May. 11th, 2008

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September 11, 2001 is something I'd have had trouble believing if I hadn't seen it live on TV. Because it was something straight out of a Marvel comic book. Who really believed that such a thing could happen anywhere, much less in the United States of America? But it did. And the League of Supervillains that we have running this country trumped it and life becomes more and more like a bad comic book every day.

Superhero movies were a genre that misfired many times with the occasional success that was enough to keep someone interested in making them. But now we see more and more superhero movies. Part of that is because Hollywood has gotten better at making them. They're not as apologetic anymore. That is - licensing superhero properties and then betraying the very fanboys and fangirls that made the characters such hot icons in the first place. They've started hiring directors that will unashamedly say that they are comic book fans.

But I find myself wondering if part of the vindication of the superhero genre comes from living in a time when supervillains seem more prevalent than any time since WWII. The world seems to have gone crazy. We have the usual organized stuff from La Cosa Nostra and the Bush Crime Family, but we seem to have an increase in people buying guns and flipping out. Or maybe it's just that our news media are so bankrupt of ideas, so lacking in spine, that they're just covering this shit more because they don't have the cojones to cover the Fall of the American Empire while Caligula holds sway. But things are seriously nuts and would be even if we didn't have global warming and peak oil upon us as well.

I just watched the trailer for The Dark Knight again. When Batman was ret-conned to The Batman, the Joker was retooled a little as well. Not that the original Bob Kane character was as easy to dismiss as the campy version in the TV show...but as Batman truly became The Dark Knight, the Joker cropped up as yin to Batman's yang. Before there were just regular ol' crooks, but the creation of a caped crusader spawned a new type of villain.

That has been treated in comics before. But this upcoming film, judging by the trailer, really subscribes to that version of The Joker. And it's frightening as hell. Frightening in the movie, in fiction, but also frightening because we seem to have a new sort of terrorist. Terrorism is not new. (And, please, let's keep to the original meaning of terrorism instead of the propagandistic misuse and overuse of the word encouraged by Arbustito.) I suppose there are some instances of well-coordinated technological attacks...especially in the '70s. But it seems like the tech has gotten cheaper and more widespread. Simultaneously, there are global conditions, exacerbated by numerous US foreign policy blunders, that encourage the growth of fundamentalism worldwide. Many fundamentalists seem to be inclined towards violence, whether you're talking Christianity, Judaism or Islam. There are more folks out there with a crusade, a wild glint in their eyes, and enough explosive to make someone pay. Or pay attention. I have to admit I find the world much scarier now than I did when I was young. As government shows itself less worthy of trust, as public safety officers are COMPLETELY overrun in cities like Oakland, it really does send one fantasizing about a savior. A hero or heroine who can do the enforcement our elected officials and paid public safety officers can't or won't do.

During The Depression, audiences flocked to Astaire-Rogers movies where they could see an opulence and elegance that were more abundant in the '20s and to which they hoped their nation would return again. I suppose the superhero movie has become that. It is a fantasy of what we so desperately want - safety, order, and justice.

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