A Brief Interview With Elijah D. Manley on Education in America

elijah-manley-at-green-party-national-convention-2016

 


This blog is the first of a planned series of brief interviews where I will discuss various youth rights and other assorted political issues with Elijah D. Manley, the first underager to run for President of the United States, which he did as a nominee in the 2016 Green Party primaries at the “mere” age of 17. The interviews in this series are intended to be short enough that most people can consume them in a single sitting. As a few examples of his political exploits over the past year, here is Elijah speaking at the 2016 Green Party National Convention in Houston, Texas (Elijah’s speech starts around the 12:44 time stamp; unfortunately, this video has a poor and inconsistent audio quality, so listen carefully on a device with a good sound system!); and here is his interview on The Young Turks.

 


Though the nomination went to Jill Stein, Elijah did quite well for a campaign that was radical even by the progressive standards of the Greens. He managed to get on the ballot of two states and the District of Columbia, and gained an impressive 41% of the votes and 3 of the 7 Green delegates in his home state of Florida, with the rest of the votes and the state’s other 4 delegates going to Jill Stein; and this despite all 6 Green primary candidates being on the Florida ballot. As an additional surprise, he was given a quarter of a delegate from among the District of Columbia’s 2 delegates (with another quarter going to Bill Kreml, and the rest going to Jill Stein).

 


I was honored beyond words when I was asked by Elijah to be campaign manager for his historic run, and needless to say, it was quite a ride! As expected, Elijah is far from done with politics, and I thank him for graciously giving his time to my blog for this series of interviews. Let us now begin! The interview was conducted via instant messaging, and is edited only for grammar and clarity, with no change or modification in content or context.

 

CN: As a major participant in the youth liberation movement who also happens to be legally “underage” and still in high school, do you think the American schooling system teaches students to be good critical and independent thinkers, or is it more about encouraging a conformity of thought?
 I believe that the education system in America does not encourage free thinking. It instead encourages conformity. This education system is undemocratic, particularly because it is hierarchical. Instead of helping students think for themselves, it discourages thinking.
CN:  Based on your personal observations and discussions with many other students across the U.S., do you feel that the small number of students who are naturally critical and independent thinkers are treated well by the adult staff at the schools?
 —
 No. I believe that students who are independent and free thinkers are seen as a threat in schools. These students are likely disrespected, disciplined for not conforming, and/or watched.
 —
CN:  There are some who believe that the hierarchical, top-down nature of the contemporary schooling environment in America — where older adults are treated as always knowing best, having full control over the school curriculum, etc. — has a lot to recommend it as long as there is mutual respect between the adult staff and students. Do you believe that the hierarchical, adult-controlled structure of the current schooling system allows for or encourages much mutual respect between the adult staff and students?
No. I believe that in order for there to be a successful schooling system, students must have a full say in all decision-making. It must be what I call a “vertical structure of power.”
CN: Would you describe the vertical structure of power as a bottom-to-top command structure where students share decision-making power with teachers and other staff, including participating in team teaching efforts?
 —
 Yes, exactly. This requires a say in the formulation of curriculum.
CN: Do you believe that equal say should include the rules of the school related to attire, which programs funding is allocated to, etc.?
 —
 Yes. All decisions made by school administrations and boards should be approved or rejected by student bodies.
CN: Many have complained that contemporary youths are very vapid in terms of their interests, i.e., only interested in modern fashions, the latest trendy movies (or trends in general), an over-interest in consuming all the latest technology (useful or otherwise), and almost sole interest in modern movies, books, and music with little interest in the classics in each of these mediums. Do you believe that what passes for “youth culture” today has anything to do with how the schooling system is formulated and conducted?
No. I believe that youth culture is developed as time goes by, and if it has anything to do with school, maybe it is the social setting in school. Attacking youth culture is what I consider to be “gentrification of youth.”
CN: How would you personally define “gentrification of youth” if asked to elaborate?
 Outside groups or age demographics attacking, targeting or trying to influence or change youth culture.
 —
CN:  Having been in the contemporary schooling system for at least 12 years now, do you feel that it gives you and other students a positive attitude towards learning and education?
 —
 No. It honestly makes us hate school and the education system even more. Most of us do not feel like we really learned valuable information to prepare us for life after HS. We also feel that the info we have learned is in part irrelevant. I doubt that many students are enthusiastic about the schooling system.
CN: Any last things you would like to add about your experiences in the American schooling system for those outside the nation who may be wondering about it?
 The biggest problems I have evaluated about the American schooling system is that it is run like a big corporation, and not a school. There is too much standardized testing, and not enough learning time. Failure should not even be a way to refer to children who have not succeeded in acquiring a certain level of knowledge. The biggest problem of them all is that the students’ concerns and voices are ignored.
 —
CN: I think the video you put up that recorded your experience with the school board may well attest to that.
Yep [laughter] there are a lot!
CN: Cases in point are here and here.

