Violence according to pop culture

Part of Victor Davis Hanson’s thoughts about the Batman killings:

When Alien, Predator, or Terminator slice up or rip apart dozens, life just goes on. Bodies fly all over the screen and we are onto the next scene. Wondering about who actually was the 11th poor soul who had his heart ripped out by the Terminator is far less interesting than watching the latter utter some banality. The same is true of everything from Die Hard to 300—lots of real-life, graphic killing, but almost no pause and bewilderment over the staggering loss of life or the consequences of Target 12 or Victim G leaving life at 12 or 56. Killing is so easy not just because of robotic arms, RPGs, and computer simulations, but also because there are almost no emotional consequences from the carnage—a fact easily appreciated by the viewer, the more so if young or unhinged or both. The killer usually smiles or at least shows no emotion; the victims are reduced to “them,” anonymous souls who serve as mere numbers in a body count. Will Kane’s victims, in contrast, were known—evil, but still not anonymous and not mere sets for the sheriff’s gunplay.

For the diseased mind that is saturated with such modern imagery, there is fascination aplenty with the drama of killing, but no commensurate lesson gleaned from its sheer horror—at least in human terms of the devastation that such carnage does to humans, both nearby and in the larger community. In the awful mind of the rampage killer, he always must be the center of attention in the manner of his homicidal fantasy counterpart, his victims of no more account than are those decapitated, dismembered, or shot apart by Freddy Krueger or Arnold Schwarzenegger. How odd that we rush to the emergency room for a cut finger in the kitchen—stitches, tetanus shot, pain killer, bandages, a doctor’s reassurance—only to matter-of-factly watch horrific wounds on television that night with no thought that a .38 slug to the shoulder entails something more than our split forefinger.

And there is a further wrinkle to these hyper-realistic cinematic rampages. The killer, be he an evil “Joker,” the horrific Alien, or a hit man in a mafia movie, has a certain edgy personality, even a sick sort of intriguing persona—at least in the sense that his evil is sometimes “cool” in a way that his plodding victims, who simply got in his way, are not. In the abstract, we sympathize with the good, who became his targets; but in the concrete, the film focuses more often on the killer’s emotions, his language, his swagger.

The Joker spits, he puns, he acts disengaged and “cool,” while his victims scream and panic; we want to know why he acts so, and are supposed to be fixated on his strange clothes, face, and patois, never on the series of Joe Blows that are incinerated by him. Is it any wonder we know all about the orange hair of the suspected killer, but very little about the hair colors of any of the poor victims?

via Works and Days » The Demons of the Modern Rampage Killer.

Batman as conservative movie

Though, as we posted, the Democrats are making a big deal of the villain in the new Batman movie being named “Bane,” as in Romney’s Bain Capital, John Boot reports that the film is explicitly, unabashedly Reaganite, an overt attack on the Occupy Wall Street ideology:

If The Dark Knight was about the War on Terror, The Dark Knight Rises puts equal force and fury behind a tale about financial crisis and revolution. It’s the first Occupy Wall Street blockbuster, and that Christopher Nolan’s film was well underway before the OWS movement even got started is a tribute to his perspicacity.

The new film is a pleasure, sprawling in its storytelling, satisfyingly brawny, and occasionally moving, particularly in a terrific final act. In addition to all of that, the movie is so unabashed about its conservative message that you practically expect it to end with a dedication to Ronald Reagan. See if you can think of the last movie you saw that shows hundreds of big-city police officers lining up against a rowdy mob — and the police are the good guys. The movie is a counter-revolutionary document with as much damnation for populist revolt as Dr. Zhivago. . . .

Thanks to corporate intrigue [Bruce Wayne has] been marginalized at his company and he’s being hassled by a philanthropist (Marion Cotillard) who wants him to pour more resources into a failed clean-energy project involving a “fusion” reactor that is not only not working but can be converted into a nuclear weapon. With Gotham City at peace, Batman isn’t needed anymore, and thanks in part to the efforts of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), he is regarded as a terrorist psychopath anyway. . . .

When Bane goes to work destroying Gotham City, he first heads for the stock exchange to cause a mini-financial crisis (which, somewhat strangely, morphs into a big action scene that is more enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much). As Selina Kyle warns, in a line that could have been written by Occupy Wall Street, “There’s a storm coming….you and your friends better batten down the hatches.” On cue, her associate Bane launches a full-on proletarian revolution in which the meek are given the support of his thug army as they strike down the rich, the police officers having been caged up. This Michael Moore fantasy, though, is treated with no sentimentality at all. Garbage immediately piles up in the streets and justice is dispensed a la Robespierre, with bourgeois dissenters being sentenced to death without trial. Only Batman, an aristocratic capitalist hero, can restore the balance.

