Stoking the Flames: Common Reactions to a Muslim Terrorist Attack

Some years ago I took a college class on world religions.  My teacher, when we came to the section on Islam, said that she enjoyed teaching this religion because she wanted to help dispel the idea that Islam was a violent and evil belief system.  And I agreed with that idea, because far too often we find ourselves in a spiral of denouncing something most of us don’t truly understand.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Brussels last week, we are still in mourning and counting the dead.  And, as with every terrorist attack revealed to be the fault of Muslim extremists, there are a certain set of reactions that make themselves known.  I want to take a look at a few of them today and why I think they are misguided.

 

“Why aren’t Muslims out in the streets denouncing the attack?”

This is probably the most common one I hear.  In the aftermath of every terror attack, this is a question that pops up.  And despite the fact that plenty of Muslims do denounce the violent extremists, for some people it’s all or none.  If you’re not publicly speaking out against it, then you must be secretly supporting it.

So why is this faulty logic?  For much the same reason it would be to force all Christians to denounce the actions of someone who bombed Planned Parenthood.  For much the same reason it would be to force the state of Kansas to constantly denounce the hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church.  The actions of the few do not represent the perspectives of the many.  Just because a few people somewhere are hateful or violent does not mean that all people who belong to a large, generalized group are the same.

Put simply, you cannot judge a book based on the cover someone else puts over it.

 

“Muslims are dangerous and I don’t want them in my country”

The Syrian refugee situation is probably the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.  And yet, despite the fact that these are people in need, people who just want to get away from all the violence, they are often refused admission to other countries or are even placed into camps to keep them separated from the general public.

The reason for this is as simple as any: fear.

For countries over in Europe, the fear is two-fold.  The first part of it is the common fear that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees.  The second (and arguably more reasonable part) is that harboring the refugees will somehow make those countries a target for more terrorist attacks.  Here in the United States, almost all the fear comes from that first part, the idea that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees and will carry out attacks on our so-called great nation.

Here’s the thing: a terrorist would have to be an idiot to try and get in through the same way as refugees.  They have to go through an extensive screening process that can take eighteen to twenty-four months to complete, and that’s only after they get selected.  I talked about this back in the beginning of December, and I linked to a John Oliver video that I felt explained the refugee application process well.  I refer you to that video once again simply for the sake of brevity and not repeating myself.

But all that is even besides the point.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  And that’s not some political correctness agenda I’m putting forth.  It’s the simple truth.  There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world.  If they were all terrorists, we would be dead, plain and simple.  A conservative talk show host once made the audacious claim that ten percent of the world’s Muslims were terrorists.  This is an insane accusation because, as Cracked.com pointed out in 2010, that would equal about 150 million terrorists.  And if they each pulled off an attack killing just forty people, they could wipe out all the non-Muslims on Earth.

Besides, statistics show that since 9/11 here in the United States, more people have been killed by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than Muslim extremists.  Food for thought.

 

“Islam is a barbaric and violent religion”

I do wonder how certain types of people would react if they found my blog post.  I’m willing to bet some would just shake their heads in anger and click off the page without even giving it a chance.  So if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  And thank you for giving me a chance.

But I digress.  Often, when the crusades come up in a discussion about religion, people among the Christian faith have one of two reactions.  They either brush it off, asserting that the crusades are part of the past and can’t be used as a fair judgement of modern Christianity (which is a fair point).  Or, they fire back, saying that the crusades were simply a defense maneuver against the onslaught of Islam in the Middle East.

There seems to be this perception in the western world that Islam must be a violent religion that spread by the sword.  This probably stems from how fast Islam was suddenly a worldwide system of belief.  Christianity took hundreds of years to go from being a persecuted cult to the state religion of the Romans.  By contrast, Islam went from being one person’s epiphany to a dominant religious force in the Middle East and northern Africa in roughly a century alone.  So the assumption was that for Islam to have spread so far and so fast, it must have been through violent conquest (and this was a conception that existed before 9/11, which honestly only exacerbated it).

But, as with a lot of things, the true history doesn’t really back up that idea.

