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Superman Isn’t Shakespeare (A Rebuttal to io9) July 18, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Comics, Observations, Science Ficton.
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As you all know (or should know by now), I am a huge Superman fan. This should seem obvious as I’ve written about Superman or mentioned him no fewer than four times on this blog—so if you’re not a Superman fan, you should probably skip this blog entry. Anyway, over on io9, there’s this hackneyed attempt at comparing Superman…to Shakespeare. Apparently, Dan Venning isn’t a fan of either, or something. I don’t really know, because I skimmed as much of this tripe as I could tolerate. Here’s the very first paragraph:

I have to confess, I’ve never really liked Superman. I find DC Comics’ flagship enterprise to be, ultimately, boring. Some of you will probably feel (and this is correct) that I just haven’t read enough of the series, or found the proper arcs. But my main problem is that Superman, himself, seems too perfect: he’s profoundly moral, a pure do-gooder, and utterly invincible.

Are you kidding me? First, Venning says that he “never really liked Superman”—fair enough; Supes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But then to say that he hasn’t read enough of the comics to even really justify his argument? That is absolute nonsense. It fairly screams, “I’m hip because I just totally shat on a fictional character that a lot of people love. Aren’t I hip?” I won’t even get into the non sequitur of comparing Superman to Shakespeare in the Park.

If that’s not douchetastic enough, he goes on to say what is chief problem is with Superman: he’s just too good and “utterly invincible.” That is usually the argument proffered by people who are familiar with the general existence of Superman and have probably only watched the 1978 movie, but then feel it their duty to denounce Superman as though they are experts on the character. I’m going to enumerate what’s wrong with Venning’s moronic assertions:

1. What the hell is wrong with a fictional character being good?
Seriously, when did we get to the point that our heroes all have to be like Batman or Wolverine? I swear, when I meet fanboys who sniff at Superman as though it’s personally offensive that a superhero would act altruistically, it makes me think these are just sociopaths who want a fictional character to justify their own anti-social stupidity.

2. Superman is a symbol of our own aspirations towards a better humanity
As many comic writers have explained—most notably in Action Comics #775, Superman repeatedly uses his powers to inspire humanity, not to rule over them. He fights for the weak and defenseless in order to inspire humanity to fight for the downtrodden. And what could be wrong with that? Oh, right; if you’re a fan of grimdark bullshit, you’ll find that “corny” or “cheesy.”

3. Superman is not invincible.
Geez. This Venning sounds like the hordes of idiots who have gotten their grubby, unimaginative mitts on Superman and have thought (or worse, said in interviews), “Gee, Superman’s too powerful. I’ll ignore his vulnerability to kryptonite, magic, or the dozen or so stronger villains in the DC Universe and have him go on a fucking year-long walk across America! Nevermind that Superman hasn’t had the power to move planets in, oh, decades; I’ll just have him cry or be mopey about something.”

Venning’s screed has another gem:

The one time I’ve been even slightly interested in Superman was near the end of Kill Bill (Part II), when Bill himself, played by the late, great (and kind of kinky, apparently) David “Caine” Carradine, expounded on the comic. What Bill –- here, clearly speaking for Quentin Tarantino -– finds interesting about Superman is the hero’s implicit critique of humanity. Superman is the real guy: it’s Clark Kent that’s the costume. And Clark Kent is foolish, fearful, indecisive, and a silly glasses-wearing intellectual. Kind of like me. And that’s how Superman sees humanity.

Personally, I’m much more interested in darker comics that portray frayed heroes who struggle to avoid being overwhelmed by the evil that they themselves fight. Until its recent bizarre space-alien arcs, I’d gotten a kick out of Mark Waid’s Irredeemable because it asks the question we all wanted to know about Superman: what the hell would we do if he went crazy, or decided to kill us all? This is the real problem with any immense power, whether it be an authoritarian government or spandex-wearing alien with a perfect jawline.

The wrong and the stupid in the above paragraphs is vast. Superman does NOT see humanity as “foolish, fearful, and indecisive.” Clearly, this fool hasn’t read a Superman comic…ever. Since 1986 and John Byrne’s awesome “Man of Steel,” Superman has been the disguise and Clark Kent has been the “real” person. If there’s a critique of humankind to be found in Superman, it’s here:

Superman sees humanity as possessing the capacity for good, the ability to solve their own problems. That is not a critique that presents humanity as foolish, or stupid. Perhaps Venning should ask himself why people wear shirts bearing the “S” shield or why Superman is easily one of the most recognized fictional characters in the world. Failing that, Venning should, I dunno, actually read more than two Superman comics in order to get a sense of just who Superman is. Also, if you’re getting your understanding of Superman fourth hand from a Quentin Tarantino movie, you really should reconsider the validity of your argument. Last I checked, Tarantino hasn’t written any Superman comics or movies (and for that, we should breathe a collective sigh of relief).

