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Better Ghost
We need to talk about superhero films

I haven’t watched it, and have no plans to do so unless the MST3K guys make a RiffTrax of it, but by all indications Batman v. Superman is, at least for anyone who cares about the two title characters, bad. Very bad. The film could have had the potential to be an interesting story about two characters not named “Batman” and “Superman” (I use the scare quotes because the actual Batman and Superman are nowhere to be found in any of Zack Snyder’s films), but the writers do not seem to have had the courage of their convictions and abandoned the concept the first 140 minutes of the film seem to have been trying to go with: namely, that in the real world, actual superheroes would inevitably become sociopaths.

As an anarchist, this is a message I can sympathise with. Power, after all, tends to corrupt, and the absolute power someone with Superman’s level of superpowers would have would of course tend to corrupt absolutely. Presenting superheroes as sociopaths would be an interesting story for characters who are not supposed to represent “Superman” and “Batman”. However, Goyer and Snyder seem to have copped out of following this concept to its natural conclusion and intend to have us rooting for their alleged heroes in the last ten minutes of their film.

Regardless, we are supposed to believe that the characters in this film are “Superman” and “Batman”. They are not. Superman is the sort of person (well, Kryptonian) who is so fundamentally concerned with the value of human life that he will take time out of his busy schedule saving the world to stop a depressed teenage girl from killing herself (scene from Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman):



Batman is not quite as altruistic as Superman, but he is still the sort of person who at his core wants to make the world a better place by giving people reasons to no longer be afraid or feel like they are alone (scene from Warren Ellis & John Cassady’s Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth):





Admittedly I haven’t watched every Batman or Superman film ever made, but I have never once seen either of these characters on the big screen. I will give some directors, such as Bryan Singer, credit for trying to adapt them. But it sure as hell looks like Zack Snyder & David S. Goyer didn’t even try.

Some rather essential background here is that Superman was created by a pair of Jewish socialists (Jerry Siegel & Joe Schuster). Zack Snyder is an Objectivist, and in other words could barely be further ideologically removed from the ideology of Superman’s creators. In retrospect, Snyder’s ideology explains a rather large number of things wrong with his Watchmen adaptation as well; Alan Moore, who is an anarchist (not an ideology that tends to be susceptible to black-and-white thinking), was saying a number of things with his comic that appear to have been beyond the sophistication of Snyder’s effectively black-and-white conception of morality. For those interested, I write a lengthy analysis of one aspect of the graphic novel’s theme that was missing from the film here. (This is one of only a handful of ethical dilemmas raised by the comic that is conspicuously absent from the film; a person could likely write a book-length dissertation on Watchmen and not cover everything Moore says in it, but it will likely serve as sufficient evidence for my point).

It is, perhaps, therefore unsurprising that Zack Snyder completely misunderstands Superman. My post linked above, as well as some of the discussion that immediately precedes it, delves further into this, but one point I particularly wish to highlight is this:
…the welfare of others is not remotely a concern in Objectivism. Rand derided altruism and actually praised selfishness. (No, literally, she actually wrote an essay entitled “The Virtue of Selfishness”).

Naturally, when this is taken to its logical extent, it seems utterly callous. And so we end up with Snyder’s Superman who literally could not give a shit if other people live or die, and he’s somehow supposed to be a hero. It just reveals the fundamental disconnect of Objectivism with, well, actual human nature. Empathy is a fundamental part of the human experience. The fact that Snyder literally cannot understand that empathy is the single defining characteristic of Superman’s character fundamentally comes back, I would say, to the unbridgeable chasms in their ideologies.



Obviously following altruism to the extent that one completely effaces one’s own basic needs as a human being would be a fundamentally foolish idea, but I don’t know a single person on the face of the planet who actually behaves like that in the first place. Rand takes a bunch of obvious statements (like “don’t be a doormat”) and then twists them to absurd levels to extents that fundamentally disregard what it actually means to be human. And I mean that quite literally. Hominids evolved forming societies based in a mix of self-interest and altruism, because both, it turns out, have evolutionary advantages, as long as they are not taken to extremes. Rand asks us to throw an entire 50% of our nature away purely based on her ideological biases. In other words, she is doing entirely what is not to our evolutionary advantage: she is taking one part of our nature and stretching it to extremes.