If you compare Muslims and Christians during the time of the crusades, you’ll find out that Christians were far more brutal.  They beheaded people…a lot.  And by contrast?  Muslims gave their defeated foes food.  They fed their enemies.

Oh, it was a thing.

The prophet Muhammad actually put forth a lot of progressive rules for conducting warfare.  Among them was the idea that armies will not kill women, children, or innocents.  Muhammad also barred them from burning trees or orchards or destroying wells.  His successor even made these ideas the standard for Muslim armies.  It was so much so that according to the Cracked.com article I linked you to earlier, one expert said that the Muslims “exhibited a degree of toleration which puts many Christian nations to shame”.

 

To finish this off, I will say that I have not read either the Bible or the Quran in their entirety, so my knowledge of both religions is incomplete.  However, I will say this: all religions have misconceptions.  They are all perceived one way or another, unjustly or otherwise.  And when you consider that Muslims make up only around one percent of the population here in the United States, the overwhelming dislike of them starts looking ridiculous.  The hatred has been allowed to breed because the voice of the minority group is drowned out by a larger and louder crowd.  These people are never forced to confront their misconceptions because their chance of actually meeting or running into a Muslim in this country is so slim.  By contrast, harboring a belief that all Christians are violent is nearly impossible because you can barely step outside the door of your house without running into one.

Humanity does not exist as sides of a coin.  Humanity is a spectrum, filled with people who believe and feel in all different ways.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

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The Truth is Still Out There: A Reaction to the X-Files Revival

Note: spoilers for all of X-Files, new and old, follow.  Read at your own risk.

Few television show themes can claim the same fame as The X-Files.  It’s one of the most recognizable themes ever, with people being able to pick up on it only a second or two in.  It was a show that helped reshape television in the ’90s, airing from 1993 to 2002.  It was the longest running science-fiction television show until it was eclipsed by Stargate SG-1.  It holds a special place in many people’s hearts, myself included.  I can credit the show with being a major part of the reason I’m a fan of the horror and science-fiction genres.

But that was then.  And this is now.

Ever since the news about the show’s revival, fans have been patiently waiting to see how it would all turn out.  Other shows had been given the revival treatment and done well afterwards, heralding what many believed would be a return to form for what they consider one of the greatest shows to ever grace their screens.

I found myself underwhelmed by this new season.  It’s hard to fight the feeling that it might just be too late for X-Files.

 

Let’s start off by discussing the format they decided to take with this season.  They were given six episodes to work with, which doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for having filler content.  So what ends up happening is this: we get four standalone episodes and two episodes that deal with the overarching plot.  The standalone episodes are sandwiched in between the serialized episodes.  It’s what would you expect from the X-Files back in the ’90s.

And that’s exactly the problem.

X-Files debuted in a time when suspicion of the government was a common thing and conspiracy theories were widespread.  It sat comfortably in an era where the government was not to be trusted.  But things are different.  And now, the show feels like it’s trying too hard.  In the second episode, the dead person Mulder and Scully are investigating is revealed to have had a secret gay lover.  That’s fine.  It’s a real thing that happens, and served as a decent red herring leading to an amusingly awkward moment.  But later on in the episode Scully makes a pointed remark about how strange it is that the man would have to hide his sexual preferences in the year 2016.  That’s when it started to hit me.  The writers were deliberately saying to the audience “hey look, we’re topical…look at us we’re still relevant!”  And it became even more obvious in the next episode when Mulder and Scully interview a transgender person about a monster they saw.  At that point, I said to myself “you guys aren’t even trying to be subtle anymore.”

Then they did the Muslim bomber episode.  Because apparently you can’t have an investigation show without an episode about Islamic terrorists…

Not to mention that the episode is easily the weakest of the bunch.  The tone of the episode veers off all over the place.  First it’s about the debate over Muslims in the United States.  And then it’s about two quirky FBI agents who are basically younger versions of Mulder and Scully.  And then it’s about the allure of revenge, of getting back at the terrorists who commit such acts.  But hey, look over there!  Mulder’s tripping on some magic mushrooms ha ha ha let’s laugh at that for five minutes straight (it is admittedly amusing).

