Friday, September 3, 2010

SuperPower And SuperHeroes

William Brafford, whom I'd feared may have been left for dead in Baltimore, offers up a fascinating post examining what superhero movies say about our self-perception as a superpower. There's something to this, but we need to be careful for two reasons.

First, superhero movies are just that movies and require a dramatic arc of about 1.5-2 hours. This necessarily means that things will be painted with broad strokes. There's a good guy and a bad guy, both clearly defined. Moreover, since they're blockbusters whatever nuances one could fit within the limited medium will almost certainly be excluded. Movies don't lend themselves in the same way that novels or even graphic novels do to this type of project.

Second, by nature of the medium, one must be careful about whether this is really a conversation or simply Hollywood talking. Personally, I find Hollywood's favorite villain, a faceless international conglomerate with an global wetwork team, to be a tad silly. But then again, unlike many in Hollywood, my biggest fear isn't the power of corporations, it's the power of states.

I guess my question is this: how far to we want to go on the assumption that these movies are actually part of some national conversation about our long-term foreign policy? Maybe the people who go see Spiderman are just watching a fun movie. And hopefully the people who are charged with forming a strategy are not getting it from Batman.

All that said, I'm definitely going to read the posts William linked to that discuss the foot speed of zombies and Thomas Hobbes.


The Ancient said...

I'm waiting for The Green Hornet and Kato to set a new standard for absurdist mayhem.

(Imagine Pinch Sulzberger and his Hong Kong bureau chief with bespoke weapons and an old Chrysler Imperial equipped with retractable .50 caliber machine guns. Then imagine Christopher Waltz standing in for Rupert Murdoch. What could go wrong?)

william randolph brafford said...

"And hopefully the people who are charged with forming a strategy are not getting it from Batman."

You can say that again.

I think it's more accurate to say that these big blockbusters are part of a conversation about national self-perception than to say that they're part of a conversation about policy. Of course national self-perception isn't the only way these movies resonate with people — for almost everyone, Spiderman is probably more resonant as a story about growing up and learning what it means to take responsibility, etc. But both Batman and Iron Man were self-conscious about dealing with, respectively, the strategies of the War on Terror and Afghanistan/the military-industrial complex.

You're right about length and complexity.

Withywindle said...

There's also the indebtedness of the movies to comix source material; a comix movie coming out now has a fair bit to say about comix in the 1980s, read by fan boys who later become scriptwriters, directors, etc. And then it's not just Hollywood yammering in its usual distance from straight-up patriotism; they're also writing these movies with an eye for the foreign audience.

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