DC Animated Universe. These interconnected series continued into the early ’00s, ending on a high note with the truly excellent Justice League Unlimited. The latter was a vast improvement over the wretchedly simplistic animated exploits of these heroes from The Super Friends  series that debuted in the 1970s. That was an era when super-heroes in animation were directly geared to children only, and sanitized to the point that they are considered a laughable joke today (just check out columnist Seanbaby’s treatment of these “kid-friendly” versions of the characters).

Since The Super Friends were all the mainstream public usually saw of these super-heroes during that era, is it really any wonder that such depictions caused them to automatically assume the material in the comics which inspired them must have been of the same quality and caliber? These shows appealed to young audiences in that era because they were used to watching material that was heavily “dumbed down” before being considered “appropriate” for them. Batman bleeding

“I sure am glad this is all the bleeding that the Fox Network will let me do this season.”

I believe the reasons so many adolescents are attributed as feeling that boobs, swear words, gory violence, heavy sexual content, and excessively dark themes are required for story content to be considered “mature” are the following:

1) Consider our society’s very definition of the words “mature” and “adult.” These are the explicit labels that our various adult-controlled ratings systems place on stories, movies, TV shows, and video games that include the above content. These are most often the very things that we insist that younger people need to be “protected” from viewing or reading, despite the pastime we and our friends all made of gaining “forbidden” access to such material in our own “misbegotten” youth. Hence, younger people naturally tend to associate such content with “maturity” in a general sense, as opposed to, say, simply sophisticated forms of storytelling that respect the intelligence of all potential viewers/readers.

2) Once we cross that legal line into adulthood, we automatically adopt the powerful, socially conditioned emotional belief that it’s now a major obligation of ours to keep successive generations of people under 18 from accessing such material. You would be rich if you were handed a nickel every time you heard a contemporary adult of progressive politics echo that sentiment. The possibility of individual and varied reactions among kids to such material are not considered, and the current progressive view leaves anyone under 18 totally exempt from our empowerment efforts. This results in heavy-handed, condescending efforts at attempting to forcibly forbid all  kids from ever seeing such material on their own volition replacing reasonable efforts at guidance and education to answer their questions in non-judgmental fashion (I’m not  saying that unilaterally exposing them to these things should be our policy!). This, in turn, encourages them to avoid coming to adults for guidance, and to attempt to keep their private lives completely inaccessible to most adults in their lives. It also instantly transforms such content into proverbial “forbidden fruit” that natural youthful curiosity encourages kids to seek out and learn about by clandestine means, sometimes as a way to rebel against adult authoritarian attempts to withhold information. Yanno, just as we did as kids. And since kids aren’t the incompetent fools that adults are encouraged to view them as (we love them more than our own lives, but we don’t tend to respect them much), they tend to find ways to circumvent our attempts to prevent them from accessing it (sorry, Netnanny!). Again, just like we  did as kids. And again, new types of “parental controls” technology are not going to cut the mustard. This is especially the case if your kids secretly know where you keep your stash of Hustler magazines hidden, and they probably do.

3) Because younger people are specifically denied any and all access to such content under any and all circumstances, it shouldn’t be surprising that by the time they reach adolescence, they associate such content with “adult” material. Younger people are repeatedly told that using foul language, sexual curiosity & exploration, the sight of blood, and certain themes or ideas are things that only adults are allowed access to. This is why, I think, that as they grow older, they are encouraged to reject all material–either good or awful–that is bereft of such content, and begin associating only content that contains such elements–again, regardless of quality–to be “adult” or “mature.” We refuse to examine our own complicity in the development of such attitudes, particularly the fact that adults are the ones who create and apply such labels to this type of content in the first place. We could apply disclaimer labels that say something like, “Warning: This film [TV presentation, book, video game, etc.] contains strong material, and may be unsettling for more sensitive viewers. Viewer discretion is therefore advised.” Instead, we most often label such material “adult” or “mature,” or specifically impose explicitly age-based ratings. And then we criticize adolescents (including our own past adolescent selves!) for associating such content with “maturity.”

4) Let’s deal with the elephant in the room now, which I believe is necessary to have a coherent discussion of this topic: aspects of life such as swearing, sexuality, violence, and the darker side of human nature are things that exist in reality. Kids will encounter them, whether we like it or not, and no matter how much we may try to shield them from it. Labeling such phenomena as “mature” or “adult” do not prevent children from encountering them in the real world. Educating them properly to deal with these things if and when they encounter them is, IMO, the key to enabling them to cope realistically and competently. Attempting to hide these aspects of existence from them and keep them blissfully ignorant of the world leaves them unprepared for such encounters, including in how they deal with these things once they reach the age of majority and are legally “cut loose” from our would-be protection and sheltering. What they read and what they view on TV or the cinema can help prepare them for such experiences before they actually have to face them in reality. If they aren’t afraid to ask adults in their lives certain pertinent questions about these topics, and aren’t forcibly denied access to this information, they will not feel obliged to seek out info on their own in potentially haphazard fashion. Nor will they be afraid to tell adults important developments in their lives where they may need guidance.

Like all youth liberationists, just because I believe in youth empowerment over protectionist policies, and do not consider adults as always knowing better in classic ageist fashion, that doesn’t mean I think adult guidance isn’t important, or that parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc., shouldn’t be an important force in the lives of kids. Please note that individuals who do not  read this blog objectively, or who get so angry that they let their emotions take over, will likely ignore or conveniently “miss” that very important acknowledgement I just made, which is something that youth liberationists sincerely believe. You will know this when you see such individuals leaving comments where they angrily berate me for “thinking that parents and other adults are not important to the lives of kids, or should be left out” when that is very clearly not  what I said.

5) As a corollary to the above point, restricting the above content from appearing in stories–whether in the super-hero genre or elsewhere in the medium–limits the type of stories you can tell, and the types of themes you can explore. You don’t need these themes or content for a story to be good and inspiring, and I fully acknowledge that. But it can be argued that stories attempting to deal with certain subjects may lose degrees of their believability if you temper too many aspects of real life. Let’s look at a few examples. Even though you don’t need swear words to make a story good, you do sacrifice a potentially great degree of suspension of disbelief when you deliberately temper the use of language when certain types of characters and situations are depicted. You can indeed argue that swearing doesn’t make one mature, but leaving profanity completely out of certain stories involving rough-and-tumble characters does have a major cost in realism. We probably shouldn’t associate swearing with “maturity,” but since only adults are allowed to do it in “polite” company, and those who impose ratings often refer to it as “adult language,” it’s natural to associate swearing with “mature” content, even though we all know how silly constant swearing actually is. I hope you get my fucking point here! (Please forgive this immature moment of mine, I just couldn’t resist.)

Sexual content isn’t necessarily “mature” at all, especially much of society’s perceptions of it, the crass commercialization of it, and the utterly ridiculous way it’s portrayed in so many venues. Popular attitudes regarding it, including the highly hypocritical and sexist “slut-shaming” aimed at women, certainly shouldn’t be considered “mature,” of course. But it’s a natural and major part of human experience, and alas, curiosity over it is not confined to fully legal adults only. Leaving it entirely out of certain stories can hurt the realism factor even if it doesn’t affect the degree of maturity, and does limit the types of themes that can be explored, such as romantic tales, even though a story can be good without such elements. And since it’s so often insisted that these elements be left out of anything that kids are expected to watch or read, it’s natural for them to associate these elements–no matter what manner they are portrayed, including the sillier contexts–as “mature” or “adult.”

Violence and gore are also, regrettably, natural aspects of the world. War is an all-too common element of our global reality, but strangely and hypocritically, many Americans tend to glamorize it and make its purveyors who wear a certain star-spangled flag out to be heroes while at the same time ignoring the fact that children and adolescents in foreign nations are very often directly exposed to the horrors it wreaks. Yet we do not want our kids to view even simulated depictions of such violence, and frequently express concerns that American children are de-sensitized to violence and more likely to commit violent acts in reality if they view simulated violence. This is clearly a heavily emotional issue, which tends to trump logical thinking, thus possibly explaining this huge contradiction in the American mindset.  Beating someone’s face in to solve a problem certainly isn’t “mature.”

But since we have this powerful love-hate relationship with violence and warfare (just as we do with sexuality), and do not want our children to watch depictions of it (either simulated or the real deal via war footage), we end up with the silliness of the super-hero series that were geared towards children during the otherwise very liberal ’70s that didn’t allow super-heroes to actually punch a villain; or the otherwise excellent Warner Bros. animation of the ’90s-’00s that allowed plenty of punching and smashing, but almost no blood to result from it, and virtually no on-screen murders. That was not exactly realistic, and it caused many viewers to lose suspension of disbelief despite their enjoyment of the high quality scripts and general story-telling. These shows provided terrific all-ages viewing, yet the networks felt compelled to gear these shows towards children since they figured that the majority of viewers would be children simply because these shows were animated, not shown in prime time, and outside the genre of comedy like The Simpsons  or Family Guy (I’ll explore the reasons why this strange bias with animated fare exists in America in a future blog). Hence, violent content is often considered “mature” despite its context.