But wait no, that’s all wrong.  The episode is REALLY about the power of love vs. hatred or some other philosophical hoopla.  It’s like here’s point A, here’s point B, and the line in the middle is a scribbled mess similar to a child’s early attempt at drawing.

You know what?  I’ll draw it out for you.

 

I am the best at art. Don't you try to deny it.

I am the best at art. Don’t you try to deny it.

 

But I digress.  All of this topical stuff wouldn’t feel so out of place if it wasn’t  X-Files.  X-Files was about supernatural mystery.  It was about conspiracy.  It was about the pursuit of the truth.  It didn’t need to shine a light on the issues of its era.  It didn’t need to be so heavy-handed.  In essence, it seems that the show is playing catch up, trying its best to handle all of the big subjects that passed it by when it was off the air.

This becomes increasingly evident when you look at the mythology episodes (the episodes dealing with the serialized story arc).

If you were a fan of the show back in the day, you’ll likely remember that the main story arc of X-Files dealt with a massive government cover-up of the existence of alien life.  As the show got deeper and deeper into its run, a main antagonist was revealed in the form of a cabal of super-rich people with ties to the government.  Their main goal was to ensure their survival in a post-alien invasion world.  They agreed to cooperate with the aliens to ensure a smooth colonization of Earth as long as they and their families were spared the aliens’ wrath.  And all of this, as the series finale revealed, was set to happen in December of 2012.  The show ended without resolving the major plot, promising (or at the very least implying) that all would be brought to an end in a future movie.

And then they made the movie and it had nothing to do with the overall alien plot, leaving the fans unfulfilled.

But now, with the new season, the writers apparently decided “screw all that” and completely rewrote the entire mythology of the show.  I wish I was joking.  Basically in the first episode Mulder stumbles on this revelation that all their years on the X-Files were just an elaborate ruse to cover up an even greater conspiracy.  Apparently the aliens never wanted to invade at all.  They were only showing up because humanity finally had the capacity to wipe itself out with nuclear weapons.  They were worried about mankind, and the government used technology and medical data obtained at the Roswell crash to set up this elaborate conspiracy to wipe out all humans except for a chosen few.

And the plot starts sounding so absurd.  “They’re using satellites to control the weather,” the characters say.  “They’re militarizing the police force!  They’re controlling the food and water supply.  They’re controlling us with healthcare!  They’re using the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act to oppress the poor!  They’re slipping things into our vaccines!  They’re using microwave towers as a means to trigger a super virus, destroying our immune systems and culling the planet!”  It’s like they took all the conspiracy theories they could get their hands on and threw them in a blender.  In all fairness, part of the problem is that they only had two episodes dealing with the main story, so it ends up feeling rushed because of that.  Honestly they should have taken the entire six episodes and wrote one long arc for the entire season instead of trying to cram a bunch of standalone plots in there as well.  People don’t want that anymore.  People like their serialized shows.  They like Breaking Bad.  They like Game of Thrones.  By comparison, X-Files‘ structure ends up feeling archaic.

In a lot of ways, the new X-Files is a shambling zombie, limping behind its livelier counterparts in the television world.  It’s ironic, because X-Files helped define the kind of serialized storytelling that modern TV shows employ.  But now it’s caught between evolving and holding on to the remnants of its past.  It tries to be topical and deal with modern subject matter, but it also retains too much of the ’90s quirk (especially in the third episode, which while funny can be seriously off-putting for some).  Television is different now.  A show like X-Files can’t find great success in the same way it did back then.  If the show wants to stick around, it needs to evolve.  It needs to show audiences that it has something new to offer.  Granted, it’s hard to judge from only six episodes, but if the trend continues it could be bad for the show.

And yet, despite all that, I don’t hate the new season.  I never found myself overcome with an urge to simply stop watching.  Part of that might be due to my nostalgia, but I’d like to believe that the show still has a lot of life in it.  Despite my gripes about the new mythology and how it basically ignores a lot of what occurred in previous seasons, it still has a compelling atmosphere to it.  I found myself intrigued about where it will go from here.  And looking at how the season ends with a giant cliffhanger (that, fittingly enough, would feel squarely at home in a ’90s television show), it’s obvious that the creators have plans to keep the show going for a little while at least.