The whole point of Superman is that he is bright, optimistic, and good. Simply compare his origin story with that of, say, Batman’s.

Compare this:

to this:

Batman’s origin is clearly based in fear and trauma. Now, Superman’s origin is no less traumatic—after all, he’s the sole survivor of his entire planet and race. However, he doesn’t let that trauma define him, while Batman is completely defined by his trauma.

Venning completely misses the point. The point is that Superman has all this power, this vast, earth-shaking power. What does he do? He chooses to do the right thing. He chooses to use his powers to help humankind. He chooses to do all these things without reward. He doesn’t demand anything in return from the person he rescues from a fire or from humanity when he thwarts another of Brainiac’s schemes. Up until very recently, Superman didn’t mope or wonder why he was doing what he was doing—he simply did it. In sum, it’s the clarity of Superman’s moral vision that makes him an appealing character. Take a look at the world around us: would we be in the economic mess that we’re in if investment bankers, loan officers and everyday people had thought about the consequences of their actions. Look at News Corp and how the publishers of The News of the World ran roughshod over people’s privacy. Look at the venal politicians we have in Washington and tell me that we couldn’t use a hero who, instead of being grimdark or mopey, is bright, optimistic and good.

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Skippy Goes To The Movies!: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” July 15, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Music, Observations.
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Verdict: Suitably entertaining, but not a home run.

Writing a review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” is a bit difficult for me. For one, I think that Part 1 has to be taken into account. As the second part of a movie, I think it functions quite well. It doesn’t require the viewer to catch up…too much. Of course, if you’ve never seen any of the other movies or read the books, you’ll be lost—that should go without saying at this point.

Also, I think that, like the “Lord of the Rings” movies, one has to consider how this movie functions as part of a larger narrative. As part of the entire Harry Potter franchise, this movie acquits itself well. It hits all the high points and strikes most of the right chords—however, there just seemed to be something missing. It seemed as though getting to those chords and moments felt rushed. Having read the final book, I knew there were two scenes that I wanted to see (Molly Weasley’s confrontation with Bellatrix Lestrange and Neville Longbottom being the hero of the day)—and while I did see them, they weren’t nearly as satisfying as they were in the book. I will say that the development of Snape’s character was as powerful as it was long overdue and served to be the strongest part of the movie.

Oddly enough, I found myself far less interested in Ron, Hermione and Harry and more interested in the other characters—I can’t say that this is a fault of the movie, however. It was a reaction I had when reading the Deathly Hallows as well. That said, Harry as a character has finally grown up. We see that he has learned the lessons taught to him in the seven previous movies (and six books), and frankly, it’s a good thing. I was getting a little tired of the last couple of movies’ penchant for turning into a Harry Potter Mopes About extravaganza. In this movie, Harry is determined, focused, and yes, grown-up.

I think that, like the aforementioned “Lord of the Rings” movies, it is necessary to evaluate this movie as ending a particular phase in popular culture and entertainment. Frankly, I think that that last consideration is far more interesting than the first two points. As such, I don’t really think of this as a movie review. I think of this as more of a reflection on the passage of time and our investment in sagas.

Ten years ago, two movie events happened that I had absolutely zero interest in. My friends dragged me to both “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” If memory serves me, “Sorcerer’s Stone” came out before “Fellowship.” After the Harry Potter movie, I thought, “Well, that was nice. Cute.” After “Fellowship of the Ring,” I couldn’t shut up about how much I loved it; after dinner, I raced to Borders (amazing what changes in ten years, right?) and bought the books as well as Howard Shore’s score. I devoured the books in the span of about a month and spent the next three years writing my dissertation to the music from the LOTR movies. I was as much a fan of the LOTR movies as my friends were of the Harry Potter books and movies and while Harry Potter didn’t “do it” for me the way the LOTR books/movies did, I understand what was happening. You see, both of these fantasy books and movies came and went during a time of great change. Obviously, we all know that during the latter part of 2001, the United States was dealing with the terrible events of September 11. I think that both “Fellowship of the Ring” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” came along when people needed a simple yet fantastical narrative to take their minds off of the shock, the grief, and the anger.