6) I’ve had some colleagues remind me, regarding the above, that Batman is not the Punisher, and that he shouldn’t be expected to draw blood like the latter does. I think that is true or not depending on what type of milieu you present the Batman, and what type of stories you want to tell by using the multi-purpose archetype he represents. Do you want the goofy but often entertaining Batman from the 1950s and ’60s comics, or the Adam West version from the “Batman ’66” mythos? They are fine for presenting bloodless battles and villains who are more ribald nuisances with gimmicks who simply like to rob diamonds and match wits with the Batman than engage in any type of violence outside of those slapstick brawling sequences peppered with onomatopoeia, and those elaborate “death” traps that give the Dynamic Duo a chance to impress the audience with their skill as master escape artists (and hey, the cliffhangers required death traps!). These exploits can be colorful, light-hearted, and fun with no real darkness, and a dearth of truly atrocious acts by the villains (unless you include the Penguin’s laugh).

But if you want to use the character in a manner consonant with his very dark roots–let’s not forget that his origin tale involved seeing his parents have their brains blown out in front of him as a child–and explore the dark side of human nature, an unflinching look at insanity, or the societal forces that drive the psychotic behavior of both a vigilante like Batman and his adversaries, you need the freedom to compose stories like The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth. In these stories, it would be preposterously unrealistic to show no blood, let alone no murders, resulting from the carnage of the villains; or to limit the vile acts of the villains to robbing jewelry stores or conking people on the head with a blackjack; or to leave all sexual allusions out of the framework; or to disallow any character involved to even say “shit,” to say nothing of having to replace “hell” with “heck”!

I fully realize that Batman doesn’t take lives like the Punisher, but he does deal out a lot of severe beatings, and most of his rogues gallery are ruthlessly homicidal. I understand that many of my colleagues do not agree with me on this, and I have no problem with respectfully agreeing to disagree here. The point I want to make, though, is that the argument over the inclusion of these elements has nothing to do with “maturity,” but simply with the idea of how much realism  you can leave out of super-hero stories before suspension of disbelief becomes heavily impaired. Batman is a multi-purpose character who works well in a variety of milieus, and I think the case is the same for many other super-heroes and -villains, if not most. But in order for certain themes and aspects of human nature and society to be explored, you have to step out of the “all-ages” bubble. You don’t need to step of it out in order to tell good, sophisticated, and entertaining tales in general, but IMO it is necessary to do so at times  if you want to explore certain ideas that our culture identifies with “mature” themes. It all depends on what your preferences and storytelling intentions are. I believe that multiple interpretations of this character and other super-heroes have a place in the cultural spectrum, which is why I like reading all iterations of Batman and other heroes as long as the scripts are intelligent and the themes are solid.

7) One last point I want to state which makes it clear I’m not entirely off the same page as my colleagues and friends who disagree with me on this. A major reason the above described content is attributed to adolescent perceptions of what constitutes “mature” is because due to the great success of the form of sophisticated take on super-hero writing by Miller, Moore, and Gaiman from the 1980s that incorporated these elements, a slew of copy cats were predictably quick to follow. As a result, the “grim and gritty” meme in super-hero fiction became a phenomenon unto itself, with many writers and artists jumping on the bandwagon. The result was a 1990s full of gratuitous use of these strong elements, which too often sacrificed good scripts and deep explorations of the human experience simply to provide readers or viewers with lots of boobs, swear words, over-the-top violence, and exceedingly dark heroes that tried and failed to cash in on the success of grim and gritty characters like Wolverine, the Punisher, and Lobo. An already overburdened market due to the speculator and multiple cover gimmick nonsense of the ’90s (but these constitute a whole other blog topic) was further glutted by the over use of this deluge of “grim and gritty” characters and stories.

The bulk of these tales were little more than crass presentations of gratuitous gore, swearing, and boobs simply for mindless shock value and titillation (yes, pun intended), and darkness simply for the sake of being dark rather than to tell any kind of coherent story or convey any insightful message.  This type of tale was too often presented as “mature” elements and themes simply due to the classically “forbidden” nature of such content. Quality was too often sacrificed for quantity, and appeal to the intellect was too often sacrificed for appeal to the more banal and prurient aspects of the human psyche. The inevitable backlash against this overkill over the past decade was fully deserved and understandable, and I don’t blame so many of my fellow authors and colleagues for being sensitive over the misuse of the term “mature” to describe such mindless dreck.

With all of the above made clear, I want to point out in summation that I fully understand that many of my colleagues, including many whom I’m honored to consider friends, will not agree with some of the more controversial statements and opinions I expressed. This will be particularly true regarding my stance on youth liberation, which is currently just coming back to the fore after being knocked out of the liberal political loop by the end of the 1970s (due to factors I mentioned above) despite the great work and modest recent achievements by NYRA and the many newer youth lib groups and orgs popping up on Facebook and other social networking forums every other day, youth lib is currently still considered fringe and radical politics, and has yet to be embraced by mainstream progressives… or rather re-embraced, if you consider the open discourse about the platform conducted during the 1970s, including Richard Farson’s book Birthrights and the many publications released during that decade and shortly afterwards by John Taylor Gatto, all well-received at the time.

Because of this, a sizable amount of opposition and even a degree of anger by fellow progressives and colleagues at this time is to be expected. I do believe, however, that I’m providing some food for thought, and the realm of creative people like writers (if not the mainstream progressive establishment itself) are full of very thoughtful individuals whom I’m proud to work with. I know they won’t always agree, and do not expect them to, but I can count on the majority of them to simply listen.

FRIENDS cast

 Friends  cast to readers of this blog:

“Sorry, peeps, but we have no idea why Nigro included us here. Just pretend you didn’t see us, okay?”

The Art of Being a Mooch

moochersTo all you moochers out there: send your favorite sucker a loving e-card of appreciation!

 

Ah, the mooch. All of us have met these individuals before. All of us probably know at least one such person at the present moment. You may even be one yourself (if so, don’t be too shy to raise your arms proudly and shout, “Woohoo! I ate well today, and none of that food was mine! Or paid for by me! W00t!”). Since I’m a part of the human race (I live in human society at any rate, so I guess that counts), I have the dishonor of knowing such an individual. Hence, just like everyone else reading this blog, I’m in the position of giving expert advice to inspiring mooches on how to get the most out of suckers–er, people–you know by obeying a few tried and simple rules we’ve all seen mooches expertly take advantage of. And taking advantage of others is what mooches do best, after all!

 

Disclaimer alert: As unpleasant as these people can be–except when we’re pointing them out and making fun of them–I don’t think I run the risk of creating too many new mooches with the advice I’m about to give on this blog entry. Let’s face it, if someone truly wants to be a mooch, we all know they will tend to learn the following rules via long periods of trial and error anyway. So what the hell, right?

 

Without further adieu, here is what you do to become a better mooch. Learn to follow these rules, and you will be well on your way to mastering the art of bilking others out of their time and food at no cost to yourself save your humility; and you can’t sustain yourself on humility, right?

 

1) Cater to your good judgment by identifying the best targets to mooch off of regularly. People who are overly generous to the point of being total suckers are among the best choices. So are caring family members, particularly parents, who feel a strong residual obligation to take care of you long past your childhood of forced dependence. Individuals who are too “polite” to say “no” can quickly be made to become putty in your hands, with their food ending up in your  hands (before it’s stuffed into your eager gullet).

 

2) How well you observe the regular times of the day when your chosen targets typically have their meals is crucial to the art of becoming an effective mooch. Before too long, you can make a habit of just happening to drop by during these moments of culinary consumption. If they’re already eating, easily moochable targets will feel obligated to offer you some of the meal. And you know that.

 

3) Responsibilities to keep plans with others who are not readily moochable must take a back seat to your priorities, which are to make sure your schedule is open to coincide with the meal times of your favored targets. If you have to cancel plans with someone, even at the last minute, do not hesitate to do that. Mooches are not known for consideration of others over themselves, and since you’re striving to be one, fuck those imbeciles you call friends.

 

4) Is your conscience getting the best of you at times? Don’t worry, mooches tend to be good at putting their conscience aside to do their thing. If you ever find your conscience gnawing at you, just think of all that awesome gnawing you can be doing on someone else’s food if you simply stop worrying so damn much about using others.

 

5) Something you can do to reinforce the above if your conscience ever becomes particularly strong is to resort to the time-tested method of all people that use others: rationalizations! Just keep telling yourself that the people you mooch on either owe you for this or that (use your imagination if you can’t actually think of something!), or that they “don’t mind,” or simply remind yourself they are too polite to complain. Remember this advice if you remember nothing else, moochers: when in doubt, rationalize!