X-Files was revolutionary back in its heyday.  Let’s see if it can’t recapture some of that magic.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

5 Lazy/Inept Villains

We all love our villains, the inevitable bad guys at the center of pretty much every action/adventure story.  They force the intrepid hero into situations that make them question their very status as a hero.  Put simply, villains are just fun.  They can be complicated and nuanced, hinting at a darker side to humanity that many of us would rather deny.  They can force us to confront issues that we’d otherwise ignore.  They can sometimes even steal the spotlight, becoming a far more intriguing character than the main hero.

And then there are the times when they’re just stupid.

Here are five of those times.

 

1. Blofeld and other classic Bond villains

Come on…you knew this one was going to be on here.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the most classic of movie villains.  He is pretty much the one who kick-started the “volcano lair” trope that future spy parodies in movies and television alike would constantly make fun of.  But for all his genius in running an entire global crime syndicate, one has to wonder if he’s really all he’s cracked up to be.  I mean he captures Bond more than once, but instead of simply killing him Blofeld places him into situations where he has plenty of time to figure out an escape plan.  Even in Spectre, the new Bond movie, this happens.  It makes a little more sense in that one (considering his whole “daddy loved you more than me” motivation), but it’s still a bit absurd.  And then even after Bond escapes and proves that he is too dangerous to kill with some elaborate scheme, Blofeld goes and tries it yet again.

And this is not unique to Blofeld either.  Most of the classic Bond villains are much the same way.  For example, Goldfinger (from Goldfinger…surprise surprise) straps Bond to a metal slab and uses a very VERY slowly moving laser to cut him in half.  He gets points for using a plan that Bond has no conceivable way out of, but his plan still fails.  Bond yells out the name of his top-secret plan, which then somehow convinces him to spare his life.

Pride…the villain’s greatest downfall for some reason.

 

2. Aliens in giant monster movies (often known as “Kaiju” films)

So I am not an avid watcher of giant monster movies, but I know a little bit about the aliens in some of them.  And man, are they lazy.

Basically a familiar plot trope in these movies is that a race of aliens shows up to Earth and wants to conquer/destroy it.  So they beam down some skyscraper-sized monster to wreak havoc, which then usually attracts the attention of the resident giant monster of the planet who’s all like “hey…that’s MY gig!”  So the two then fight in an epic melee and the Earth-based creature typically wins out, proving that humans are…super lucky I guess?

But here’s the thing: if the aliens are so advanced that they can tame/capture a giant monster, fly it through the vast distance of space, and literally teleport it down onto Earth…why can’t they just destroy everything themselves?

I mean, really guys, if you have the capacity for faster-than-light space travel (which I am assuming they do), then it stands to reason that your weapons are far superior to anything Earth can offer in opposition.  Why go for the long-winded plan that has a great chance for failure?  Did you not know that Earth had a giant monster on it already or something?  Or is your entire culture devoted to just sending giant monsters at each other and seeing who wins?

Seriously…who outsources their work anymore?

Oh right.

 

3. Thanos

You know, the blue guy that shows up at the end of pretty much every modern Marvel movie.  He’s all imposing and menacing, but he’s done absolutely nothing but let others do his dirty work for him.  Come on man, get off your butt and do something for once!

Freaking lazy space…god or whatever.

 

4. Aliens (War of the Worlds)

You know I have to say…aliens are really bad at this whole “invading Earth” thing.

If you’ve never seen any of the War of the Worlds movies or read the book, I’ll sum the plot up for you.  Aliens invade Earth.  Aliens try to conquer Earth.  Aliens are defeated by germs, which makes a very interesting philosophical point about humanity’s place in the world.

Now, it’s a very good story (again, one of the classics), but how does an advanced species capable of interstellar travel NOT think to test for deadly germs before landing on a planet?  In the original story, it’s somewhat forgivable, as the aliens are shot through giant cannons from Mars and land on Earth as meteors essentially.  But in the more recent version (starring Tom Cruise), instead of being from Mars the aliens’ origin is left a mystery.  Not only that, but the movie changes things so that the aliens buried their tripod machines on Earth before humanity had even evolved, implying that they were merely waiting until we got all nice and overpopulated before they came in to harvest us.  So that begs the question, how did they not know about the super-fatal germs?!