Watching a businessman billionaire smite the forces of a nefarious rabble-rouser who purports to speak for the surly mob is a story line we can only hope to see promoted from the entertainment section to the front page this November. But until then, The Dark Knight Rises is a rip-roaring serving of wish fulfillment, the rare summer blockbuster with a lot of ideas in its head and all of them conservative.

via PJ Lifestyle » Batman, One Percenter?.

The movie opens today.  I’m on the road and can’t see it until I get back.  I’ll leave it to you readers who see it this weekend to let the rest of us know how it is.  Specifically, who is right about the movie?   Is it liberal or  conservative?

Hollywood’s uniculture

Reniqua Allen, in lamenting the passing of The Bill Cosby Show,  complains about the way television today depicts black families.  In doing so, she makes some observations that have wide applications:

Instead of a real look at black culture, Hispanic culture or any specific culture, we get “uniculture.” That’s how Felicia Henderson, creator of the Showtime series “Soul Food” and a newly minted executive producer of a BET family sitcom “Reed Between the Lines,” describes much of our current television universe. Henderson, who has served as a writer and producer for shows such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Gossip Girl” and “Fringe,” says the major networks often show diverse casts, but not true cultural differences. “I celebrate multicultural casting, but my concern is that these shows and these characters are only physically multicultural, physically multiethnic,” she says. . . .

The worlds they pretend to inhabit are not ones in which anyone really lives. It’s one TV cultural universe, with no room for ethnic difference, even among ethnic characters.

British journalist David Frost once said, “Television enables you to be entertained in your home by people you wouldn’t have in your home.”

via Why isn’t the Cosby Show for a new generation on network TV? – The Washington Post.

Exactly!  This applies also to the ways television (and most movies) portray all families and all cultures.  In the Hollywood universe, everyone of every culture embraces extramarital sex, with no qualms, stigmas, or consequences.  No one goes to church, and religion has no influence on anyone’s life.   There are no conservatives, except for villains.  And children are smarter than adults, especially their parents.

Romney as Batman villain

What happens when pop culture addicts run your campaign:

According to Paul Bedard at The Washington Examiner, the Obama campaign takes Batman’s new enemy Bane, a pumped up venom gas breathing maniac, in the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” and compares him to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, because of the Massachusetts GOP’ers previous work with the investment firm Bain Capital, which Obama and Democrats say was a job killer. Get it–Bane and Bain?

Bedard writes:

“Bane” is the terrorist in the new movie who drives the caped crusader out of semi-retirement in the final Batman movie. Democrats, who believe they have Romney on the ropes over the president’s assault on his leadership at Bain Capital, said the comparisons are too rich to ignore. “It has been observed that movies can reflect the national mood,” said Democratic advisor and former Clinton aide Christopher Lehane. “Whether it is spelled Bain and being put out by the Obama campaign or Bane and being out by Hollywood, the narratives are similar: a highly intelligent villain with offshore interests and a past both are seeking to cover up who had a powerful father and is set on pillaging society,” he added.

Comic book writer Chuck Dixon created the character of Bane with Graham Nolan in the early 90′s and Dixon’s reaction to the news above, according to his message board on his website, was “I saw it on FB like two hours ago. Ridiculous. Tho’ I got a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach that Rush may pick up on this. And that would be the second time he pegged me and Graham as liberals on his show.”He later added, “Overgrasping Dems? Hey, if it gets Obama supporters into theaters. Maybe they’ll buy thousands of Bane toys to throw at Romney. It all adds to MY Bane capital. I wonder if the Romney campaign will contact me?”

The DC Comics character Bane is best known for releasing all of Gotham City’s criminals from Arkham Asuylum. Batman is pushed to the point of exhaustion as he rounds them all back up, but Bane is waiting for him and breaks Batman’s back. Bane brings forth chaos, anarchy, and lawlessness. Mitt Romney is not the first person to come to mind as far as the character of Bane is concerned. In fact, the chaos that Bane brings is reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street protests.

Other than the silly name play by the Obama campaign, the comparison is ridiculous, especially because Selina Kyle Catwoman, a thief who steals from rich individuals and is played by actress Ann Hathaway in the film, whispers to ultra wealthy Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego, in one trailer: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” she says. “You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

via PICKET: Batman villain creator reacts to character’s comparison to Romney – ‘Ridiculous’..’Overgrasping Dems’ – Washington Times.

Besides, isn’t Batman the rich guy in the story, “millionaire industrialist” Bruce Wayne?  Who comes out of the private sector to right the wrongs that the government establishment types, like Police Commissioner Gordon can’t or won’t?  True, Bruce Wayne has some kind of strange religion that makes him wear unusual garb beneath his regular clothing, but. . . .[Two can play the game of explanatory paradigms!]