 

6) To become an effective mooch, you need to get into the habit of thinking nothing of disappointing others on many levels. You need to be okay with breaking plans with others, eating food that you didn’t pay for, going to the same people’s houses unannounced over and over again, and always when they tend to be most likely trying to enjoy a meal. If you find it difficult to do this, and you’re overly concerned about being intrusive to others, then I’m sorry, but your conscience is just too strong to become an effective mooch. You’re just going to have to live with that and begin subsisting on your own food.

 

7) In regards to rationalizing, make note of a few of the most effective ones. You can tell yourself and others that you constantly go to your favored targets’ homes to “help” them. If you want to make this more convincing, just casually ask your targets if they need you to do some easily accomplished favor. Yanno, like washing any dishes you use, or throwing out paper plates if they use them. Don’t worry about doing this, because suckers with an overblown sense of generosity are not likely to take you up on the offer since they don’t want to inconvenience you. Keep in mind that inconveniencing others is something that moochers like you do, not  your preferred targets. It’s as simple as that!

 

8) Never worry about anyone calling you on your mooching, because your skill at rationalizing can also be put to work at countering such justifiable accusations. You can try loudly responding with “that’s not true!” so many times that even you  may eventually come to believe it. Or you can resort to guilt-tripping these annoying finger-pointers by accusing them of being cruel for using a continued set of “obvious coincidences” regarding your always arriving during meal times against you. Or, if all else fails, you can throw this common disingenuous refutation at them: “Fuck you! You don’t know me!” They actually know your type quite well, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to convince them otherwise.

 

9) Entering someone else’s house unawares is a good way to “catch” them in the midst of a meal without giving them any time to finish eating before you arrive. This is why family members who trust you with a key to their front door make ideal targets to mooch off of. To look innocent, try to act as surprised as you can to find them in the middle of a meal by saying, with mock astonishment, “Oh, you’re having eggs!” Then you know that they will feel obligated to follow that up with, “Um, yes, we are. Would you like some?” Also make a point to whine about not being able to buy enough food for yourself, but if the target in question is prone to lecturing you about managing your finances better in response, then you may want to instead consider making the following type of mewling complaint: “I’m soooooo busy lately, I never seem to have the time to have dinner…”

 

So there you go, some good advice on how to be the best type of mooch there is. Now all you have to do is find your ideal target to take advantage of, and get on with practicing your craft! You have nothing to lose but respect, and all the free food you could ever eat to gain!

The R-Rated Power Rangers Fan Video Debacle – What Are My Thoughts?

mighty-morphin-power-rangers

“We double dare  you to mess with this pristine image of us! If you do, Saban will send us to kick your ass… er, give you a spanking! I can use the word ‘spanking’, right?”

 

 

I’m sure by now that many fellow fanboys (and girls!) have heard of the controversy surrounding the elaborate R-rated fan video of the original Power Rangers produced by Joseph Kahn as part of his “Bootleg Universe” series of such film shorts. If you haven’t seen this approximately 15-minute video yet, watch it here, then come back to this post.
The big controversy revolved around the fact that Kahn produced this maverick video entirely without the approval of Saban Entertainment, the company that produced the kid-friendly but high-concept and long-lived American version of the Japanese franchises that began with GaoRangers, and continued with many other similar genre series from there. The fight scenes, along with other sfx sequences, were lifted from these Japanese genre series and inter-mixed with new footage featuring American actors and Saban-produced effects, beginning with the classic Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers circa 1992. The first few seasons gave us the classic presentation of the American iteration of the show. Its break-out character was the troubled but inherently heroic young martial arts expert Tommy Oliver, a.k.a. the Green Ranger, played by actor and martial arts expert Jason David Frank. He began his career as an unwitting enemy of the rainbow-hued team of monster-fighting heroes, later becoming a valued member after turning against the evil forces that initially gave him his battle armor and weapons, i.e., the Rangers’ arch-enemy Rita Repulsa.  Tommy Oliver later took a hiatus from the team when he lost his Ranger powers, but was soon reintroduced with new armor and weaponry as the White Ranger by Season 3, taking over from the Red Ranger as team leader. This is where he fully solidified his iconic status.

The Season 2 intro that first features Jason David Frank (J.D.F., as his fans like to call him) as Tommy Oliver as a regular character can be viewed here. Many different Power Rangers series and telefilms were produced from 1992 all the way up to the present, as well as a major big screen motion picture featuring the Season 3 crew, all having to change format to make use of the footage taken from different sentai series in Japan.

 

The result was an extremely popular action adventure franchise on this side of the Pacific, which for a time spawned different series that borrowed footage and basic concepts from the more “mature” Japanese versions. These other kid-friendly Saban sentai series included Masked Rider, Big Bad Beetleborgs Metallix (hate the show all you want, but you gotta love that theme song/intro!), and VR Troopers, none of which caught on in America like the Power Rangers did (no crossovers either, unfortch!). Though the more kid-oriented sentai genre in America only had a few years of small screen popularity in America during the early to mid-1990s, the slew of Power Rangers series continued on and off into the present decade, for a time falling out of and then back into ownership by Saban. Many of the series can now be streamed on Netflix, and I encourage all readers of this post to check them out.

 

Like all shows produced by Saban – both those designed to cash in on the Japanese sentai genre (the theme being super-heroes who battle monsters) and those from other genres (including harmless teen romance series like  Sweet Valley High, based on a popular book series of the same name) they were aimed at what people at the time would derisively refer to as the “kiddie market.” I was and remain a big fan of the Power Rangers, because despite how much the scripts were geared towards a young audience, the concept was fantastic and solid, with characters that were both endearing and inspiring. The writing wasn’t always top-notch, but the charisma of several of the characters, not to mention the compelling backstory of Tommy Oliver when he was added to the classic series, would often more than made up for this. That explains why so much of its American audience remained fans of the characters and the concept well into adulthood; it was much more than mere nostalgia. The series has since become something of a sleeper legend amongst sci-fandom of all ages.

 

Jason David Frank would go on to reprise the role of Tommy Oliver as a mentor to a new generation of teen Rangers in successor shows of the franchise, and has also been clamoring to appear in a new Power Rangers movie produced by Saban. His fan support for this is quite heavy.

Which brings us to the debacle of Kahn’s R-rated video. J.D.F. and the rest of the original cast had nothing to do with it, but it did star some well-known actors, such as James Van Der Beek of Dawson’s Creek  fame. The problem cuts to the heart of the oftentimes excellent and spectacular slew of fan-produced short films, perhaps best exemplified by Aaron Schoenke’s Bat in the Sun Productions and Kahn’s Bootleg Universe videos, which have begun appearing in large numbers on video sharing sites such as YouTube and Daily Motion over the past decade.

Since these fan films utilize mostly copyrighted characters which are in no way authorized by the companies or individuals who actually own them (e.g., Warner Bros., Disney, Saban, Capcom), they must be offered for public viewing free of charge, with the producers receiving no type of monetary remuneration whatsoever. So no harm, no foul, right? Well, here’s the thing… there are several people in the creative arts community who believe that these fan-produced, non-profit film shorts are crossing the line for the following reasons:

1) Those who own the intellectual property should have full control over the use of said properties, whether money is being made off of them or not. Plain and simple.

 

2) While the fan-produced films aren’t profiting off of someone else’s intellectual property in a financial sense, they are capable of giving a form of negative publicity to the property if they produce films that are geared towards an age demographic other than the one specifically targeted by the officially approved brand. Particularly, by taking a property essentially aimed at the child market and producing a fan-made short film that alters the characters and concept for adult viewers. A major case in point is Kahn’s Power Rangers video.

 

3) If the intended target audience of the official brand, or their legal guardians, happen to see these unauthorized fan videos, and for whatever reason doesn’t realize it was unauthorized, it could give the mistaken impression that this is what the official brand is all about, thus hurting sales for the rightful property holders.

4) The usual thing whenever kids are involved: The contemporary Western cultural ideology that children should be shielded from seeing certain things considered to be strictly “adult,” and that viewer prevention is actually possible to accomplish by [name the prevailing draconian measure], especially in the midst of today’s Information Age. And accordingly, if you produce an “adult” version of a brand whose official version is targeted to kids, then it’s believed that kids will seek out the R-rated version and watch it against the wishes of their parents or other adult guardians due to the familiarity of the brand.

 

5) Because the American conception of Power Rangers is a kid’s brand, this is how so many fans remember it. The fictional world created to fit the age demographic of that brand is considered by many fans and parents to be tainted when you add all of these “adult” elements – profanity, nudity, sexual situations beyond innocuous “puppy love” scenarios, hefty helpings of blood & gore, extremely dark & gritty tone, the portrayal of the characters as having too many serious flaws – and that this constitutes a major departure from, and betrayal of, the world crafted by Saban from an aesthetic view.