“So we’re totally going to invade this planet and like, harvest their people for energy and food and stuff!”

“Shouldn’t we maybe, like, check for germs or something first?”

“Nah, we’ve been planning this for thousands of years!  It’ll be fine!”

“But shouldn’t we take just a little bit more time to-”

Stop asking questions!”

Now maybe it could be written off as the germs simply didn’t exist until humans came about (which is very probable, considering the ever-shifting nature of our planet’s ecosystems), but that still doesn’t explain their lack of planning in that regard.

Movie aliens man…they really suck at doing things.

 

5. General Shepherd (Modern Warfare 2)

Ooh…are you ready for this one?  This is a fun one.

About a year ago I wrote a long-winded story analysis of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  Basically, the game is nothing short of ridiculous.  It’s one of those sequels that tries to up the ante far too much, creating a completely insane laundry list of action scenarios that have no impact or meaning.

But this is about the villains.  With that said, let’s talk about General Shepherd.

General Shepherd is a character introduced to you in the opening cutscene of the game.  He is initially one of the good guys and the one who brings one of the main characters into the fold of a secret CIA task force.  That character dies almost immediately during an attack on a Russian airport because the Russian terrorists he was embedded with knew who he was.  And it’s vaguely implied that Shepherd somehow set all that up.  Because, you see, he was the one behind pretty much everything that happens in the game.

And his motivation is pretty much absolute insanity.

So you see, in the first Modern Warfare, a really bad thing happened.  One of the characters you play as rescues a crashed helicopter pilot stranded in the middle of some generic Middle Eastern city, surrounded by bloodthirsty terrorists.  You rescue her, then bring her back to your helicopter and begin to extract.  But then, a nuke goes off, which takes out your helicopter and renders all your efforts to save that pilot useless.  You are then forced to play as that character as they miraculously survive the crash and are left to stumble around the city as a nuclear cloud of dust and ash swirls all about them.  The character then keels over and dies.

It’s a fun time.

General Shepherd calls back to this scene, telling the heroes of the game that he lost so many soldiers “in the blink of an eye.”  He uses this as his reasoning for masterminding all the events that take place over Modern Warfare 2.  And what are those events you might ask?

Starting World War 3.  Nope, not even kidding.

To be more specific, his motivation is that he lost soldiers in that nuke back in the first game, so he wanted more soldiers.  So to get more soldiers to replace the soldiers he lost, he triggers a chain of events that start a massive global conflict that will undoubtedly kill far more soldiers than the ones that died in that singular event.

Seriously dude, why don’t you just start a massive propaganda campaign or increase the recruitment drive?  I mean if your sole motivation is to recruit more soldiers, why would you start an event that in the end will get far more of them killed?  I don’t know if this even classifies as lazy because it’s so absurdly convoluted.  The amount of hoops he has to jump through to get all of this to work is insane.  First, he has to select a soldier to recruit into this CIA task force for the sole purpose of getting killed.  Then, he has to assume that the Russians, once they discover this dead American agent on their sole, will immediately get bat-shit crazy and instead of trying diplomacy go right out and invade the eastern seaboard of the United States.  Then he has to play dumb and go along with everything Task Force 141 is doing while covering his tracks along the way (which inevitably involves murdering the entire task force, with the exception of two people who then foil all his plans).

Lazy?  Maybe not.  Inept?  Oh most definitely.  There were so many other ways he could have alleviated the problem he saw, but apparently he looked at all those other plans and was like “nah, these aren’t bat-shit crazy enough”.

Because what would a villain be without a crazy master scheme that has a high probability of failure?

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

Note: I did realize as I was writing this that my two-year anniversary of starting this blog has come and gone.  I thought about making another reflection post, but I didn’t think I’d have that much to say.  Honestly the past year just flew by for me.  So if you’ve stuck around for this long, thanks so much for reading.  I hope you have a wonderful day, a wonderful week, and a wonderful life in general.

Debate Debacle: The Danger of Modern Political Rhetoric

Personal attacks and political smears are nothing new to the arena of modern politics.  It’s a scene that’s been going on for quite a long time, so much so that people often lament the onset of a new election cycle because they have to listen to all the TV and radio ads that go “this person is the most horrible person you could possibly support…why vote for them when you can vote for this person?”

