Thursday, October 29, 2009

Everyone talks about Disney princesses...

... and what kind of example they set for young girls.

Well, what about Disney princes and young boys?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Meditations on Douglas Horton

"Being sorry is the highest act of selfishness, seeing value only after discarding it."

"Change occurs in direct proportion to dissatisfaction, but dissatisfaction never changes."

"Materialism is the only form of distraction from true bliss."

"No one can drive us crazy unless we give them the keys."

"The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Value of Math

I keep using math to make my work day seem shorter.

I'm two hours in.

There are three hours until lunch and three hours after that.

I'm a quarter of the way done.

I'm two hours away from the middle of the day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marvel Comics and the Cowardice of Public Opinion

Marvel Comics lost a lot of my respect in 2006 with their political allegory event "Civil War." The plot of the story was that Congress passes the Super-Human Registration Act requiring all superpowered people to register their real name with the federal government or face imprisonment. The superhero community, accustomed to anonymity, are split between those who comply with the law and those who resist it.

It was a difficult year in the middle of a disastrous presidency and the story responded to many of the themes in the public consciousness. Like Jack Bauer's famous torture scene in 24, a lot of attention was placed on fiction as the barometer of our social values. Whether it was questioning torture, wiretapping, or foreign policy in general, the nation was asking how much of our civil liberties should be compromised for the sake of safety. It's an important question that deserves serious introspection, which it failed to deliver in almost every way.

The seeds for this event were set in earlier comics after the Avengers were disbanded. 2004's event comic was called House of M, featuring a reality in which mutants ruled the world, which ended with the near extinction of the species. This effectively removed mutants from the topic of discussion with the X-Men remaining neutral during Civil War.

This is important for one major reason. A major theme in the X-Men books is the Mutant Registration Act, a similar bill requiring mutants to register their identities and powers with the federal government. The X-Men have opposed it for some fundamental reasons. Primarily, to reveal oneself as a mutant (even with a government agency) is to place the individual in grave danger from prejudice and retaliation. Secondarily, there is the fear that registering mutants is one step away from drafting them for military service.

It would be hard to address the Super-Human Registration Act in a neutral way when the X-Men have been fighting the same thing as a form of prejudice for years. So rather than address the truth of the world they had created, they took the mutants from the playing field.

Leveling the playing field wasn't restricted to mutants. Spider-Man had recently joined the Avengers and, after losing his apartment and Aunt May's home, moved his family into Stark Tower. Tony Stark gave Peter a job and took care of him, so when Tony sided on the pro-registration side, Peter did the same.

On this, I call bullshit. Spider-Man's secret identity has been a vital part of the character since the very beginning and he has seen, time and time again, how dangerous it can be when people learn his secret. Furthermore, he has often been on the wrong side of the law and should know that is where he is most valuable. Of all the superheroes, he should be most opposed to a registration act. Even if he chose to register, he would still fight for the rights of others because he knows what it is like to be scared and on your own.

But Spider-Man is the Marvel Universe's everyman. We all see ourselves as Spider-Man so he is "neutral." In Civil War, he first sides with Tony Stark and even reveals his identity (which received much publication in the mainstream press) only to change his mind and join up with the resistance. Less than a year later, his identity would be secret once again due to magic.

When the event finally started, Iron Man represented pro-reg and Captain America represented anti-reg. While having Cap represent the resistance was a surprise, it didn't seem to be out of character considering Cap comics from the seventies and eighties which showed that Steve Rogers is willing to fight his leaders when he believes it necessary. The story ended with a big superhero brawl in New York City when Captain America is attacked by firefighters who point out the damage being done by the fight. Seeing the destruction, Captain America surrenders.

Despite having Captain America and Spider-Man (eventually) side with the anti-registration side, I think this was an especially insulting story to the liberal viewpoint. Even though the writer, Mark Millar, is a socialist, the story is a creation of media and reflects the cowardice of the media when they try to be politically neutral. Instead of allowing the events to unfold naturally, they gerrymandered their universe to create equal support on both sides of the issue.

At a time when real life civil rights were being trampled, Marvel Comics had the gall to say, "Fighting amongst ourselves isn't the answer." If this comic came out in 2002 or 2003, I would have expected that and maybe even understood, but in 2006, the patriotism of 9/11 had died down, but was still being used to justify the most inhuman activity. And as our pop cultural connection to morality and heroism, Marvel Comics essentially said, "Obey your country. Obey the law."

Two years later, following the aftermath of Civil War, the government and hero teams were infiltrated by alien shapeshifters seeking to destroy us from within. It was a sign of distrust from within the system following eight years of Bush's America. Immediately following, we were given Dark Reign, the current status quo in the Marvel universe where the villains have taken over and become the heroes. It is a truly cynical look at our system...

Just in time for a Democrat in office.

Marvel Comics isn't unique in this. I have noticed a growing number of films and television shows demonstrating a feeling of suspicion and paranoia toward the government. I'm reminded of a similar trend in the mid-nineties following the Reagan/Bush Sr. years where paranoia directed at the previous administration was most vocal in the Clinton administration. X-Files was the pinnacle of government paranoia in pop culture and The Matrix might have brought it up another notch or two.

So, the way it seems to work is that when there is a Republican in office, everything is gray and we need to put aside our differences for the common good. When there is a Democrat in office, the government is filled with corruption and is conspiring against us. Even when all evidence suggests that it should be the opposite.

So, Marvel Comics, I'm accusing you of political cowardice mandated by your bottom line. I'm sure you see no ethical conflict in this and you view me as just another politically-biased consumer, but I see you, through your greed, as justifying and supporting the civil rights abuses of the Bush administration, if only by your willingness to raise the issue and your inability to address it honestly. I also think that although Dark Reign was probably planned long before the presidential elections, your belated moral stand against corruption from inside the government fuels the illegitimate and dishonest paranoia against our current president.

If you are going to make events around important social issues, please be honest about it or else just stick to telling stories about guys in tights hitting each other. That seems to be more your level.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stephen Leacock quotes

I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so.

It takes a good deal of physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have. I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as required.

There are two things in ordinary conversation which ordinary people dislike - information and wit.

Many a man in love with a dimple makes the mistake of marrying the whole girl.

Each section of the British Isles has its own way of laughing, except Wales, which doesn't.

He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.