 —

My thanks to Elijah for his time!


elijah-manley-and-jill-stein

Moving forward against all odds!

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Nine-Year-Old Reporter Stands Up To Adult Bigotry

Hilde responds to critics02

 

Adults can get very  hostile and vicious with anyone “underage” who breaks type and challenges the very strict ageist paradigms that our society imposes on children and younger teens. They will claim they are out to “protect” these kids and look out for their “best interests,” but the extremely vitriolic behavior they exhibit if a youth refuses to adhere to the artificial limitations and restrictions society places on them suggests something else entirely. That type of behavior sounds a lot more like waves of harassment, condescending insults, hate-mongering, and sheer venting than anything resembling “protection” or well-intentioned advice.

In fact, this type of horrendously mean-spirited behavior, which has recently become an online trend described as “call-out culture,” regularly goes beyond anything that anyone could call “helpful” or “protective,” or anything that a rational person could possibly perceive as having any type of positive emotional effect on the younger person it’s directed at.

Call-out culture is certainly not aimed at younger people alone, and it’s part of a wider problem in the way politics plays out on social media that I will doubtless address in a future blog. This particular blog, however, is dedicated to a major recent example of the type of behavior that adults can exhibit towards underagers who “rock the boat” and do something great and positive that threatens the framework of our adult-dominated society and the “proper place” that younger people are expected to keep themselves quietly tucked away in. And as noted above, these cruel attacks are clearly anger, resentment, and venting masquerading as “concern” for the well-being of younger people.

The particular case in point is a brilliant and motivated American nine-year-old reporter and digital newspaper publisher named Hilde Kate Lysiak, founder of the Orange Street News (it has a community Facebook page and YouTube channel, so I ask all of my readers to look up both and give her your support, whether you’re fellow youth liberationists and anti-adultists or simply mainstream thinkers who happen to be greatly impressed by Hilde’s hard work and gumption!).

How Hilde’s interest in reporting came to pass is interesting to note. Her father, Matthew Lysiak, is himself a reporter who worked for the New York Daily News, and he got his daughter interested in the vocation during the course of his work with the paper, which included sometimes bringing her to the office with him. This leads to a segue that I believe is important to mention, as this aspect of Hilde’s story has some important relevance to the youth liberation platform in regards to education.

I believe that the origin of Hilde’s career in reporting proves that our current autocratic schooling system isn’t the only way a young person can acquire an education, and in fact, its strict standardized methodology is not actually designed to identify a student’s individual talents and interests and then nurture them. However, Hilde got the equivalent of the apprenticeships younger people used to routinely receive prior to youths losing all of their rights and being all but excluded from the job market once the Industrial Revolution came of age. Unfortunately, modern progressives continue to shamefully brag about how their predecessors helped establish child labor laws as we know them today, citing the sweatshop conditions of America’s early factory environment as being the justification — as opposed to making the more humane and conscientious choice of fighting and ending sweatshop conditions for all  laborers instead.

So I ask all of my readers to please note that nothing about the conditions under which Hilde works is remotely indicative of a sweatshop, or inhumane in any way. She is in charge of her own work conditions, and she finds it both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, not to mention very educational on many levels. Most people’s hobbies can be turned into a marketable job skill (for as long as we’re stuck with capitalism), and provide a job that is personally meaningful. This builds skill and individual drive in a positive way that no classroom in the current system can possibly teach.

Modern apprenticeships for younger people can easily take such a form in a youth liberated society. Hilde is undoubtedly very bright and talented, but I’d wager she is not  a prodigy. Many younger people her age could likely use modern technology to do useful and important forms of work for the community, and they fully deserve to earn both monetary and academic credit for doing so. More on this in future blogs (yup, brace yourselves! Mwah-hah-hah!).

Back to the main topic, and the point of all of the above. After Hilde found that she shared her father’s talent for reporting, the Orange Street News was born. Hilde proved that an eight-year-old (her age at the time) with a knack and dedication for this work is fully capable of handling all of the writing and interviews. She has help from her dad with editing (all writers need an editor) and (presumably) transportation to and from places that are too far for her to go via bicycle; and from her 12-year-old sister Isabella Rose, who helps via her own talent for video and photography.

All went well for the first six months, as long as Hilde only covered local news that the paper’s adult readers considered “cute.” But as soon as she decided to cover serious stories, beginning with a local suspected murder which she beat all of her competition in breaking the story on, Hilde evidently committed a cardinal sin in the mind of many of her adult readers/viewers: she did something that society feels a “mere” child of nine shouldn’t be doing. To their horror and abject disapproval, she was becoming a real  reporter instead of “just a kid doing something ‘safe’ and cute.” Or, to use late 19th century and early 20th century Southern pejorative parlance, she became the modern socio-political equivalent of an “uppity nigger.”