 

So to make a long story short, when Kahn’s video went viral, it became such a huge traffic sensation on YouTube (and elsewhere) that Saban quickly got wind of it, didn’t like what they saw (to say the least), and demanded that YouTube take it down for copyright violations. The YouTube administration promptly did as instructed. Many fans applauded the action; others, however, cried foul due to the opinion that the video was not a legal infraction of any sort, and started an online campaign to have the video restored. Ultimately, a short time later YouTube did put the video back up (and it currently remains viral), with the caveat that Kahn added a big fat disclaimer screen at the start of the video to make it clear that his film is not affiliated with or authorized in any way by Saban Entertainment.

 

Mighty_Morphin_Power_Rangers_by_Guardian_Draca

Could you possibly imagine any of these sweet faces having a dark side? (That, btw, was a rhetorical question.)

One of my respected colleagues in the field of authoring fantastic fiction happens to be one of those fans who disliked Kahn’s Power Rangers video and denounced it on his blog for pretty much all of the above reasons. Jason David Frank wasn’t happy with Kahn’s interpretation either, as he refers to himself as a “PG-13 guy” who wants to see the brand retained for a young audience. I want to make it clear that I respect both of these guys, and I do understand why they feel as they do even though I disagree. So by all means, listen to and consider what they have to say while extending the same courtesy to those who view matters to the contrary.
Austin St. John, the original Red Ranger from Saban’s series, was more supportive of Kahn’s film from a purely professional standpoint, choosing to keep his personal aesthetic opinion to himself. Fan critic John of Mr. Weenie Productions, who runs the YouTube channel named after his rather ill-chosen nom de guerre, was appreciative of Kahn’s interpretation of the fan film, and responded to J.D.F.’s critiques here. It can be argued that John – whose videos are quite cogent, insightful, and articulate,  thus allowing me to almost completely overlook his 1970s-style afro – has a personal dislike for both J.D.F. and Saban, vis a vis  this and this. It can also be argued, of course, that John has a good reason for saying those things, as he does explain why he feels as he does in detail within each of those video critiques. I’ll let individual readers be their own judge, though opinions on either side may be biased due to their agreement or disagreement with Saban over this particular issue (so we should be wary of that, peeps!).

Now let’s get to my personal opinion of the matter. I didn’t think the fan video was perfect by any means, but I did like the work and time that obviously went into it, and I did think this dark and grim interpretation of the concept was intriguing. In short, I didn’t love it, but I did like it. I also like the fact that fans can produce their own interpretations of an iconic series while working independently of the Big Guys, and take chances like this… i.e., chances that Saban themselves would be highly unlikely to even consider taking (for good reason or not? Again, I’ll let the readers decide for themselves).

As is quite clear over the disparate reactions to this fan film by different segments of the fan base, with nothing close to unanimous, I think that what it ultimately comes down to is this:  different fans must be expected to have a highly varying sense of aesthetics. What may be a cool idea for the concept to some fans may well an unforgivable blot on its iconic image for others. It’s never going to be possible to please everyone, especially when it comes to such experimental ideas like those often presented by the fan films. Saban certainly has been inconsistent with the degree of quality for each series making up the franchise as a whole, so one can readily question their own commitment to the brand. With this point made clear, I will take each of the 5 main criticisms of the video that I listed above and explain why I do not agree with them (scroll above to refresh your memory on what each of them entail!).

Point #1: While many believe that Saban should have full control over the intellectual property that they own, there comes a problem if such control is considered to hold true in an absolute sense. This is another instance of the business world of private ownership clashing with the democratic principle of freedom of ideas and expression, one of the many conflicts of interest in a system where capitalism and democracy attempt to mesh together (yup, another assault on capitalism! Go, me!). As a published author who is now working on novels and short stories featuring copyrighted characters of my own, I understand the reason why those who have created characters and a concept want to have control over how they make money off the official property; in many cases, our intellectual property is the very bread and butter on which we live.

However, the thing about characters and concepts which leave a huge psychic mark on a large number of people throughout a society is that they become iconic and transcend the limitation of being one person’s or executive board’s private property. They become a meme or an idea that works its way into the collective cultural framework. While they never become as important as real people or situations, they do represent many things on a variety of philosophical and sociological levels to the culture in question. They cannot, and IMO should not, be narrowly confined to the wishes and interpretations of one person or business that holds the copyright. They have a value and substance to the collective psyche that goes well beyond a simple business patent used to make money for a single or handful of individuals.

So while I understand that copyright has to prevent unauthorized hands from making a living off of someone else’s cash cow for the duration of the copyright’s legal life span, trying to give full control of how individual minds express the concept and characters outside of the business realm where profit is made over it is going too far. It crosses the line between the right to own an intellectual concept you created or purchased, and the freedom of others to express what that concept means to them outside the strict parameters set or intended by the copyright owner.

This is why you see so many pastiches of Superman, Spider-Man, Tarzan, Mickey Mouse, etc., in unauthorized versions. They are variations of the basic concept that helps authors and artists answer many questions about these characters, or what sociological tropes they may represent, that the corporate copyright holder may choose never to express themselves. In other words, what if Superman caved under the immense emotional and social pressures he was subjected to and essentially went nucking futs? See Mark Waid’s Irredeemable comic book series for that. What if all the familiar super-villains defeated all the genre’s popular super-heroes and took over the world? See Mark Millar’s Wanted  comic book series for that… ignore the movie loosely based on it. What if the world’s greatest super-hero team (that would be the Justice League, of course) decided to take over the world with the best of intentions? See the late Mark Gruenwald’s classic 12-issue maxi-series The Squadron Supreme for that. What if the original version of Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family lived in a world that mirrored the one we live in instead of the more innocent and whimsical reality created for them in the Golden Age of Comics? See Alan Moore’s 1980s re-interpretation of the copycat hero Marvelman/Miracleman for that. How would Mickey Mouse and his fellow Disney toons act and react if they expressed “adult” needs amidst all the typical hokum of the cartoons? See Dan O’Neill’s short-lived underground comix series Air Pirate Funnies  for that.

Again, this is a classic example of what happens when business interests collide with that democratic ideal of freedom of speech and expression. In fact, John of Mr. Weenie Productions has accused Saban of being all too quick to block fans from saying much of anything about their product on YouTube that isn’t authorized by the company, as stated here and here. Is this where absolute control of intellectual property ultimately leads? Pick your side carefully, people!

Miracleman_Vol_1_1_Wizard_World_Portland_Comic_Con_Variant

“Damn you, Alan Moore, for robbing me of my innocence with your deconstructionist bullshit!
“Oh god, did I just say ‘bullshit’? Um, I meant… ‘cowpoop’ or ‘cowdoodoo’ or something like that! And I meant ‘darn’, not ‘damn!’

“Good gosh, I just said it again! Mr. Moore, you’re on my… doodoo list! Wait, should I be alluding to excrement at all? ‘You’re on my bullhockey list, Mr. Moore!’ Was that better and more kid-friendly?

“Wait, you mean kids are allowed to say ‘poop’ and ‘doodoo’ nowadays!? I bet that’s all Alan Moore’s fault! I’d kill him, but I’m not ever supposed to acknowledge the possibility of death.”

Point #2: I don’t think that any business should have a legal right to stifle any alternate artistic expression/interpretation of their characters by fans who are not producing it for profit. As I see it, that is too much power to give to any corporate entity. I do not buy the reasoning that alternate artistic expression might bring bad publicity to their product that will ultimately hurt sales to a truly discernible extent. I believe including the type of disclaimer that Kahn added to his video was more than enough of a compromise. As I noted, it’s not possible – let alone desirable – to allow powerful corporate entities to try and control every possible expression of a meme or idea that resonates on such a deep level to so many people in society.

 

I can hear this coming: “Well, Chris, I’m betting you’ll change your tune in a hurry if your characters Centurion and Mike Nero, Beowolf are ‘bastardized’ by some fan film producer who interprets them in a much different way than you do.” No, I will not change my tune and agree I should have the right to call a cease and desist on some non-profit-oriented satire or re-interpretation of my characters. If I don’t like them, I will say so and explain why. If I disagree with whatever the point the producer is trying to make, I will say so and explain why. But saying he/she shouldn’t have a right to express this view of my characters? As much as I love and value my literary creations, they will never be real people, and I should not have the right to sue for a business-oriented equivalent of “defamation of character.” At least, that’s the way I see it in regards to balancing business with democracy.