When I say that the Harry Potter movies are fairly simple, it’s not an insult. These movies and the books upon which they’re based address simple themes of love, good versus evil, and loyalty. Further, I think they serve as a form of wish-fulfillment. We watch these movies and we the viewer begin to inhabit the stories presented. For me, I could relate to LOTR and often characterized graduate school as “bearing the One Ring” or “going to Mount Doom.” Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, has to learn how to be a decent human being—certainly, the world of Harry Potter is a world of magic, but it is still a world to which we can relate. His story is the story that we all think we’re in, especially as we grow up and—as in the case of 9/11—are forced to deal with a radically changed and frighteningly uncertain world. While I may not have thought this finale to be as emotionally satisfying as the end of the Lord of the Rings movies, I do understand that for millions of people, this finale represents the end of an era.

The Bourne Miscommunication July 12, 2011

Posted by Skippy in General Weirdness, Humor.
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Children, there is an old British sitcom that I love called “Keeping Up Appearances.” It’s about this woman, Hyacinth Bucket, who is constantly trying to convince her neighbors and pretty much anyone who crosses her path that she is of higher social standing than she actually is. The show is all about her class snobbery and how her downmarket relations and her own arrogance usually trips her up—for example, she insists on pronouncing her last name as Bouquet (“The Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking” is her preferred way of answering her slim white telephone with automatic redial). It’s full of dry wit and broad humor, and I love it. However, up till now, I never considered that a human being would actually comport themselves in a way so thoroughly reminiscent of Hyacinth.

Well, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, meet Carolyn Bourne, mother-in-law-to-be to Heidi Withers. Withers, it seems, had the temerity to get engaged to Bourne’s son, Freddie. She even had the appalling gall to, on a visit, not show all the proper graces that Mrs. Bourne expects of any young woman wishing to wed her precious son Freddie. Well, in the face of such shameful displays (the likes of which we only have Mrs. Bourne’s word for), Mrs. Bourne decided to do what all people of good breeding and character do: send Ms. Withers a scathing email.

Frankly, you can’t tell me that Mrs. Bourne probably took one look at Ms. Withers and immediately decided that her precious Freddie was NOT going to marry this downmarket, common American. Oh, no. And anything that Ms. Withers did would probably never meet with Mrs. Bourne’s approval. Now, other sites have been content to post the email (which is long) and leave it at that. Not I. No, I think that what this email needs is translation, because there’s A LOT going on in this email. And no, I am not making this email up. Seriously.
(Mrs. Bourne’s Comments in Bold; Skippy’s Translation in plain text)

It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.
I hate you and it’s time I told you so.

Unfortunately for Freddie, he has fallen in love with you and Freddie being Freddie, I gather it is not easy to reason with him or yet encourage him to consider how he might be able to help you.
Unfortunately, Freddie, my golden child, love of my life, fruit of my loins, does not.

It may just be possible to get through to you though. I do hope so.
It may be possible to harass you enough to dissuade you from marrying my precious Freddie. I hope so, for I hate you.

Your behaviour on your visit to Devon during April was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace.
Everything you did, up to and including breathing, pissed me right off.

Unfortunately, this was not the first example of bad manners I have experienced from you.
This isn’t the first time your breathing pissed me right off.

If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste.
I am an expert. In hating you. Oh, and nothing you can do will ever make me stop talking shit about you to each and every member of my family. I hate you.

There are plenty of finishing schools around. You would be an ideal candidate for the Ladette to Lady television series.
You belong on reality television, like your fellow trashy Americans.

Please, for your own good, for Freddie’s sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.
For the love of GOD, please don’t have any children!

Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:
I will now recount each and every thing you did that makes me hate you. Remember, I hate you.

When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something.
I’m totally going to contradict myself in a few sentences. See what you make me do? I heard that offhand remark you made to Freddie, you cow.

You do not remark that you do not have enough food. (Skippy: Wait. Was she eating or not eating? Which is it, Mrs. Bourne?)
You are clearly a fat, overfed American cow who is trying to infect us with your fat American genes.

You do not start before everyone else.
I saw you, stuffing your fat face. Stupid, fat hobbit.

You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.
When a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.

I could go on about you eating everything in this house and then saying that you wouldn’t eat everything in this house, but I must now harp on your fat laziness, you fat, lazy American cow. What, we didn’t tell you that we arise at six o’clock sharp for inspection? Well, you should have known, you fat, lazy American cow!

You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter. (Skippy: The hell did she do? Piss on a dead person’s grave? Say she’s a supporter of Manchester United? Vote Labour?)
I am incensed that other people liked you. It’s clearly all your fault.

