by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez
If life imitates art, political life in the USA mimics comic books. “Gotham City looked to the Grim Avenger and Boy Wonder Robin, the United States looks to the Grinning Pretender and Joe, the Wonder-Boy.” Like in the comic books, the bad guys and the less bad guys are all crazy. “Next issue, the Dynamic Duo are off bombing and strafing in Afghanistan, reinforcing the barricades in Gaza and silently backing coups in Honduras.”
Eshu’s blues: Dr. Wertham was right
by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez
“The United States looks to the Grinning Pretender and Joe, the Wonder-Boy.”
I hate to admit it; but I think that Dr. Frederick Wertham, the late author of the anti-comic book screed Seduction of the Innocent was at least partially right. Comic books have completely corrupted the thinking of all too many Americans. The “either-or” world reference of the classic comic book narrative style has outed itself in a big way in U.S. political culture.
Check out U.S. political culture, and look at the villains in the last national election, for example. Recently, the evil republican Sarah Palin resigned her governorship in Alaska, and like the Joker or the Catwoman in Batman stories, was trotted out to frighten the public with warnings that she may run for the presidency in the year 2012. You’ve not forgotten the Joker and Catwoman, naturally, McCain with his scary death smile and Palin with her claws out. It’s true; they’re nasty pieces of work, people who very often give colorful speeches about their desire to take over the world, just like the bad guys in the comic books. And they had their adversaries in the semi-soulful and lyrical monologues delivered by the noble Obama and Biden. Here was the choice, the “either-or”, in stirring contrast, with melodramatic features. Same bat-time, same bat-channel.
“You’ve not forgotten the Joker and Catwoman, McCain with his scary death smile and Palin with her claws out.”
The comic book universe offers a clean-cut case and way of living, it simplifies everything. Let’s boil it down a little more, let’s just look at the Gotham City corner of the comic book universe. Practically every authority figure in Gotham City is for hire, to the extent that the concept of law or justice doesn’t really apply. And every once in awhile, a real kook breaks out of Arkham Asylum, where almost all the seriously demented people are imprisoned, with the notable exception of the weirdly delusional and acceptably violent Bruce Wayne. The Joker and the Catwoman break out, so you send Bruce, the Grim Avenger of hope and change.
In the United States of Gotham City, most people now subscribe to the doctrine that it takes a crazy to catch a crazy. Nobody in Gotham City really trusts Batman, except for the cops, Glenn Beck, a few bloggers at Daily Koz and a handful of drag queens, who know a cool costume when they see one. But when the Joker and the Catwoman get out of hand, you need people who are just as crazy to run them down. Gotham City looked to the Grim Avenger and Boy Wonder Robin, the United States looks to the Grinning Pretender and Joe, the Wonder-Boy. The crazies clash and the better crazies win. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and the credits roll, as credit goes. Credit is what it’s all about, in a big way, ah yes, ah yes. It must be the work of that nefarious felon, the Riddler, hmmm.
“Most people now subscribe to the doctrine that it takes a crazy to catch a crazy.”
Anyway, there’s now a more challenging problem in the Gotham City United States. It’s true, Bruce Wayne looks and sounds better standing behind the presidential seal then the Joker did. There was something about that frozen smile and hysterical giggle that were just getting on everyone’s nerves. So the Gotham City United States got rid of one Joker but the same jokers are in power. Ooooh. Bam. Pow. Ouch. Not good. To be continued. Buy the next issue, a collector’s item with foil covers.
Next issue, the Dynamic Duo are off bombing and strafing in Afghanistan, reinforcing the barricades in Gaza and silently backing coups in Honduras. And the common response from the more enlightened citizens of Gotham is, “Well, yes, they’re bombing and strafing and they’re torturing and throwing innocents in prison like the Joker and the Catwoman would have done, but they mean well, and besides, it’s Batman and Robin, so pay it no mind. Would you rather that the Joker or Catwoman were in power? And besides, someone has to go after Ras al Ghul in Afghanistan.”
“The 'democratic' party political culture that is every bit as spoon-fed as are the wealthier suburbs of Gotham.”
The irony is that everyone in Gotham City can see who Batman and Robin really are, after all, nobody can wear a mask that many hours and get into so many fights in so many places so many different times of the day and not get bloody snot on the mask occasionally. The only thing that really protects Bruce and Dick, or Barack and Joe is that they have access to so much dough that it’s easier to pretend nobody knows who they are, rather than admit that the home culture in Gotham City/United States is overseen by a class of crazed, over- compensated mercenaries who look at nothing which does not affirm their remarkably insular intellects. It takes a special kind of denial to not see the patently obvious in Gotham City, but fortunately for the United States, it now has a “democratic” party political culture that is every bit as spoon-fed as are the wealthier suburbs of Gotham.
So, I’m afraid Dr. Wertham has proven to be partly correct about comic book culture and what it can do to critical thought and action, though I don’t think it was the innocent who were seduced. After all, the issue here is the decisions that are being made by privileged people from the upper stratum of society who have the education and the wherewithal to think and act differently, but who still prefer the “either-or” sensibilities of Gotham City madhouses to an intelligent engagement with the complex fallout of a world which is still struggling achingly to escape the fallout of colonization and decades of debt-service economics. It’s much easier to fall back on Batman and Robin fantasies than it is to struggle with imperial or social complexities rooted in living history, which, as we were informed after the September 11th attacks, is no longer relevant.
The poet Gil Scott-Heron used to sing that there is no such thing as Superman. Well, our fearless leaders on the “left’ in the United States want to put that lack of faith in super heroes to the test. When all else fails, turn on the bat- signal. The moon is always full in Gotham City.
BAR columnist michael hureaux perez is a writer, musician and teacher who lives in southwest Seattle, Washington. He is a longtime contributor to small and alternative presses around the country and performs his work frequently. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.