Like I said, it’s nothing new.  But it appears that this type of rhetoric has reached a sort of fever pitch in this current cycle, and it once again reared its ugly head after the Democratic debate in Michigan.

It all starts with Bernie Sanders making this comment:

“Excuse me, I’m talking.”

This was, of course, directed at his opponent Hillary Clinton.  And mere hours after the debate, the political spin machine went to work.  A number of Clinton supporters interpreted the remark as rude, with some even going so far as to call it “sexist” because he was an old man saying it to a woman.  Indeed, the picture they’ve painted of that scene is not a pretty one.

But it’s once you start peeling back the canvas that you realize something’s not right.

First off, let’s look at what led up to this comment.  Clinton had just finished making a remark about how Sanders didn’t support the auto industry bailout (a statement that is false in more than one way but I won’t go into it here…check out this post from Benjamin Studebaker for a detailed “un-spinning” of the debate which explains that particular scene in good detail).  And so, Sanders made a remark back about Clinton’s connections to Wall Street.  Even though it wasn’t her time to talk, Clinton tried to butt in with a comment, upon which Sanders dropped the “excuse me, I’m talking” line.

So in context, the scene is suddenly different.  Instead of being about a sexist old man telling a woman to shut up, it becomes about a woman using underhanded tactics to try and steal attention.

The tactic is a familiar one, especially when it comes to debates (Clinton herself did the same type of thing back when she ran against Barack Obama back in 2008).  You try to always get the last word in so that your opponent’s points don’t stick as well in the mind of the audience.  That way, you come off as looking like a better debater, when all you’re really doing is cutting off your opponent.  It might seem like a far-fetched strategy, but it’s true.  Just look at the Republican debates.  Everyone’s constantly trying to talk over each other because they want the last word.  I think pretty much every Republican candidate this election season has been guilty of it at some point.

At this point it’s probably obvious that I’m a Sanders supporter (which some may have guessed by the issues I’ve talked about in previous posts and my stances on them), but my point in making this post isn’t to convince you to support a particular candidate, but to show how dangerous the kind of spin rhetoric can be.  Instead of being about the issues, suddenly the election becomes a smearing contest.  Who can make the other person look the worst?!  Find out tonight on Fox!

And it’s not like Sanders is the only victim in this.  Clinton has been the target of spin or outright falsehood as well.  Check out this Snopes page about a comment Hillary supposedly made which implied that she believed the state has the primary role of raising children, and that parents were merely secondary.  It’s utterly false, but that didn’t stop it from making the rounds.

Come on people, Abraham Lincoln warned us about trusting everything we read on the internet (insert winky face here).

And really, spinning things out of context or outright lying doesn’t help anyone.  If anything, it just devolves the level of political discourse to that of a schoolyard with two kids shouting back and forth.

“You’re ugly!”

“No you’re ugly!”

“Well you’re uglier, ugly-face!”

There are valid reasons to support Sanders just like I’m sure there are valid reasons to support Clinton.  But instead of making everything about rhetoric, why don’t we stop and examine where each one stands on the issues?  Why don’t we take the time to examine what they are saying about health care, education, gun control, and so on?  Instead of trying to make them say something they’re not, why don’t we look at what they actually said?

It would be foolish to say that personality plays no role at all in an election cycle (just look at the rise of Donald Trump), but it should not be the sole deciding factor.  The content of their speech should matter as well.  We should pay attention to what they say and how they say it.  Do they talk about substantive problems and pledge to help fix them?  Or do they just pander and talk about how great they’ll be as an elected official?  Do they provide meaningful ideas for legislation?  Or do they bank on nostalgia and patriotism as a way to get them into office?

The clock is ticking.  The battle is on, and soon the dust will settle to reveal the two contenders for the presidential position.  Be informed.  Know why you’re voting as well as for whom you are voting.  The right to vote is a powerful one.  Do not squander it based on misinformation.

Be bold.  Be decisive.  But also, be intelligent.  Don’t let political discourse degenerate any more than it already has.