I have no idea whether you wrote to thank [your future sister-in-law] for the weekend but you should have hand-written a card to her.
Now I’m just making shit up. I hate you.

You should have hand-written a card to me. You have never written to thank me when you have stayed at Houndspool.
IN PLACE OF A DARK LORD, YOU WOULD HAVE A QUEEN! NOT DARK BUT BEAUTIFUL AND TERRIBLE AS THE DAWN! ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND WRITE THANK YOU CARDS!!!

[Your future sister-in-law] has quite the most exquisite manners of anyone I have ever come across. You would do well to follow her example.
I like [Your future sister-in-law]. She is not a fat, stupid, lazy American cow. Be like her, even though I know you can’t.

You regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why.
It is tragic that you have diabetes. However, you aren’t the only young person in the world who is a diabetic.

I really hope you fall into a diabetic coma and die. But I really can’t write that, so…don’t ever mention that you have diabetes, you attention-seeking cow.

I know quite a few young people who have this condition, one of whom is getting married in June. I have never heard her discuss her condition.
She quietly gets on with it. She doesn’t like being diabetic. Who would? You do not need to regale everyone with the details of your condition or use it as an excuse to draw attention to yourself. It is vulgar.

Other people who have diabetes? Well, I like them. I don’t like you, so any time you ever mention having diabetes is just you being an attention-seeking, fat, stupid, lazy American cow.

As a diabetic of long standing you must be acutely aware of the need to prepare yourself for extraordinary eventualities, the walk to Mothecombe beach being an example.
You are experienced enough to have prepared yourself appropriately.

I was hoping that that walk to the beach would have finished you off. Now all those ninjas I hired to kill you with poison darts went to waste. Curses!

No-one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour.
I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.)
If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes.

Ok, if I haven’t pissed you off by now, then gird your loins, cow. I’m now coming after your fat, lazy, broke-ass American family. Your family is fat. Lazy. And they are broke. They are clearly even more trashy than you are, since they’re not ponying up for this wedding. I also hate every choice you’ve made regarding this wedding, including having it at a castle. Didn’t some other trashy American also get married in a castle? Well, then you’re also guilty by random association, you shrew. You clearly should be getting married at the free clinic.

One could be accused of thinking that Heidi Withers must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.
I hate you. I really, really, REALLY hate you, you money-grubbing, attention-seeking, overeating, persnickety, joke-telling, lazy, fat, overfed, non-beach-walking, probably-street-walking, poor-family-having bitch. I bet you tricked him into thinking you were pregnant.

Skippy Goes To The Movies!: “Horrible Bosses” July 8, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Movies, Uncategorized.
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Verdict: Raunchy, raucous, irreverent…FUCKING HILARIOUS.

Usually, commercials and trailers for comedies show you all the funniest parts of the movie, and if you go to the movie, you are disappointed by a middle act that is boring and a conclusion that is far less than satisfying. “Horrible Bosses” is decidedly not one of those movies. Directed by Seth Gordon and packed with established movie stars like Jennifer Anniston, Colin Farrell and even a cameo by Donald Sutherland, one might expect the television veterans Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day to be overshadowed. The writing is tight, effective, and not ashamed to “go there.”

The plot of the movie is fairly simple: three workaday guys hate their bosses. Nick (Jason Bateman) works for an antichrist of a boss (Kevin Spacey) who lies to him about a promotion he thought he was to receive. Dale works for a dentist (Jennifer Anniston) who is sexually harassing him. Kurt is an accountant for a small chemical company that is taken over by a cocaine-addicted douchebag (Colin Farrell). Their bosses are plainly insufferable and the three guys decide that they must die. Not knowing how to do such a thing, they chance upon a “murder consultant” named Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx). I refuse to say anymore as that would give a bunch of hilarious plot points and spoilers away. Suffice it to say that things do not go according to plan. Also, the commercials only give the barest of hints as to how funny this movie is.

As I noted above, this movie is raunchy, raucous and irreverent. There is a scene where the three men find themselves in a “bad” part of town—however, that part of town is occupied solely by African Americans. I tensed up, thinking, “Oh, hell. Here we go.” Fortunately, the writers did not go down familiar roads of racial stereotype; rather, they took what could have been a potentially offensive moment and made it funny. I expect some Internet ink to be spilled on a couple of these scenes in the movie as examples of white privilege run amok. It’s also very interesting that the obvious choice of these men finding other jobs is contextualized in light of our crapped out economy. As a comedy that is set in our current economic reality, I find that it projects a little darkness and absurdity. Not to get too “deep” about this movie, but I think it could stand alongside “9 to 5” as a comedy that exposes some of the anxieties of the time in which these respective movies appear. That’s a whole ‘nother essay, I suppose.