Point #3: This possibility is just too bad for the same reason mentioned above. As long as that disclaimer is there, both before the video starts and after it ends, then the fan producer should have his ass covered. Beyond that, it’s not his/her fault if people refuse to read the disclaimer, or overlook it for whatever reason. Freedom of expression with various ideas and memes is the price we pay to have even the nominal democracy we enjoy. Total control of an idea or concept is impossible, and attempting to do so leads to all sorts of fascist insanity. Attacking bureaucrats when they do this, but supporting corporate entities who attempt to do essentially the same thing, is basically a case of putting money over what the U.S. Constitution represents. Yes, the Constitution protects the concept of private property, but the Founders also added the Bill of Rights for a very good reason. Again, we the people need to pick our sides carefully when such conflicts arise. We need to stop worshiping money despite the fact that we all have no choice but to earn it in order to survive in this system.

 

stock-photo-dollar-sign-strong-superhero-success-professional-empowerment-stock-concept-236739349“Why hide the true symbol of my loyalty anymore? I fight for profit, investment, and the Kapitalist Way! Oh yea, and copyrights  too! Can I add ‘bank bail-outs’ to that list? Heh.”

Point #4: I understand that the great majority of my colleagues and friends, including the many who lean to the Left politically, are not youth liberationists. But since I’ve supported that platform since I was 13, I’m going to stand up for that principle even if that puts me on the opposite side of people I love and/or respect in certain instances, especially since I strongly believe people on the Left should be supporting this platform rather than overlooking it, let alone denouncing it. It’s the next logical step on the emancipation agenda. I also understand that a great many people on the Left haven’t read or seen the platform since its revival between the mid-1990s and now, something that was certainly not the case with the Left during the 1970s, when liberals of that era were beginning to take youth liberation seriously until its derailment by the conservative takeover of government in the U.S. and U.K. by the beginning of the 1980s (that’s a whole topic in itself that I’ll tackle here in the future).

The bottom line when it comes to this topic is the following: We cannot assign a concept or meme to be the unofficial social “property” of a specific age group. And this holds regardless of what our conception of children or young people in general happens to be. Memes relating to characters and concepts of fantastic fiction have an archetypal value that resonates with people of all ages, no matter what the demographic target of the copyright holders may happen to be. This is the exact reason why super-heroes and various aspects of the sci-fi genre in general rose out of the “kiddie ghetto” they were once assigned (or is that consigned ?) to and embraced by the mainstream. They represent ideas and fantasies that transcend strict age barriers. The Power Rangers concept is no different in this regard.

This is why we will see multiple interpretations of Batman and the rest of his teammates in the Justice League that are designed to appeal to different age groups. For instance, we see the live action TV series from the late ’60s (often now referred to as “Batman ’66”) that brings us what our culture would call a “kid-friendly” version of the character despite being designed to appeal to all ages in that time period. We see the Batman animated shows of the 1970s, and The Super Friends, which were clearly designed to depict these heroes in a way that was harmonious to the innocent, idealized world we want children to see in place of the “harsh” reality. We see the animated versions of the Dark Knight from the 1990s into the 2000s – and his super-heroic brethren from Justice League Unlimited – produced by Warner Bros. that did a much better job of compromising with an appeal to “all ages”; one which recognizes the growing sophistication of children despite the best intentions of adults to keep them in a “blissful” state of innocence about the real world. We see the darker versions from the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan films that are similar to the grim and gritty but “PG-13” atmosphere of the comics, along with the recent very dark and bloody direct to video animated films and video games we and our kids play on the X-box. And we see the “mature only” Batman stories such as Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke  and Grant Morrison’s Arkham Aslylum  graphic novel. [Update: The recent animated video version of Batman: The Killing Joke officially released by DC Entertainment was given an R rating!]

As another example, the funny animal genre used to be reserved largely for kids in any given medium, while ignoring the fact that the Warner Bros. Looney Toons shorts used to include innuendos that were intended to appeal to adult viewers, something the subsequent cartoons designed entirely for Saturday morning TV completely divested from them. We have seen that the funny animal genre, if not specifically the Disney and Warner Bros. Toons, could be interpreted in an “adult” fashion with creations such as the animated feature Fritz the Cat  and renowned comic book series like Hepcats. This may not seem to be comparable to the above example with Batman and super-heroes in general, until you consider that there are many fans and casual viewers alike who think the entire funny animal genre should be for kids only. But the reality is that these fictional entities can be placed into many different milieus that work equally well for many forms of interpretation.

 

 

Fritz-the-Cat-2

“I’d tell ya what you can do with yourself, Fritz, but I’m worried Bugs Bunny might hear me, so can ya stick around ’till I can think of a kid-friendly way to say it?”

Then we come to what many may consider the epitome of American idealized innocence that we want our kids to read or watch: Archie Andrews and the gang. This goes all the way back to the introduction of these characters in Pep Comics circa the early 1940s, rapidly displacing the super-heroes who were previously featured in that mag. We could find many fans who would vehemently insist that the good folk of Riverdale should only be geared towards presenting an idealized teen world to ostensibly pre-teen readers, thereby preserving the conception of innocence that Western audiences – but particularly Americans – so highly revere as the perfect trope for their children to enjoy without being “burdened” or “forced to mature too quickly” by presenting them with any material or situations that are considered “adult.”

 

Except that for a while now, though especially since the 1990s, it’s become clear that the Archie crew are so iconic that the storytelling dynamics which made that crew appeal to so many on such a deep archetypal level can work on many levels beyond the confining walls of the “kiddie ghetto.” We’ve had Riverdale visited by the Punisher, human-eating zombies (see Afterlife With Archie), a human-hunting Predator alien, and a “Sharknado” twister (from the SyFy Channel’s gory Sharknado film franchise)… all of which were either fully or co-published by Archie Comics! Not only that, but we have the “mature” horror-oriented antics of Sabrina the Teenaged Witch in the recent ongoing Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic, also published by Archie themselves! There is even a little back up story in Archie vs. Predator #1 where Sabrina – then in her childhood – meets Hellboy, filed off horns and all!

Okay, some may argue, “But that’s different, Chris, because at least Archie Comics, the copyright holder of Archie Andrews, had given their stamp of approval to these projects.” Yes, true, but this legal fact in no way contradicts the point I’ve been making here. No doubt many people who grew up reading or watching the animated exploits of the traditional “innocent” Archie gang would be shocked to the point of requiring a change of pants if they picked up an issue of Afterlife With Archie,  Archie vs. Predator, or Sabrina’s Chilling Adventures. No doubt many would shout, “Omg, this is not something I want my kids to read! Archie is supposed to be for kids!” But the truth is, the crew at Archie Comics have realized that their All-American boy and his friends constitute a conceptual meme and set of archetypes that work very well across many genres, and can be interpreted differently by different age demographics in a manner that works equally well for each.

Archie meets the Punisher

And to think Mr. Castle didn’t even give Archie time to draw his squirt gun. This is how unfair it is when an outrageously homicidal vigilante meets an outrageously innocent teenager. It would serve the mean old Punisher right if Archie sneezed into the barrel of his uzi and snotted up the works.

Now let’s return  to the Power Rangers in particular. Are they a concept that can only work in an innocent and idealized type of world with hefty bits of bloodless fantasy violence thrown into the mix? Certainly not, I say. Like Batman and the rest of the DC heroes, like any funny animal characters, and like the Archie gang, they represent a solid concept that can work well in many different interpretations, spanning the conceptions of “innocent world,” or “PG-13 world” (sort of like Archie’s Life With Archie series), or grim and gritty “adult” world. As John of Mr. Weenie Productions noted, Saban has already approved the White Ranger and Green Ranger going up against Scorpion of the Mortal Kombat  video game franchise and Ryu of the Street Fighter  video game franchise, both of which had received M-ratings in the past, for a pair of  video shorts produced by Machinima for Bat in the Sun’s Super Power Beat Down video series. For those who may not know, an M-rating is the video and comic book rating equivalent of R, which they cannot use because – ironically! – legal issues with the Motion Picture Association of America, who hold copyright patents  for the ratings system used for ranking movies. And these are just a set of freakin’ letters and numbers used in specific sequences!

Green Ranger vs. Ryu has yet to be released at this writing, but please do check out White Ranger vs. Scorpion. The entire Super Power Beat Down series, not to mention pretty much everything produced by Machinima and directed by Aaron Schoenke, is hardly “innocent” or “kid-friendly” as we Americans love to define these ideals. [Update: Schoenke, upon agreement with his friend J.D.F., did do his best to keep the released Green Ranger vs. Ryu as “PG-13” as possible. The arranger of the fight also gave us a great “nod” to this controversy when, upon seeing Tommy Oliver challenge Ryu, he says, “I’m too old for this.”] Does the fact that Saban authorized these shorts make all the difference in regards to the integrity of the brand?  I’ll let you decide.