I mean, do we really want to hear more about Republican penis sizes?  Didn’t think so.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  I don’t normally post too much about politics on this blog because I understand that people are swamped with it in their daily lives and are most likely sick of it.  So I’d like to thank you for hanging in there and indulging me on this one.

Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

Inner Strength: The Enduring Myth of the Superhero

Superhero movies.  They’re about a dime a dozen these days, with around twenty of them planned for the next two or so years alone.  There is no denying that they have a wide appeal.  So why is that?  Why do we constantly flock to the timeless story of good vs. evil, especially when it’s so obvious that good is going to win in the end?

On the surface level, it would seem that the appeal of superhero movies lies in our inherent familiarity with them.  We know the characters.  We know the stories.  Even though in the upcoming Batman v. Superman and Captain America: Civil War the heroes are fighting with each other, we know that eventually they will end up resolving their differences and working together.  Good will always triumph in the end.  The apparent “shallowness” is exactly why these movies are enjoyable.  They don’t require an in-depth analysis.  They just require enjoyment on the part of the viewer.

But that’s an analysis that any student in a middle or high school English class could come up with.  To sum it up, that’s the short story.

Now here’s the long version.

Despite how shallow these movies seem on the surface, their characters can have a great deal of complexity.  This is especially true in the modern Marvel movies, where the superheroes are often shown as flawed.  You can see this in Avengers: Age of Ultron.  The movie itself is not particularly good (I already talked about that before).  But what it does do is show the flaws of the characters.  In fact, a large part of the movie’s plot is them dealing with their hidden insecurities (brought to extreme levels by another character’s superpowers, but insecurities nonetheless).  Modern audiences don’t want to just see a one-sided, pro-government or whatever character anymore.  They want to see a superhero struggle.  They want to see them suffer or question themselves before they succeed.

Which brings me to Captain America.

Captain America is one of the more recognized superheroes, but not necessarily one of the more popular.  He’s commonly seen as a relic from the Cold War era, a position played up by the modern Marvel movies.  His origin story (from what I know) is simple: he used to be a weak guy with a big heart that couldn’t help like he wanted.  Then the military pumped him full of drugs and now he’s a superhero.

Kind of a funny story for the guy that’s supposed to be the embodiment of America-ness…but we won’t get into that.

While Captain America’s original inception was meant to be a man full of patriotic, American vigor, the newer version plays out a bit differently.  Like I said, they play up the fact that he is literally a relic from a by-gone era of the country.  He’s constantly struggling to find his place in a world that no longer feels like it needs him, and we see this in the first Avengers movie, where he gradually comes into his own as the leader of the team.  But even in his own movies, we still see him struggling with this.  In Captain America: Winter Soldier, he deals with a conspiracy inside the government and is on the run from them, a strange turn of events for a character that proudly wears the red, white, and blue colors of the USA all over his costume.  And in the upcoming Civil War, where the Avengers team is split into two factions, he leads the side that’s against government regulation of the superhero team.

Like I said, part of this has to do with the audience today.  They want a struggle.  They want a fight.  They want more out of their stories.  But it also comes back to the inherent morality of the character himself.  He is the good guy.  He is on the side of justice, regardless of what form it takes.  If he has to take on the United States government to bring justice to people, then he will.  In this version he’s not a propaganda character.  He’s come into his own as an uncompromising crusader for the good of the world.

And it is his success that people like.  People like seeing a good character triumph because it echoes a sentiment so endemic to American culture: the idea that one person can find the strength to do or be whatever they want.  Even when a superhero loses their powers, they end up triumphing somehow in the end, the lesson being that it wasn’t the powers that defined them but the strength of their character (the powers certainly help though).  It’s all about the idea that we have an inner strength we can all tap into, regardless of our place in life.  Rich, poor, young, old…it matters not.  If you believe hard enough, no dream is impossible.  That’s what we’re told as children growing up in this country, and it is that philosophy that superheroes echo so well.  Struggle and strife can always be overcome if you just believe.

Drugs help though…lots of drugs.  Maybe gamma radiation.

Being a powerful godlike alien from another planet certainly can’t hurt…

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Tune in next Wednesday for another and as always, have a wonderful week!