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Do We Still Need Superheroes?

6 May

Iron Man 2 opens tonight, and if you’re like me, you really, REALLY want to go see it. There’s just something about a good comic book movie that gets the little kid in me juiced, makes me feel excited and anxious to get to the local infini-plex and load up on Coke and popcorn as well as those little fruit thingys that stick to your teeth and strike obnoxious talkers in the head with ferocious accuracy.

In other words, I’m geeked. Because I’m a geek.

But after reading the review from Entertainment Weekly for Iron Man 2, I’m less enthused. Not because I allow critics to form my opinion on movies (I mean honestly, I can almost say with 100% confidence that if a critic loves a movie, I’m invariably going to hate it. My friend Ashton says that’s because I’m an entertainer at heart and therefore like stories that entertain; he juxtaposes this against the artistic at heart, who like stories for the stories themselves, regardless of whether or not anyone else likes them. He also makes a convincing corrollary between being artistic and being necessarily tortured in soul, but I digress).

Where was I? Oh – I don’t let critics influence my opinion on movies, but the EW review detailed that the movie focuses less on the character of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. in a role he just owns) and his struggles with being a hero and instead turns the lens to more and bigger battle scenes. Which, I’m cool with, but not at the expense of character.

In other words, what could have been a potentially unique look into the heart and mind of a superhero (because, let’s face it, Iron Man is not about brooding introspection a la The Dark Knight, nor is it as existentially angst-ish as the Spider-Man franchise) becomes – in the opinion of the reviewer – just another shoot-em-up SFX fest.

This, to me, is troubling. Not because I dislike a good shoot-em-up SFX fest – I love a good one, and honestly: who doesn’t? – rather I find it disturbing that we no longer like to know what makes our heroes tick. In essence, we want a superhero who does superhero things in the appropriate amount of time with the appropriate (and ever increasing) amount of bang, and we want to walk away saying, “That was a good superhero movie.”

But what makes a superhero heroic is not just the ability to blow sh*t up. Nor is it the superhero’s ability to get into his suit of armor or tights. What makes a good superhero is the combination of story with ability. The struggle of the man or woman with his or her self, both in and out of costume.

We’ve lost the patience for that kind of thing, it seems.

I’m a superhero kind of guy, provided the superhero is done right. At least in my estimation. I don’t generally gravitate toward the superheroes who operate under a “scorched earth” policy – faster, Kick-Ass, kill, kill, kill! – as those characters are more about anti-heroes than actual heroism. I don’t think you can be heroic without an essential sense of virtue and morality, and being vengeance minded doesn’t count as moral in my book. Now, if the hero starts with a vengeance mindset (like, say, Batman) but moves toward a larger morality, that’s cool. But a superhero who just kicks tail and kills folks because the world sucks doesn’t get my vote or my interest.

And yet, there seems to be a plethora (“Do you even know what that word means?” “No, El Guapo!”) of movies and comics and graphic novels out there that suggest this as the dominant superhero archetype now. Maybe it’s a response to our own developing sense of frustration, maybe it’s reflecting the erosion of a true moral code, or maybe it’s just because we’ve become a violent society feeding on violence for violence’s sake (shades of gladiatorial Rome, perhaps). But it does not bode well for the superhero myth.

I read a blogpost about why Superman will always suck, and one of the key issues the author takes with Supes is his “moral absolutism. ” And in a postmodern, relativistic world, I can understand the argument. But the problem is, while it is true and real that flawed and imperfect heroes exist and therefore occasionally – if not often -fail, the superhero by nature is not real. The superhero is not Joe Schmuck next door. He or she is an individual gifted beyond our limitations, beyond our ability to be. That’s what makes him or her super.

But we’re not satisfied with the “transcendent hero” anymore. In fact, we seem to resent the sh*t out of him, as if by merely existing we are somehow diminished for not being like him. And since the superhero is a created being, the easiest way to deal with our metaphysical discomfort is to just kill the archetype off.

That sounds harsh though, so to be fully capable of pulling that off in front of a public consciousness that still thinks it needs heroes, we’ll brand the archetypal holocaust a “re-imagining.” See the re-boots of the Superman, Batman, Spider-Man franchises in print and on film. I mean, my God, life is not normal if we don’t somehow see at least one comic hero/heroine and their universe razed, taken back to ground zero, and rebuilt in our own, current image. We add in quirks or obvious flaws (drunkeness seems to be popular, as is depression, repression, opression, obsession, regression and Grecian 44) that keep the hero from being seen as truly good, and then we watch the hero struggle with the burden of heroism for however many issues it takes us to get bored with his endless struggles. Then we b*tch and moan because he’s depressing and not really all that heroic, and the universe gets collapsed, the process started all over again.