Point #5: This correlates with the above point, along with something else I mentioned in this post. Aesthetic appreciation varies from person to person, fanboy to fanboy, etc. Some of us feel “off” about seeing a concept we enjoyed as kids morphed (pun intended!) into something darker, grimmer, and much more “adult,” with elements and imagery we never would have seen in the classic product. I respect that. Others, however, can readily imagine the basic concept and characters operating in a variety of conceptual milieus, and do not visualize it exclusively in an “innocent” world devoid of many of the atrocities of the real world (e.g., where death can occur as a result of fighting; or good and evil are usually not easily discernible), or more heady speculative scenarios (e.g., a post-apocalyptic or otherwise dystopic future setting). Some of us prefer the Power Rangers as we remember them in their classic conception, and we’ll always have that. Others wonder about how they would operate in a different type of setting in regards to world and tone, and I like to think we should be able to have that too.

Let’s not forget how the Japanese sentai series that birthed the Power Rangers on this side of the Pacific differed from the latter. So one can argue that Saban’s presentation of Power Rangers actually sanitized another property in its translation to American “kid” sensibilities. Let’s not forget how other famous properties were re-conceptualized in the opposite way we’re discussing here, too.  Specifically, note how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out as very grim, uber-violent, and largely no-nonsense characters in a dark satire of the grim and gritty comics that became such a hit with the fans in the early 1980s, particularly in regards to the popularity of Wolverine, Frank Miller’s interpretation of Daredevil, and the ninja craze of the time. Yet they were later heavily sanitized for both their various animated TV series, subsequent comic book series, and first live action cinematic franchise when all were directed strictly towards a kid demographic. The concept never lost its solid appeal to all age groups, however.

Did this make a darker version of the Heroes in a Halfshell any less viable, even if the “kid-friendly” iteration proved more lucrative and far better known over the long haul? How about the newer “PG-13” version that acts as a bridge between the two conceptions, as seen in both the popular comic book series recently published by Dynamite and the new live action film franchise that recently hit the silver screen? How about the recent “mature” fan videos produced for the Turtles’ break-out supporting character, the hockey-stick wielding vigilante Casey Jones, one of them by Bat in the Sun that pit him against Kick-Ass, and which actually featured a guest appearance by the Heroes in a Halfshell?

The idea of copyrights and how they may interfere with artistic expression of ideas and memes is a serious one that we should all consider, regardless of whether we work in the creative arts field or not. The need to balance business interests with democratic principles can be a difficult one at times, but we need to think long and hard about all the issues involved. We may want those who create and/or legitimately own the properties to benefit in a fiscal sense, and I can certainly get behind that as an author who owns intellectual property. But we need to balance this out against giving corporations or individuals full control over ideas outside the realm of business, since what they represent goes deep into the collective consciousness of the entire culture. There are some levels where intellectual creations can be privately owned, but others in which the ideas they represent cannot and, IMO, should not.

superman_vs_bugs_bunny

Bugs: “Can we at least get a ‘T’ rating for this mini-series, Doc?”

Superman: “I dunno, that’s up to the Warner Bros. executives. They’re far more powerful than a mere Kryptonian like myself around here.”

Do Popular People In Real Life Really Tend To Be Mean-Spirited? Why This Is Actually Often True And Not Just A Movie Cliche’

 Bullying05“Face it, douche-bag… you’re the popular crowd’s equivalent of the communal prison bitch.”

This particular post concerns yet another topic often discussed with a great degree of acrimony amongst people on different sides of the issue’s fence: The common portrayal of popular kids in movies and TV shows as being mean-spirited jerks (think the appropriately titled Mean Girls and just about any TV show featuring high school and collage drama you can think of, e.g., Beverly Hills 90210 and Pretty Little Liars); and the equally common portrayal of the outcasts on the receiving end of the hate as being mild-mannered, kindly if eccentric souls who simply want to be liked (if “loved” isn’t an option).

This is another question that begs an analysis of human psychology in any type of system – economic, political, and social – where hierarchies exist, and where there cannot be winners unless there are at least an equal number of losers. Our socio-economic system thrives on a totem pole-ish system of hierarchies, so it’s no wonder at all that our social interactions as peers in various environments (the school setting, in this instance) take on similar dynamics. The social strata will always develop in ways that mimic and even form a strange sort of symbiosis with the prevailing economic and political system. But don’t worry, I won’t go off on a tangent about that system here, despite the ever-present temptation (*evil grin*).

I. So What’s Wrong With Hierarchies, Dewd?

The reason for making this post is two-fold.

The first is because I was one of those severely bullied children and adolescents. I grew up as a straight up outcast and iconoclast (and probably other types of “clast’s” too; pull out your thesaurus and find a preferred synonym). It’s no exaggeration to say that I was hated by many, and often disliked when not hated. Did I deserve it? That question would likely be answered differently by different people who were present at the time and place, as well as by others who weren’t present but happen to study the situation based on their individual experiences, perspective, and position within the hierarchy, both then and now. I’m certainly not blind to the fact that our own experiences and position in life will invariably color our perceptions and interpretations of these things. I will strive to keep that in mind as I deal with this topic. I ask all my readers to try and do the same (hey, it’s only fair, right?).

Secondly, this blog is intended as a response to this article by Diana Cook on Cracked.com (a fav site of mine!), “5 Unwritten Rules Hollywood Needs to Stop Following.” Specifically, scroll down to item #3 where Ms. Cook admonishes the following cinematic trope: “Popular People Need to be Portrayed as Mean-Spirited Evil-Doers.” Before beginning, I will say off the bird (why does it always have to be off the “bat”?) that I like Diana’s articles, and I agree with most of her points in this one, particularly #2! But that’s a whole other topic. It’s these words from her in decrying the popular trope of portraying popular students in films and TV shows as bad souls that are my concern here:

In the movie universe, popular, good-looking people may as well tattoo “sociopath” on their foreheads. More than any other group, they’re often to blame for all of the angst and heartache and acoustic indie rock songs in our hero or heroine’s world. We’ve seen it a million times: the high school queen bee struts through the halls leaving a legacy of damaged egos and emotionally scarred classmates in her wake. That is, of course, until she gets her much-deserved comeuppance by movie’s end. [Her male counterparts are generally no better, of course! Good examples: The Karate Kid (either version) and The O.C. TV series.]

In Hollywood’s version of the world, these evil, top-of-the-food-chain super-hotties spend all of their waking moments trying to figure out ways to make everyone else’s life a living hell, and they show up everywhere.

After providing a relevant cinematic example from Kick-Ass 2, Cook continues:

Sorry, there are good reasons why certain people are more popular than others, and it’s usually because they are likable and have good personalities. While there’s the occasional outlier who gained their position through unearned advantages, for the most part pro-social skills are what build friendships and lead to peer acceptance. In fact, having a good personality may even improve your physical attractiveness. What’s less likely to help are revenge fantasies. Sure, a montage of the outcast teen learning empathy and conflict resolution to gain a better social footing in high school would be a snooze-fest, even if it was set to a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack, but there has to be a better way to write teen characters without relying on the tired cliche that popular and attractive equals mean.

Okay, does Cook have a point here that should be listened to? Yes, definitely. Are all popular people bad people? Of course not. Do many outcasts bring a good deal of the “hate” down on themselves with their frequently annoying personality traits? Most certainly, and I’m most definitely among those who were (and sometimes, still are) guilty as charged. There is nothing simplistic about this situation, as nuance tends to be the rule in all situations and issues.

bullying02“Sorry, dewd, but I’m an athlete… and making your life miserable is one of my sports!”

But here is the problem with Cook’s analysis overall: IMO, it lacks a good deal of that nuance and operates on this simplistic premise:  Most popular people earn their popularity by having “likable” and “good” personalities. But what Cook doesn’t go into in any type of detail is what largely constitutes “good” and “likeable” according to our super-culture’s attitudes and social mores. The reader knows what she implies by these terms, of course. But I think, again, that she simplifies the matter greatly, and largely in favor of the popular.

I do not know Ms. Cook personally, or anything about her outside of her writings either, so I have no idea from where her perspective hails. Readers of this blog do know where mine originates, however. With that acknowledged and kept in mind, let me explain why my personal experiences tell me that being popular, and how to attain and maintain that treasured social status, in our specific culture oftentimes – not  always, but all too often – does our personal character and sense of integrity no favors whatsoever.

II. What Constitutes “Good” and “Likeable” in Our Culture?

 These are the proverbial $64,000 questions to ask (or should that metaphorical figure be adjusted to $640,000 for inflation?). Before I answer them, I will acknowledge that anyone can think of exceptions to the rules. We can all think of some charming weirdo or uber-eccentric prankster who was relatively well-liked, and certain mean-spirited “alpha” personalities who were avoided and even opposed rather than lauded by the crowd. But these unusual exceptions notwithstanding, what did we usually see constituting the general mindset of popular and likeable people in our heavily hierarchical social world, particularly in high school and (to some extent) in college?

bullying01“Have I told you how much I hate you yet today? If not, let me now correct that oversight…”

1. Their opinions on any given subject are most often whatever popular opinion  on any of those subjects happens to be. Our culture thrives on conformity, not diversity of opinion and thought. We like to read about controversy, but we don’t tend to look kindly upon controversial individuals in our social circle, let alone their opinions. Instead, we tend to use them as convenient targets to vent our own personal frustrations upon. Think of the punching bag that boxers use in the gym to let off steam, but composed of flesh and blood.