Actually, Bane, who is a tough blue-collar kind of guy, might help Romney’s image:

Aristotle and me on “The Avengers”

We saw The Avengers, the movie that’s setting box office records.  We went whole hog, springing for the version in 3-D AND Imax.

Like other comic book movies, it was mostly what Aristotle in his Poetics called “spectacle.”   Movies today go all out with high-tech special effects.  They can be fun to watch.  (Though frankly I have not yet seen a new generation 3-D flick that made satisfying use of that technology, including this one.  A trailer for the new Spider Man movie was more promising, showing a deeper field of vision than the usual flatness with a few things jumping out at you.  I didn’t think the Imax version of “The Avengers” added that much either.)  Anyway, the overall spectacle of “The Avengers” was fun.  But as Aristotle goes on to say, spectacle is the lowest level of dramatic art.

In addition to spectacle, though, unlike many comic book movies, “The Avengers” also had interesting characters, well-rendered and, in what is often considered optional for the genre, well-acted.  “The Avengers” put serious actors like Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannsen in silly superhero costumes.  But it paid off!  The computer-enhanced Ruffalo–who was sensitive and angst-ridden as Bruce Banner– made a great Incredible Hulk.  One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Scarlett Johannsen, as the Black Widow, took a call on her cell while she was on the verge of being tortured and complained to the caller, “I’m working!”, going on to thrash the Russian interrogator while she was still tied up in her chair.

There were other good moments.  Captain America, being of the Greatest Generation (waking up in our day after being frozen), dismissing Loki’s claim to be a god by saying that “There’s only one God.  And I don’t think he dresses like you do” [something like that].  And did anyone catch what the Hulk said, in one of his few actual lines, when he was flailing Loki about?  Some comment about his alleged divinity.  (In the Marvel universe, the residents of Asgard like Thor and Loki are not so much deities as they were to the Norse and Germanic pagans; rather, they are denizens of another planet.)

Still, though, there was not enough of what Aristotle considered the most important part of a drama.  Namely, the story.  I prefer plots with twists and turns, a narrative that goes somewhere, with maybe surprises along the way.  There wasn’t a lot of that in this movie, basically just good guys and bad guys fighting each other.  Internal conflict is far more interesting, as in, to cite another comic book movie, The Dark Knight, which is also being reprised this summer.  Aristotle’s heroes are not just “good guys”; rather, they are noble figures who have a tragic flaw–a hamartia, which is the New Testament word for “sin”–that gives them complexity and doom.


Edgar Rice Burroughs & his failed movie

I mentioned to our daughter that we were going to the movies this weekend.  “What are you going to see,” she asked, “Hunger Games?”  No, I told her, we are going to see a movie of an equivalent wildly popular young adult book from back when your mother and I were young adults:  John Carter [of Mars]!

We needed to see it quick because I had heard that it is slated to lose $200 million, making it the biggest bomb of all time.  So it probably isn’t going to be in the theaters for much longer.  But we had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, so we weren’t going to let its failure stop us!

When I was a kid–not a young adult at all, just young–it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who transitioned me from comic books to reading actual novels.  Comic books seized my imagination, in stark contrast to the “See Spot Run” books we had to read in school, but when I somewhat randomly picked up a Tarzan book, I found that reading a novel is a lot better than comic books, movies, and TV shows.  While I was reading about Tarzan and that lost city with the dinosaurs and La performing human sacrifices and the whole thing, I found myself completely immersed in the story.   The other media kept me at arms-length from the action.  But the book worked on my mind and on my imagination, giving me a vicarious experience like nothing else I had found.  My love of reading came to life, and it led me to where I am today, as a literature professor.

Now when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I see his faults, and I eventually grew in my taste.  But I feel I owe him something, at least going to the movie someone finally made of his John Carter tales.  I never got into that particular series myself, but my wife did, liking them better than Tarzan, and I respect her judgment as a science fiction fan.

The movie got distinctly mixed reviews–Rotten Tomatoes scores it as receiving 51% “rotten,” which means that 49% of the critics scored it as “ripe”–with audiences generally liking it more than the critics did.  I’m not sure what could have helped its reception.  Just calling it “John Carter” and leaving out the “of Mars” part couldn’t have helped.  Young adults today probably think, wasn’t he a president?  And, yes, a lot of this sort of thing has been seen before, even though Burroughs did it before anyone else did.

We thought the movie was pretty good, actually.  The story by today’s standards was convoluted–a number of critics complained they couldn’t understand it–and over-the-top and without a shred of irony.  But it reminded me of the fun I used to have at the B-movies growing up.  Yes, it was too expensive to make, with special effects required in nearly every frame, but we got a kick out of it.