I can sort of understand it coming from Rand, though. She grew up in the Soviet Union (which, naturally, followed the other extreme by ignoring the self-interested part of human nature) and obviously had some serious unresolved childhood issues that she clearly never worked through. I don’t feel loathing for her so much as pity. I can’t say the same for her followers. I don’t see any excuse for most of these people. Most of the time it’s just some half-baked whining about not wanting to pay taxes.
Another that is probably worth bringing up is this:
I’m going to expound on a theory I’ve had for a rather long time, which is that the reason liberals have been more successful in the culture war is because they understand an important aspect of culture: namely, your politics cannot supersede your culture. Having a message is important. However, if that message gets in the way of telling a good story, no one is going to give the slightest bit of a shit. Hollywood generally sets out to tell a good story, and most of the people who do this tend to have a somewhat liberal agenda. That agenda informs their storytelling, but it’s not the prime driver of their storytelling.

Right-wingers often don’t seem to get this, and as a result, the work made by such people comes across as heavy-handed preaching. Their message isn’t secondary to their characters and stories; their characters and plots exist entirely in service to their messages. Thus you often get characters behaving in entirely unbelievable ways purely to prove an ideological “point”, or gigantic ideological misfires like Galt’s Gulch literally being a fucking commune. When everything is in service to your ideology, you develop colossal blind spots to what good storytelling practice means. Left Behind or anything Frank Miller has shat out in the past twenty years or anything by Terry Goodkind starting from about Faith of the Fallen are other good examples of this.

What I’m saying here, essentially, is that Snyder’s ideological obsessions have rendered him incapable of correctly interpreting the characters of Batman and Superman. In Superman this is not, for reasons I elaborated on in my previous post, remotely surprising. However, Batman is generally supposed to be a capitalist superhero (much like Iron Man is for Marvel). The fact that Snyder so fundamentally misunderstood this character speaks to an ideological blind spot larger than even I expected from him.
I do feel like I need to add that while Bruce Wayne is a capitalist, he is a kinder, gentler kind of capitalist who would have no truck with today’s Republican Party: he started his crusade in Gotham to purge the corrupt leadership of the city, including several prominent cases of incestuous government/business relationships, and has heavily invested himself in charity work. So while his ideology is less alien to Snyder than Superman’s, it still can’t be interpreted as being in any way similar.

Goyer, it turns out, seems to fundamentally misunderstand superheroes as well. I know this seems like a bold claim considering that Goyer has been involved in co-writing some of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed comic book adaptations of the last twenty years, including Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. However, when one examines these films more closely, I feel like they often succeed in spite of their writing rather than because of it. The Dark Knight, widely regarded as the strongest of these, is a case in point: it mostly succeeds on the strength of Ledger’s Joker and Nolan’s direction. When you examine the actions of the Joker in the film, they don’t really make a whole lot of sense, which is completely out of character with the way the Joker is supposed to be presented. The Joker is supposed to be highly intelligent, and so effective at what he does that he may make the reader question whether it’s truly the Joker that is insane, or the rest of humanity. That is not the case in The Dark Knight at all: the Joker’s plans often require the other characters to be idiots.

Goyer at least understood Batman’s character well enough at this point to understand that having him murder anyone or pick up a gun would be fundamentally antithetical to his character. However, at some point he seems to have lost this, because Batman apparently flat-out murders a bunch of people in the latest film with guns.

And like Snyder, Goyer completely misunderstands Superman (see the link for discussion of this), and he doesn’t seem to understand other comics characters like Superman either. For example, he seems to possess the delusion that Captain America, arguably Superman’s closest Marvel Comics counterpart, is some kind of conservative. Cap is not and has never been conservative, apart from the story where an imposter took up the mantle of Cap for awhile and was upstaged by the real Steve Rogers. Cap is and has always been a New Deal Liberal, who grew up in a gay neighbourhood and has been supportive of women’s rights and other similar causes. Moreover, he fights an ideology that is as brutally right-wing authoritarian as has ever plagued the face of the planet. Anyone who reads such a character as a conservative has completely failed to understand him.

I have no problem if people enjoyed Batman v. Superman for what it was, but they need to understand that the characters depicted in that film are not Batman or Superman, or for that matter Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent. Those characters do not appear anywhere in any of Snyder’s films.