2. They have interests, hobbies, and preferences that are popular, and most often those which tend towards the physically visceral. For instance, popular boys will all tend to be athletically inclined and heavily into boy-centric sports like football and basketball, or (depending on where you live, eh?) hockey. The girls will be heavily into popular “girly” sports like volleyball and cheerleading, and into community service where they win awards and recognition… yanno, like organizing drives that get blankets for the poor or bring awareness to some disease or other; don’t get me wrong, these are noble and often helpful endeavors, but not always done for altruistic reasons so much as earning more popularity notches. I’m not  saying this is the case with all who devote their time to community service, as a great many people truly care about those in need; but no one can tell me this isn’t clearly the case with a good number in the popular crowd. Seeking brownie points, adulation, and approval from the greater community is a good way to receive it from the immediate social circle, as well as endearing themselves to the major authority figures in the hierarchy (in this case, teachers, the principal, the guidance counselor, the hall monitors who frisk you upon entering the school every morning, the pot salesman, etc.).

In contrast, those who are heavily into less visceral endeavors like writing, artistry, photography, the physical sciences, etc., tend to be marginalized and less popular, regardless of their own contributions to the public and the school itself (unless they are also  doing some of the popular, more visceral stuff in addition to this). Students who are musicians and form their own bands tend to be popular, because music and on-stage performances are very visceral and engaging, much as popular sports are. The same goes for actors, particularly those who go before the camera instead of the stage. Has anyone reading this seriously failed to notice the pattern here? Even if, honestly, you were part of that pattern rather than relegated to watching it from the social equivalent of the bleachers?

3. They tend to be physically attractive, or at least “doable” (to use popular social parlance). Those souls like me who are not conventionally attractive, and overweight to boot, can  be popular, but if they are natural iconoclasts, then lacking in the looks and/or fitness department greatly cements their position of unpopularity. Let’s be serious, people, and honest: how many attractive and physically fit people do we remember from school who were actually among the ranks of the unpopular? How many attractive males with good athletic skills and/or in local bands weren’t popular? How many attractive females with good standing in the cheerleading squad and/or in local bands weren’t popular? Yes, we had goth bands run by and catering to the misfits, but note that they tended to be on the lower popularity tiers compared to the rock, metal, hip hop, and pop musicians in much the same way that the kicker tends to be much less lower on the football team’s popularity tier than the quarterback and the defensive line backers. Get the analogy there, peeps?

4. They tend to come disproportionately from whatever group is economically predominant in whatever area they happen to live in. This is a major means of establishing social kinship and connection in a system based on economic disparity, which in turn breeds many social differences and values (yes, this was another underhanded but blatant blow against our exalted capitalist system, mwah-hah-hah!). You will notice that students who come from families of affluent means who attend inner city schools tend to be less popular and more “misunderstood” than the students from the more obviously working class families. The opposite is the case for students from families of modest means who happen to attend suburban schools in largely affluent communities, or private schools (a small number of students of modest economic status will sometimes attend wealthy private schools of high status if they win a scholarship).

III. Why Do So Many Popular People Tend to Become Mean-Spirited? Is This Even True, or Just a Cliche’?

??????????????????????????????????????“Ah ha! Look at him being himself!”

Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves and our observations as we break down the list…

1. Becoming popular, and constantly treated with adulation, can very quickly fatten the ego as if it were metaphorically binging on cake with high fructose frosting. Being liked and looked up to by everyone; given special deference whenever you do something wrong; or special consideration when running for any particular public office (yanno, like class president or treasurer, or assistant deputy treasurer, or whatever); and everyone of the opposite sex trying to get up your bra or down your pants, or usually quick to let you get up or down theirs (whatever the case may be), will all too often affect your perceptions and ego in very specific ways. Many individuals – again, not  all, but all too many – will develop a strong sense of entitlement, as well as an inflated perception of themselves. This privileged position does not encourage such individuals to see nuance in the world, or to view others who are not like them in positive ways. They will be encouraged to view some people as “measuring up,” and others who do not, and to greatly limit those of their peers whom they consider equals, or at least worthy of respect and/or acknowledgement.

2. The desire to become popular, or to maintain that status if you are not at the top of the tiers, or to work your way up the totem pole, does not incite you to develop enlightened thinking, or to deviate in opinion or interests from whatever happens to be popular opinion or “acceptable” interests. Quite the contrary, as would be logically expected. This encourages those aiming for the top to dismiss and even mistreat those whom they perceive as having little chance of “moving on up,” socially speaking. Let’s keep in mind that if popular opinion is that Person A is a disgraceful loser not worthy of being treated as a human being, or a total “slut,” or a total “nerd,” or a lover of the less trendy brand of cola, etc., those seeking to be popular themselves feel compelled to adopt that opinion, not to mention the attendant behavior that goes along with it.

“But Chris, what about what Cook said in her article about developing pro-social skills? Are you trying to say that counts for nothing at all?”

No, I’m not saying Ms. Cook has no points there (please keep the obvious nipple jokes to yourselves please, you pervs!). But consider this: If you are automatically accepted for being very attractive; plus admired for having good athletic skills in whatever sports are popular amongst your crowd; and are a naturally physically fit and tough individual (boys in particular are expected to be physically adept at fighting in our culture); or simply have a natural skill with talking and “working” other people in a verbal manner, then you’re obviously going to quickly learn to develop good pro-social skills. That is, if by pro-social, you mean knowing how to talk to others, and to say the right things at the right time, and in the right way. Or to be funny in a way that people laugh with  you rather than at  you. I think you get the gist.

Can anyone learn these skills? I think the jury is out on that. I believe that all of us can learn to improve our social skills whatever our inherent talent in this department, but it’s difficult to do that if you lack all of the above natural qualities and talents, as well as the advantaged social and economic position in any given area (or era). I think Cook is wrong to suggest that every student enters the school, or even the world, on a completely equal footing, and then some simply proceed to do the right things, while others do the opposite. This is a complex and heavily nuanced situation, and we live in a very complex and greatly unequal socio-economic system that does not favor or lean towards an equal playing field in the social realm.

 It’s true that some individuals do manage to circumvent and find ways around all of the above-mentioned limitations to become popular and “winners,” and again, I think all of us can think of real life examples we have personally known or seen. But not everyone possesses the natural talents or opportunities to take advantage of this, just like not everyone has talent in math, or the opportunities to pursue a career in mathematics if they are. Other individuals, as my respected friend Joe Pro has reminded me, are simply good at taking advantage of happenstance if it should come their way. Conversely, others can be hampered by matters of happenstance that do not work to their advantage.

“So, Chris, since you were a bullied outcast, are you trying to romanticize such individuals, and claim that you’re the social equivalent of the cliched’ ‘noble savage’ in literature and folklore? Do you think people like you do nothing to make your situation worse? Hell, I know you personally, and are you seriously trying to tell me that you  can’t get annoying and obnoxious with your personality traits at times?”

The short answers: No. No. And no. Which leads to…

IV. What Do Outcasts and Social Pariahs Oftentimes Do to Make Their Situation Worse?

I wager that many reading this – especially those who’ve had to deal with me on a regular basis (*snickers*) – are glad I asked this question. And even more glad that I’m going to follow up with answers.

1. Outcasts and “hated” individuals too often develop the opinion that sometimes negative  attention is better than receiving no attention at all. Even when this continually backfires on them in sometimes very bad ways, the desire to be acknowledged by your peers and/or family in some  way can lead one to develop personality traits that are, to say the least, not very endearing or easy to put up with. I don’t need to explain any further how this can exacerbate rather than provide an alleviation of social pariah-ship (if that’s not a word, it should be).

2. Being an outcast often leads to severe envy of even the moderately or “middle tier” popular crowd, as well as extreme bitterness towards the world in general. It further leads to heavy degrees of self-doubt and self-hatred, as one internalizes the negative feelings and reactions that the crowd has towards them. They will often begin to feel ashamed of who they are, what their interests happen to be, and even where they come from. This will cause them to act out in certain ways that get them into trouble at home and in school, and to become as unpopular in their family and amongst the teachers at their school as they are with their peers.

Let’s be honest here: our family members and teachers tend to like conformity as much as anyone else. They are by no means less prone to judging based on the prevailing cultural values. After all, the nuclear family unit and the administration of our current schooling systems are also very hierarchical in structure. And as I’ve noted repeatedly, hierarchies of every sort prefer conformity of thought and behavior.