Anyway, all of the actors acquit themselves very well. The chemistry and comic timing between the leads is excellent—you can tell that Jason Sudekis was having a very good time making this movie. It didn’t hurt that his character was a bit of a lothario. Bateman is pretty much the same character he was in “Arrested Development”—a critic might say that this is a bad thing, but I don’t care. He’s at his best when he’s playing straight to other characters. In this case, he plays straight man to Sudekis and Day.

In sum, I would say that this movie is funnier than “Bridesmaids.” It eschews any kind of sentimentality, choosing instead to go full-bore raunchy—it earns its R-rating not through gross out humor, but through a lot of sexual humor and profanity. This isn’t a movie to take your kids to (as I saw at least one idiot family do today). Rather, get the kids a sitter, go have a nice dinner and go see this movie and laugh your ass off for two hours.

Idiot Racists Are…Well, Idiot Racists. July 5, 2011

Posted by Skippy in General Weirdness, Observations, Politics, Racism, Xenophobia.
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Fig. 1: A racist picture is worth a thousand racist words.

Ok, so you all are probably familiar with the proverb, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I suppose that we must now add a corollary: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to wear a stupid T-shirt and remove all doubt.” Apparently, the Kentucky Tea Party (read: modern form of the KKK) decided it would be tres’ cool to produce and sell—on the Fourth of July, no less—T-shirts bearing the phrases “Yup, I’m a Racist” and “Infidel: Everything I Need to Know About Islam I Learned on 9/11.”

Just when you thought clothing couldn’t get any douchebaggier than the “Affliction” Ed Hardy T-shirts, here comes the Kentucky Tea Party to take the cake and put a KKK cake-topper on it! I suppose these good folks still want to see the long-form birth certificate, love Michelle Bachmann, and think that The Homosexual Agenda actually exists. I also suppose I shouldn’t be too upset—frankly, if I see someone wearing such a T-shirt, it tells me everything I need to know about them in delightful brevity. It tells me that this person is extremely stupid, for the following reasons:

1. It tells me that this person is, in fact, a racist.
You see, if this shirt is supposed to be “ironic,” then it fails miserably. As we all know, the Tea Party gained a reputation for being racist, as the “party” formed in response to the emergence of Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, and members of this party have been caught on tape spouting some pretty bigoted nonsense and tomfoolery. Leaders in the party have tried to extinguish such perceptions by occasionally letting the odd (and I do mean odd) Black person in the party speak and say, “Hey, we’re not racist.” Also, they tend to focus on economic issues, by claiming that Obama is a Socialist. Just don’t ask them what a Socialist is. They can’t tell you. Anyway, anyone who has to go out of their way to tell you they’re not something usually is that something.

2. It tells me that this person is given to allowing T-shirt slogans and bumperstickers to represent complex issues.
To me, there’s something awfully juvenile about these shirts. But then again, I think there’s something awfully juvenile about message T-shirts. If you see a man or woman over the age of thirty wearing such a shirt, question their maturity. Question it early, question it often. The same thing goes for bumperstickers. I have grown sick and tired of seeing people “sloganize” their damned cars and their torsos. Frankly, I don’t care if you eat vegan or buy local or think that Obama is a baby-raping Socialist devil from the ninth circle of Hell. I really don’t care to be stuck behind your stupid Prius or stupid Land Behemoth and looking at a damned stick stencil of your monuments to overpopulation, nor do I care to know just how much you LOVE Jesus or your wife or your Yorkshire Terrier. Complex issues in this world cannot be reduced to puerile T-shirts or bumperstickers. And if the Tea Party wants to dispel the assertions of racism, then perhaps the leaders need to get a better grip on their brand messaging. This T-shirt doesn’t help.

3. It tells me that this person is willingly ignorant.
When you see a douchebag wearing this shirt, that should tell you that this is a person who is perhaps spoiling for either attention or a fight. This is a person who is proud to be in an organization that is polarizing and ill-informed. They most likely have very black-white views of the world and their membership in this “party.” Do not engage them. Hell, don’t even look at them as you pass them by at a public event, for this kind of idiot—much like other kinds of idiots whom you might find on YouTube or the comments section of CNN.com—prides themselves on being woefully ignorant about a great many things.