After she broke that important story is when all the hostility and condescending remarks began. One commenter said, “You are nine fucking years old. Seriously, what the fuck is going on?” Others said: “I am disgusted that this cute little girl thinks she is a real journalist. What happened to tea parties?”; and “Nine-year-old girls should be playing with dolls, not trying to be reporters.”

Yanno, because that’s what society expects (or insists) that girls her age should be doing, even if they want to make more out of their lives and start on the path before they turn 18, as if their life doesn’t truly begin until that arbitrarily designated age. Even the former mayor of the town of Selinsgrove, where the murder took place, added to the deluge of hostility by calling Hilde’s story “sensationalist trash.”

Anyone who seriously tries to argue with me that these are well-intentioned words of genuine concern for the girl’s well-being that simply went a little “off-color” or a trite overboard needs a serious wake-up call. This is not the lingo of rational, thoughtful people, but a bunch of angry adults who are spewing venomous ad hominems  at Hilde for being a mere “child” who stepped out of line from what adult-dominated society considers to be her proper place. As long as she confines all of her activities to tea parties, or playing with the latest Barbie doll, or sequestered away in the heavily state-controlled mandatory classroom learning only what the adult staff wants to teach her, she and her fellow youths are not in any position to make waves or prove what they are truly capable of.

In other words, to use another Southern American analogy, she is the modern equivalent of a person of color who dared enter an establishment with a “whites only” sign attached to the front door. If you seriously try to argue that these reactions do not parallel those used against other minority groups in the past for similarly stepping out of line, then you need to read them again and make honest comparisons to the similar statements made in the past. You simply have to replace words like “child” with terms like “nigger.” In either case, the dominant group in society feels threatened and offended by a member of a minority group overstepping their perceived place in the societal hierarchy, and the identical type of behavior predictably ensues. It’s simply directed at a different group in today’s world.

Hilde defiant - I Love Free Speech

The face of an uppity rabble rouser and target of derision by many “concerned” adults, who fail to believe that the message on her lapel button applies to people of all ages.

Of course, Hilde didn’t take the attacks sitting down, or allow herself to be backed into a corner sobbing in compliance, like these “haters” probably counted on her doing. She instead proved what she is made of  — which is certainly something far stronger than “sugar and spice, and everything nice” — by responding to these comments on video, and strongly refuted them. With the tenacity of a knightress in glittering armor, she stood up for her right to be recognized for her proven merits and talents regardless of being “too young” in society’s eyes, and for breaking type and daring to challenge the paradigm (by proving it wrong).

She said, “It kind of gets me angry because, just because I’m nine doesn’t mean I can’t do a great story. It doesn’t mean I can’t be a reporter.” Then she said, “I know this makes some of you uncomfortable, and I know some of you just want me to sit down and be quiet because I’m nine. But if you want me to stop covering news, then you get off your computer and do something about the news. There, is that cute enough for you?”

reporter

“OMG, who  did you just say is horning in on my privileged territory here? I’ll have to send histrionic, expletive-filled attacks to the comments section of her newspaper! Yup, once she sees all of that she’ll probably start crying like a baby and go back to spending her time having tea parties or breaking in her newest Dora the Explorer jungle play set! And I’ll look like a good guy for showing ‘concern’ over her well-being! Ha ha yup, that’s exactly how it’ll go down…”

You go, girl! It’s nice to see that Hilde is not bowing before relentless adult hostility and pressure to only be what they want her to be, on their terms and on their pre-determined, standardized time table (i.e., not until she turns 18). And kudos to her father for being unlike these other adults who feel so threatened and outraged by a nine-year-old girl proving she is capable of doing something so awesome. Mr. Lysiak took all the usual flack for this as well, as one might expect of a member of the dominant group acting much more enlightened than a typical member of his demographic for this particular time period. Nevertheless, he represents hope for the future in his own way as well, and offers further proof that adults in general, and parents in particular, are not destined to be at odds with showing youth proper respect and personhood.

Hilde’s brave and determined stance was eventually rewarded by other commenters supporting her, one of them calling her a “hero” and one of her YouTube followers telling her, “You go tiny newsperson, don’t let them get you down.” Hope for a better world in the future was offered by some of the more thoughtful and enlightened adults who were themselves able to break type, and they showed this youth reporter all the respect she had rightfully earned.

Hilde delivering paper

Warning to all ageist people: if you get in this  girl’s way, she will ride straight over you! And you won’t be the first opponent she’s crushed. Hah!

Of course, Hilde is far from alone in dealing with something like this when an “underager” dares to go against the expectations of an adult-dominated system. And once again, any attempt by these adults to say they are genuinely concerned is negated by the obvious degree of anger and resentment in their voices, and the clear intent to inflict emotional pain. I urge all who reacted this way to Hilde’s career, as well as those who may be reading this who find themselves tempted  to react that way, to please take a step back, consider your actions, and ask yourselves some very difficult questions about your own state of thinking.