Bullying04“One of the popular girls told me that she caught you looking at her this morning. Is that true, you little punk? I should make you shine and polish all of my sports trophies, and all of her gold stars for raising funds to research African night blindness! That would take you months  of hard labor!”

“So are you saying that the outcasts are never jerks themselves, and are always right in conflicts that arise with the popular?”

No, I’m not. Being in the position of an outcast doesn’t make you inherently noble or “good,” and the bitterness, anger, envy, and lack of a positive image of yourself also tends to do no favors for the type of personality and level of enlightenment that one develops under such circumstances. This is not a critique of popularity in and of itself, nor is it even a canonization of the outcast (especially when some of them “go Columbine” on occasion, which I do not  condone, even if I understand it).

It is more a critique on the type of dog-eat-dog system we live under, that has so many institutions designed to “weed out” and tend towards establishing such a strong demarcation between winners and losers in the first place. It’s not a conducive atmosphere towards breeding equality of opportunity to develop pro-social skills. Again, some people have the natural talent to develop pro-social skills, whereas others rely more on their environmental circumstances to develop them.

“So are you saying no one should take responsibility for their behavior, and at least try to develop these social skills despite the obstacles?”

No, certainly not. I’m a strong advocate of never giving up and plowing against whatever obstacles are in your way, no matter  how large, and to accomplish and develop as much as you can within whatever limitations you may have. I greatly admire many historical and personal examples of those who have accomplished this, and they are my inspirational idols. The same with many fictional characters who are archetypes for such positive character traits.

But I’m also saying that it’s not realistic to expect the majority of people with the odds stacked against them in the type of system that we currently live under to develop good pro-social skills en masse. We also cannot expect a system like the current global order to produce large numbers of popular people who possess this popularity simply because they are nice to, and considerate of, other people. That is every bit a cliche’ as the opposite trope Ms. Cook complained about in movies; we simply do not see the opposite extreme played up in films because, as she also noted, it’s less exciting and produces no drama. But it’s an equally simplistic cliche’/assumption/attitude nevertheless.

3. Outcasts tend to all too often gravitate towards movements and trends that purport to embrace the marginalized and encourage individuality… but in reality, have negative and generally grim sensibilities rather than uplifting or empowerment motifs. They ironically tend to encourage a different set of conformity. This only serves to further alienate and marginalize these outcasts from society, and make them come off all the more as “weirdos,” emotionally “tainted,” socially inept, and about as welcome in the crowd as a carrier of the Ebola virus.

Personally, I love the aesthetic of the goth movement, and I admittedly find goth chicks very attractive. Overall, I see the goth movement as a mixed bag, as it does have some interesting components, but I think it also has too strong a focus on overly “dark” elements like morbidity and death. I’m not saying that death in and of itself has to be horrible, but when tethered to an overabundance of suicidal thoughts, killings, accidents, violent imagery, and self-mutilation it veers towards death’s more depressing aspects. The emo cultural movement (if you can call it that) is IMO largely devoid of some of the more innovative and creative aspects of the goth sensibility, instead having a focus on negative emotions and a whiny pandering towards the perpetual victim mindset that is anything but positive.

bullied_girlI’m depressed and I feel sorry for myself, in case my expression didn’t make that obvious. Sorry, just having an emo moment here.

4. The over-idolization of anti-heroes and destructive & self-destructive individuals, characters in fiction, and memes. There is no doubt that many outcasts harbor strong and often brutal revenge fantasies. I must confess that my thoughts have wandered in that direction more often than I’d care to admit. As long as it doesn’t consume your thinking on a pervasive basis, or lead you into actual acts of harm against others or yourself, it can serve as a healthy and understandable means of private venting and “cleansing” of your emotions. But when taken too far, as can too often be the case with outcasts, well… think about the high suicide rate amongst our number, and the occasional Columbine-ish incidents, and you get my drift here.

The idols of some outcasts in popular fiction too often include horror characters like Jason Vorhees, or anti-heroes culled from the comic book medium like the Punisher, Deadpool, Deathstroke the Terminator, Lobo, Harley Quinn, and Wolverine (before he became less of an angry loner and more of a standard hero over the past two decades; or, more specifically, after other writers took over the character from Chris Claremont).

Now don’t get me wrong, I think all of these characters are cool for what archetypes they represent, and I’m not only a big fan of the horror genre, but it encompasses a large amount of my published work. And my love for and interest in the comic book medium is well known by all who know me.  Further, I like nuance, conflict, and moral ambiguity in both my real life heroes and fictional idols/inspirations.

But here is where I eventually learned to set myself apart from many of my fellow outcasts: I may think Jason Vorhees is cool, and I can appreciate the archetypal themes that he represents in our culture; but I do not identify with him, nor do I actually want to be him! The same with the likes of the Punisher, Deadpool, Deathstroke the Terminator, etc. I often admit to finding Harley Quinn darkly sexy and attractive with her quirky eccentricity and goth-like qualities, but would I actually want to be her male equivalent (hell no!), or have her as a significant other (hell yes! Well, erm, maybe for a few passionate nights, until she happens to kill half the people around me)?

Harley Quinn01“You know ya want me, Puddin’. Ohhhh, btw, was that your mom I just killed? Whoops, my bad! Tee hee!”

But it took me a long time to learn to choose my idols in both real life and fiction a lot more carefully, and to not let my previous bitterness towards the world and my desire for revenge against it have too much of an influence on who I was actually inspired by, and wanted to be more like in real life.

Deadpool01“Don’t’cha just wanna be me, dewd? I’m totally smokin’! Well, at least my pistols are after I use ’em! Bwa-hah-hah! I totally slay me! Not to mention every other schmuck in my vicinity too! And look where my last bullet just hit that mail man! Booyah!”

And why didn’t the idiot writer of this blog find a way to shade my dialogue in yellow?

For perhaps another good example: I consider the X-Men a nuanced and generally positive, uplifting fictional archetype to identify with; but as cool as I think the Suicide Squad are, I most definitely do not  consider them an inspiration to look up to or emulate! (Not that I don’t love reading about them, and writing characters similar to them, of course! Suicide Squad is one of the coolest and most bitchin’ team concepts in the history of fantastic fiction.)

 Suicide-Squad-01

Deadpool: “We’re very  accepting of outcasts. They make good target practice.”

Harley Quinn: “You know it, Puddin’!”

Black Spider: “Why do you so frequently call everyone you’re into ‘Puddin”?”

Harley Quinn: “‘Cause, I can,  bitch! Tee hee!”

King Shark: “Lemme eat the outcast!”

So yes, outcasts and social pariahs do need to take a strong, hard look at themselves, their behavior, and their allegiances. We have to take the blame for the things we honestly deserve to be blamed for. We simply do not deserve most or all of the blame. Moreover, we need to have an honest desire to stop finding “nobility” in being a  perpetual victim, or idolizing the victimizers who serve as proxies for us in both true crime stories and popular fantastic fiction.

We need to realize that we can’t expect anyone else to like us if we do not like ourselves. We have to learn to be kind and respectful to others, while at the same time seeing a positive purpose in the world for the likes of annoying rabble rousers and iconoclasts like ourselves. It’s no easy feat to learn to love and respect yourself in the face of extreme condemnation and hatred from others around you, but giving into bitterness, hatred, self-pity, revenge, and despair is all too easy, and is thus the wrong route to go.

Most of all, we need to learn that it’s an awesome gift to be different, but that depends on the specific way that your differences manifest. We can aspire to be unwavering critical thinkers who care far more about what’s right than what is popular and thereby provide an example for the world, but we should never find inspiration in the sociopath or their tendencies. We also need to relish our differences as serving a unique purpose in the world, but also to realize that we should never seek certain allegiances to be different just for the mere sake of being different, or to get attention that we receive no other way, or for mere shock value, etc.

V. So What Solution Do You Offer?

The solution I offer is simple, but not simplistic. And it’s the same one I offer for a huge number of problems in the world, barring acts of nature like earthquakes and tornadoes (usually, that is).

We need to take a long and hard look at the system we live under, the institutions and values it encourages us to develop, and the type of environment it creates for all of us. We need to always strive to not only make ourselves the best we can be as individuals, but to collectively and cooperatively work towards establishing the best possible system and world order we can live under. I do not believe that the current global system represents that by a long shot. The problems we suffer in this world are too pervasive to lie squarely on “human nature” or individual inadequacies.

In regards to the specific topic of this blog, we need to oppose any type of system or institution based on hierarchies, conformity of thinking, and values that encourage competition and weeding out over cooperation and equality of opportunity for everyone. If we can accomplish that, then and only then we can have a realistic expectation for everyone to possess an equal chance in developing pro-social skills.

Cyber-Bullying01You just gotta love how social media and online communications in the Internet age helps your fellow students keep in touch with you outside of the school walls.