Perhaps it’s just a good business model. But it feels like more.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe a static hero is difficult to pull off without him or her becoming anachronistic. Superman being the prime example of this. I currently watch Smallville with my wife, and I’ve grown increasingly tired of the show because Clark has become static. He’s not moving forward in his character. He’s stuck in an interminable “inbetween” phase that has gone on for far too long. It makes him seem naive, stupid, unsympathetic, and worst of all selfish. It is the mirror world of the real Superman, who is wise, intelligent, inviting and genuinely interested in the good of all people.

Now, I’m aware that the archetype for Superman has it’s limitations. But the character has sustained for over seventy years – that’s right, SEVENTY FRICKING YEARS – based on the character’s character: a sense of morality, a desire for justice, and the belief that those with power should serve those who are powerless. Those are not static characteristics, and they sure as hell aren’t boring. Yes, I know the challenge of stretching Superman is hard, but difficulty has its rewards. But rather than delve into a full working out of what true goodness looks like in a fallen world (and make no mistake, the comic book world is as fallen as it can be), our generation shirks the challenge, choosing to denegrate the hero’s character rather than elevate our own. It comes back to my theory of conviction: we see in the true superhero our failures, rather than his example.

Which brings me back to my blog title, and the question I’m wrestling with: Do we still need superheroes?

If we’re talking about superheroes who are heroic, transcendent in their moral bearing, character, motives and interactions, then I say a resounding “Hell, yeah we do. More than ever.”

But if we’re talking about superheroes who are made in our own image, who take the things we don’t understand or care to change about ourselves and magnify them into traits that are supposed to be admirable, that don’t call us to a higher standard of life or thought or belief, superheroes who condescend and pull us down with them, the answer is equally resounding.

No thank you. Period.

And if you’re wondering just what sort of superhero story I’d like to read, head here, read the “Batman: In the Cards” postings (1, 2, 3),  and find out for yourself.

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Things I Don’t Want for Christmas

15 Dec

In case you’re considering buying me anything, I wanted you to know what I like. And since it’s easier for me to tell you what I don’t like, I thought this list would help.

So, things I don’t want for Christmas:

  1. A flaming bag of poo upon my doorstep.
  2. Tickets to “Lorena Bobbit on Ice!” (The doorprizes are just gross.)
  3. A copy of Chris Brown‘s new CD. (I think it’s called, “Please forgive me… anybody? Please?”)
  4. A copy of Rihanna‘s new CD.
  5. A colonoscopy.
  6. Ear hair.
  7. A tie that Craig Sager would wear.
  8. Driving lessons from Adrian Peterson.
  9. A Zhu Zhu. (Further proof that we are on track to follow the Roman Empire into the dump heap of history.)
  10. A guest spot on “Jersey Shore.”
  11. Wang Chung’s greatest hits album. (Sad part is, I was trying to be funny. Then I Googled it and found out it really existed…)
  12. This.
  13. A season’s pass to “Six Flags Over Hoboken.”
  14. Tim Tebow’s book, “How to Keep Your Composure on National TV.”
  15. The Nobel Peace Prize. (I want to earn it.)
  16. A $2 million dollar raise. (Again, I want to earn it.)
  17. The Defensive Coordinator’s position at UGA.
  18. The Ambassadorship to Afghanistan.
  19. A draft notice.
  20. A wasteful, do-nothing federal government that lacks sense and is disconnected with the American public. (I already have one of those.)
  21. This.
  22. I would like to know how the critic on the cover of the above item still has a job though. You can get me that information.
  23. The Big Book of Literary Criticism from the Marxist/Nihilist Point of View.
  24. The Big Book of Dry Political Memoirs That Reveal Nothing.
  25. A wedgie.

Top Five Most OVERRATED Movies Ever. Period.

8 Dec

This list is going to get me in trouble, if for no other reason than number three. I know that several of my friends will disown me for even suggeting it.

But, what’s the purpose of lists like these if not to generate controversy and discussion? So, into the breach. Here’s yesterday’s Top Five Most Underrated Movies, so you can have some basis for comparison.

Scent of a Woman (1992) – God awful. Tripe. Chris O’Donnell gets smaller and smaller throughout the entire movie as Al Pacino chews more and more of the scenery. This was the first flick that I noticed “The Pacino Technique”, in which an actor simply shouts key lines as a way of projecting emotion. Interestingly, Pacino has been stuck in that mode ever since. I think he passed the threshhold for audience’s tolerance with his awful performance in “Any Given Sunday” which would have made this list if anyone had considered it worth anything to begin with. On the plus side, “Scent” did give us an early glimpse into the gifts of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Titanic (1997) – this is a movie that has diminished as time passes despite the fond memories of its “brilliance”. The special effects are not-so-special now (this is strictly in reference to CGI shots; the set pieces remain some of the best artistry ever put on film) and the story, much maligned when the flick was released, is even worse now. This movie tapped into a momentary flux in the zeitgeist and became huge. Today it wouldn’t even pass muster as a Lifetime Movie of the Month. Well, okay – Lifetime would green-light it, but even that’s telling you something, if the silliness of their recent flick “12 Men of Christmas” is any indication of their selection skills.