 

One final segue of relevance I’d like to bring up before closing this blog.

I believe this situation neatly answers the following oft-heard question from detractors of youth liberation: “If younger people really wanted their ‘freedom’, why aren’t more of them standing up for it?” Well, they are! They are simply not doing it by running around with picket signs in front of City Hall or Capitol Hill. They know they would be dragged home by squads of police if they did that, and then likely grounded by their parents (except for those who may have cool and more enlightened parents, like Hilde does). Others rebel in an anti-social manner by “acting out” in various ways similar to how pre-Civil War chattel slaves would do on the Southern plantations (e.g., by secretly destroying equipment, injuring livestock, quietly talking resentfully about the more privileged house slaves, etc.).

 

I will quickly note that one of the great things about this particular case is how it proves that children, as well as younger teens, are capable of accomplishing great things and handling responsibility if given the opportunities and support. The youth liberation movement currently and understandably focuses much of its energy on emancipating adolescents, but it’s clear that children below the “teen” prefix are also quite worthy of the movement’s support.

 

But still others are doing what Hilde is doing, i.e.,  showing what they are capable of against all of the hateful barbs projected at them by adults. This is similar to what 17-year-old Elijah D. Manley is doing by running for President of the United States, with the similar degree of vicious harassment he has endured from mostly adult detractors, and why I’m proud to chair his campaign team much as I’m extremely proud of Hilde and the growing number of other youths are working so hard to break type and prove their mettle in an adult-dominated world.

This story was picked up by The Guardian, and is linked here as my source. Here is a link to the Columbia Journalism review of Hilde’s paper, soon after she started it at the age of eight.

Hilde responds to critics

Hilde Lysiak responds to critics in a YouTube video. The young warrior smites the opposition!

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 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 V.R. 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 on social media) 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 reserved 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 – is biased due to a personal dislike for both J.D.F. and Saban, which he makes clear 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, so his opinions are not solely based on any personal bias, if any at all (most often opinions motivated heavily or entirely by personal bias will be filled with more ad hominums  and personal insults than any cogent thoughts; take any of the typical things said in a web site’s comments section for numerous examples). 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 constitute 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 if you must!).

Point #1: While many believe that Saban should have full control over the intellectual property 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, or a mere means for a handful of people to make money off of. 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 corporation that holds the copyright. They have a value and substance to the collective zeitgeist 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 in the Marvel and/or DC Universes defeated all the genre’s popular super-heroes and took over the world? See Mark Millar’s Wanted  comic book series for that (and 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 by Fawcett 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. None of the above series would have been allowed to have been produced if the respective owners had that type of power (in fact, Disney successfully sued O’Neill over Air Pirates Funnies, which is what happens when you consider any iconic copyrighted characters to be sacred cows).

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 by its owners 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. Can I just slap him a few times instead? I promise I won’t do it too hard. Wait, am I even allowed to actually hit  anyone in my book?”

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 ever ‘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, to such an extent as that can actually be done.

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 (but that’s a whole other 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 in America 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 all know. We see the animated versions of the Dark Knight from the 1990s into the 2000s – and his super-heroic brethren from Justice League  and its even better successor series  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 “kids only” material. 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 could 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 that it can work just as well beyond the confining walls of a “kiddie” conception. 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! [Update: And now we have the Riverdale  TV series on the CW network, which is hardly “kiddie” fare!]

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, Archie vs. Sharknado, or Sabrina’s Chilling Adventures [and readers back in the day certainly would never have anticipated something like the Riverdale  TV series, or even the best-selling Life With Archie  comic book series]. 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. They simply cannot be confined to the “kiddie ghetto,” and their successful break from it over the past two decades makes a very important point.

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 of – 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 the use of Tommy Oliver’s two famous alter-egos for 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; where someone can be sexually assaulted; where bloody wars are fought; where good and evil are oftentimes not easily discernible; where you can suffer from a sudden and unexpected attack of diarrhea); or more heady speculative scenarios (e.g., a post-apocalyptic or otherwise dystopic future setting, or one where Donald Trump can actually become president!). 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 now make note of how the Japanese sentai series that birthed the Power Rangers on this side of the Pacific differed from the latter. Hence, 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, 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 explosive popularity at the time of Wolverine, Frank Miller’s interpretation of Daredevil, and the ninja craze (including those bloody yet awesome movies with Sho Kosugi like Revenge of the Ninja  and  Pray for Death, not to mention once-popular copycats like  American Ninja). 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’s 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… and some things should  mean more to us than money (*ducks before Thurston Howell the Third and President Donald Trump has me shot*). 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.”