The MCU ain’t perfect, but thus far their track record with film adaptations is a hell of a lot better than DC’s. Hell, even fucking Fox has done a better job, even if you include those terrible Fantastic Four travesties. (I still need to see Deadpool).
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“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

“I never knew a man could tell so many lies
He had a different story for every set of eyes
How can he remember who he’s talking to?
’Cause I know it ain’t me, and I hope it isn’t you”
-Neil Young, “Ambulance Blues”
I’m armed to the teeth
Like a fucking animal
I ruin everything
I get my bony hands on

And here we go now over the bridge of sighs
We will get a cross like Christ, crucified
It’s like a birth but it is in reverse
Never gets better, always gets worse
Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.
Vaulting, veering, vomiting up the values that victimized me, feeling vast,
feeling virginal... was this how he felt? This verve, this vitality... this vision...

La voie... la vérité... la vie.
(SPOILER)
The Dead Flag Blues
The car is on fire, and there’s no driver at the wheel, and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides, and a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt, and we’re on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death. The sun has fallen down, and the billboards are all leering, and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles.

It went like this: The buildings tumbled in on themselves; mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble and pulled out their hair. The skyline was beautiful on fire, all twisted metal stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze. I said, “Kiss me, you are beautiful; these are truly the last days.” You grabbed my hand, and we fell into it like a daydream or a fever.

We woke up one morning and fell a little further down; for sure it’s the valley of death. I open up my wallet, and it’s full of blood.
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Smashing Pumpkins
we can watch the world devoured in its hate.
The late prophet Bill Hicks
I’m so sick of arming the world and then sending troops over to destroy the fucking arms, you know what I mean? We keep arming these little countries then we go and blow the shit out of ’em. We’re like the bullies of the world, you know. We’re like Jack Palance in the movie Shane, throwing the pistol at the sheep herder’s feet: “Pick it up.” “I don’t wanna pick it up, mister; you’ll shoot me.” “Pick up the gun.” “Mister, I don’t want no trouble, huh. I just came downtown here to get some hard rock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife. I don’t even know what gingham is, but she goes through about ten rolls a week of that stuff. I ain’t looking for no trouble, mister.” “Pick up the gun.” Boom, boom. “You all saw him. He had a gun.”

moar I’ll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. “I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.” “I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.” “Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding out both puppets!” “Shut up! Go back to bed, America! Your government is in control. Here's Love Connection. Watch this and get fat and stupid. By the way, keep drinking beer, you fucking morons.”

All governments are liars and murderers. Go back to bed, America! Your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, America! Your government is in control again. Here, here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up! Go back to bed, America! Here is American Gladiators; here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom! Here you go, America: You are free to do what we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!

The Supreme Court says pornography is anything without artistic merit that causes sexual thoughts, that’s their definition, essentially. No artistic merit, causes sexual thoughts. Hmm… Sounds like… every commercial on television, doesn’t it? You know, when I see those two twins on that Doublemint commercial? I’m not thinking of gum. I am thinking of chewing, so maybe that’s the connection they’re trying to make.

I have this feeling man, ’cause you know, it’s just a handful of people who run everything, you know… that’s true, it’s provable. It’s not… I’m not a fucking conspiracy nut; it’s provable. A handful, a very small elite, run and own these corporations, which include the mainstream media. I have this feeling that whoever is elected president, like Clinton was, no matter what you promise on the campaign trail – blah, blah, blah – when you win, you go into this smoke-filled room with the twelve industrialist capitalist scumfucks who got you in there. And you’re in this smoky room, and this little film screen comes down, and a big guy with a cigar goes, “Roll the film.” And it’s a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you’ve never seen before that looks suspiciously like it’s from the grassy knoll. And then the screen goes up and the lights come up, and they go to the new president, “Any questions?” “Er, just what my agenda is.” “First we bomb Baghdad.” “You got it…”

They don’t want the voice of reason spoken, folks, ’cause otherwise, we’d be free. Otherwise, we wouldn’t believe their fucking horseshit lies, nor the fucking propaganda machine of the mainstream media and buy their horseshit products that we don’t fucking need and become a third world consumer fucking plantation, which is what we’re becoming. Fuck them! They are liars and murderers. All governments are liars and murderers, and I am now Jesus, and this is MY compound.

The world is like a ride at an amusement park. It goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly coloured and it’s very loud and it’s fun for awhile. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question, is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, “hey – don't worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride…” And we… kill those people. Haha. “Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. Jesus murdered; Martin Luther King mudered; Malcolm X murdered; Gandhi murdered; John Lennon murdered; Reagan… wounded. But it doesn’t matter because it’s just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace. Thank you; you’ve been great.

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