Star Wars (1977) – I’m going to get killed on this one. I love Star Wars. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker when I was a kid. And when I was in high school. And college. But now, as a grown man and father, looking back on the storyline and dialogue – dear Lord, is there a wussier hero than Luke Skywalker? It took Yoda and a butt-whuppin’ for the blond haired one to become a real hero instead of a whiner and then he stepped into psycho by the time Jedi rolled around. So we get a total of five minutes that feature Luke as even remotely heroic. As a kid, I never understood why so many people identified with Han Solo; now, I wish the movie were told from his perspective alone.

King Kong (1933, 2005) – both the original and all of its remakes. Stop-motion monkeys and blue-screened scream queens do not captivating film make. And it gets even worse when Peter Jackson stretches out a thirty minute story (at best) to almost THREE FREAKING HOURS of tedium. I didn’t even go see this one on the big screen; I waited until someone in my circle of friends was silly enough to buy it, then borrowed it. On the plus side, though, let’s hear it for the T-Rex vs. King Kong fight scene in the movie’s early moments. That should have been the entire film right there; or Kong could have gone on to face other massive animals in sort of UFC fashion. That would have been cool to see.

Transformers (2007) – I wanted to love this movie, I really did. But Michael Bay let me down by focusing too much on Shia LaBeuf and the other irrelevant human beings. Why couldn’t they just tell the tale of the Autobots vs. Decepticons and let the machines be the stars? As it was, there was too few Transformers and too many human beings, specifically John Turturro, who must have done something horribly wrong in Hollyweird to have to take crap roles like this. What happened to the dynamic actor in Quiz Show? Where’d he go?

 

So there they are. What movies are missing? Which ones deserve to be here more? Leave a comment below to add to the discussion.

Five Completely Underrated Movies You MUST Watch

7 Dec

I was originally going to go negative at first – Five Completely Overrated Movies You MUST Avoid – but it’s the Christmas season, and why not spread a little cheer?

Movie tastes are like socks – lightly examined, dirty little choices that reveal a lot about the person wearing them. Some stink. Some are cute. Some make you rethink your previous position on footwear (or cinema). After reading The New Yorker’s recent list of the dceade’s 10 best films and thinking “What the hell?” I thought this would be fun.

So, five completely underrated movies you must see:

1. Unforgiven (1992) – I was tempted to make the list Clint Eastwood’s Ten Best, but that seemed silly. But, for a thought-provoking exceptional western with beautiful photography and stellar acting (just check out the movie’s Oscar wins), you can’t beat this masterpiece. William Munny might be the most memorable cowboy EVER.

2. Star Trek (2009) – Granted this movie isn’t even a year old, and the hype surrounding J.J. Abram’s reboot of the classic space franchise was anything other than underrated. But, as a Team Vader kind of guy (meaning I always liked Star Wars much more than Star Trek) I was absolutely blown away by this movie. Mesmerized by the writing, the castin and the visuals, my wife and I went to see this for our 8th wedding anniversary – and loved every minute. I can’t wait to see if Santa drops the DVD into my stocking for Christmas.

3. Ronin (1998) – DeNiro. Great car chases. International espionage. More great car chases. This movie is an adrenaline rush on DVD. The plot and acting are great, and the highly underrated Stellan Skarsgard is absolute brilliant as the movie’s main villain. Perhaps the best part is Jonathan Pryce as an I.R.A. warlord on the hunt for the film’s MacGuffin. If you’ve ever seen Pryce as a bad guy in any other movie, you won’t believe how well he pulls it off here.

4. Dan in Real Life (2007) – Just saw this for the first time the other night, and dang near fell off the couch laughing at Steve Carrell. This really got to me because Carrell plays a writer on the cusp of making it into syndication, and the struggles between his real life and the life of his advice column is as distant as Obama’s relationship with the G.O.P. Poignant, funny as hell, and featuring the insufferable Dane Cook as a sufferable fitness instructor, this movie has plenty of warmth to go with the obvious comedy.  Must, must see.

5. Elf (2004) – What would a Christmastime top five list be without at least one Christmas movie? This cute movie is underrated because it was the first and last time that Will Ferrell was charming instead of annoying, funny instead of insipid, and likeable instead of loathsome. And James Caan as a father figure is priceless.

So there’s your list. Which movies did I whiff on? Which ones would you recommend? And tomorrow, five totally overrated movies. Starting with this one…

Outstretched Hands

2 Dec

She comes to me every afternoon when I walk through the door, a smiling little metronome, each day asking the same thing.

“Play with me Daddy?”

Normally, my hands are full with my jacket, my laptop bag, maybe some books, and my answer is always the same.

“Not right now, honey. Daddy needs to change.”

Her face falls. Her shoulders slump. She recedes back into living room, a disappointed tide going back out into the sea of solitude for at least another ten or fifteen minutes. And I make my way down the hall and into my bedroom, exasperated by the unending need of an almost four year old daughter for my attention. The laptop bag slams into the bed. The tie comes off with a snap then gets thrown into the closet with my pants, shirt and shoes. I grab a pair of jeans, maybe my house shoes, and trudge back to where she sits. Continue reading

Back In Action

1 Dec

I’ve been away, working on some things for the past few weeks. Personal issues mainly, and most of those having to do with my writing. I shut down TSG for awhile because I wanted to concentrate on ficiton writing. And so I did.

And while I did, I was reminded by several things that my nonfiction writing is as popular, if not more so, than my fiction.

So, The Southern Gentleman is back in action.

There will be some changes. First of all, the number of archived posts will be culled to the Top Ten posts of all time here on TSG. Everything else will be new stuff.

Secondly, the name of the blog will change: from The Southern Gentleman to A Southern Gentlman, for better search engine optimization.

Thirdly, I will hopefully invite more participation from the people who read. Of course, most people get here through random search engine stuff, but that’s another story altogether.

Lastly, I’m just going to have fun. I’m not going to try and draw anyone here. Whoever ends up here is who I’ll be writing for. My time of straining so hard to become “somebody” is over. I just want to be me.

Welcome to the New South.

Face(book) It – Blurbs That Ain’t Funny Just Don’t Cut It

9 Apr

facebookNO, YOU’RE NOT ON THE WRONG WEBSITE.

I’ve only recently realized that the world has been taken over by Facebook and Twitter, and that most of what the world has to say isn’t funny.

Seriously. Have you ever read some of the status updates people put out? “Gone to bathroom. Will return.”

Truly, Hoss? You couldn’t just type – “leaving my desk. Be back in a few”?

It’s amazing how much talent it takes to type something hysterical in the limited amount of space you get with Facebook and Twitter status updates. Few people really have the talent, and even then, those people run out of interesting things to read after awhile. Usually a person is good for about 15-16 funny status updates in a given week; when you consider that most folks update their status that many times IN A FREAKING HOUR, you realize how many unfunny updates we’re being exposed to.

Look, if I wanted the CNN news ticker, I’d just go to CNN. I don’t need your take on the hostage crisis aboard the Maersk Alabama – I have Anderson Cooper for that. When I go on Facebook, I want to be amused by your creativity and imagination. I want to see the literary flair that average people possess without realizing it.

I mean, some folks just come up with downright hilarious observations and thoughts about life. Others regurgitate funny lines. But it’s those folks who choose to make you snooze to the minutiae of their daily droppings that kill me.

S0, as a public service, here are some funny and creative status updates for your Facebook or Twitter comedy-challenged friends and acquaintances. Feel free to use them any time (with proper attribution – at least leave me a comment and let me know you used it, even if you don’t tell anyone else…).

[Insert your user ID] wonders if Bob the Builder uses illegal immigrants.

…thinks that there should be more coffee, less morning.

…wishes that just once, the rest of the world would learn to obey me as they should.

…has seen fire and rain. Just not at the same time, because water extinguishes fire.

…wonders how in the holy hell the song “Rock-a-bye Baby” is supposed to be comforting to a small child. Have you ever really paid attention to the lyrics?

…wonders if the President ever goes around singing his name to the tune of “Rock the Casbah”?

…once gave a five dollar bill to a homeless man, who promptly gave it back and said, “Thanks, but by the look of things, you need this worse than I do.”

…would like to know: if you’re in the same bathroom as the Pope, and he drops a deuce, can you say “Holy crap!” and it not be a sin?

…thinks North Korea is mad because their leader looks like this guy from “The Simpsons”:
hans

…says if you have to ask “What would Jesus do?” chances are you aren’t going to.

…thinkth thpeech impedimenth aren’t funny.

…would like to market the doll “Demolish Me Elmo.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Feel free to add your own hilarity in the comments section, and if you’re good, I’ll steal it and use it on my Facebook page. Plus, if you’re a Facebook member, you can become a member of the group“People With Good Taste: Folks Who Read The Southern Gentleman.”