Comic Books and Forward Motion
By Josh Rosenblatt,
4:02AM, Fri. Jul. 11, 2008
OK, so I’ve been doing a little research in honor of the last full day of our inaugural Film Fight, and I just stumbled upon an interesting bit of trivia. We all know about the Lincoln-Douglas debates that took place all over Illinois in 1858. They’re famous for the eloquence and logical elegance displayed by both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, and for the fact that they helped raise Lincoln’s national profile, thereby granting him the prominence he needed to run for president two years later. That we all knew. But I bet you didn’t know this:
Stephen Douglas won the Senate race that year by forcing Lincoln – future defender of liberty, crusader against tyranny, genius of democracy, savior of the union – at their fifth and final debate in Quincy, Ill., to watch … in its entirety … Limahl’s video for his song “Never Ending Story.” Shocking, right? And cruel. One of the ablest minds of his generation, Lincoln was reduced to a quaking bowl of intellectual jelly on that ramshackle stage in Quincy. And as a consequence, he didn’t go the Senate that year, returning instead to his home in Springfield to convalesce for two years, during which time the union began to splinter, animosities grew, opinions hardened, and the seeds of rebellion and civil war were sown. If it weren’t for Lincoln’s brilliant use of A-Ha’s “Take On Me” during the presidential campaign of 1860, surely the United States would have collapsed and liberty as we know it would have been lost … meaning I wouldn’t enjoy the rights I do now to illegally download Russ Meyer movies and indulge my habit for prescription pain-killers.
That’s how close, Kim, Limahl and his teased mullet came to destroying everything you and I hold dear. And yet you insisted on embedding that video.
(A bit off-topic, but, to overcome a moment of writer’s block, I just looked through all four daily vote tallies so far … and I am getting creamed. My numbers look like George Bush’s approval ratings. They look like the legal age for military conscription. They look like the back of Lebron James’ USA basketball jersey. What is wrong with Chronicle readers? Did I forget to mention I’m willing to bribe people for their votes? Okay, how about this? Every person who votes for me will get his/her name mentioned in one of my film reviews. Imagine your name showing up next to Johnny Depp’s. Not too bad, huh?)
But in answer to your question:
It doesn’t matter what my favorite movies were when I was a kid. Why? 1) Because when I was a kid I was a moron. And 2) because nostalgia is a waste of time.
The whole point of growing up is leaving behind things you used to hold dear. The best thing about human beings is that we evolve – painfully and unceremoniously - not just as a species but as individuals, from youthful, joy-filled lovers of life to grouchy adolescents scornful of everything to grouchy adults scornful of everything. Life is about looking forward. Growth is about looking forward. Improvement is about looking forward. As Bob Dylan (who I used to like) once said, “Don’t look back.” And he’s absolutely right: The surest way to slow yourself down on the long, fitful, bloody march to glory is to weigh yourself down with the relics of your past and hold on to them as if they were the keys to your identity. Songs and movies and paintings should have meaning for you not because they remind of some time in your past but because they stir your soul now, as it is now.
Identity is fleeting and ever-changing, and so should our influences and loves be. Everything else is rank sentimentality.
And so, as our discussion draws to a close, I would like to argue that perhaps the most unlikable thing about superhero movies is that they are designed to appeal to our most nostalgic tendencies, tendencies that are both stultifying on an emotional and intellectual level and that are directly and proportionally related to our willingness to purchase things. Pine for a simpler time in your life when things were clear and right, when good was good and bad was bad, and grass was green and morality could be dished out to you in quarter-page box illustrations of heroes and villains battling for the fate of the universe? Then come on out and see Spider-Man. Long for the pure and decent days of summer when multi-colored illustrations of muscled men in tights and full-bodied women in masks would take you away to the farthest corners of your imagination? Then X-Men is the movie for you. Dream of your youth with an ardor bordering on obsession? Have you considered the 4-DVD Hell Boy box set?
Nostalgia and commerce go hand in hand. It’s the same reason why so much modern country music is popular: It appeals to our unhealthy desire for simplicity, naivete, and unquestioned ideals. But just as it’s impossible to go back to our past simply by revisiting it, so too is it true that we can’t recapture our past simply by paying money to relive it. The past is dead and buried, and all things that keep us tied to things that are dead and buried are pathways to death and burial themselves. What’s wrong, after all, with saying, “I don’t like superhero movies because I’m an adult, and adults have other, more complicated things on their minds?” Does that make me a cynic? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it makes me the opposite: a lover of progress ... and of human possibility.
Superheroes are for kids, just like Star Wars, kick ball, and cartwheels are for kids. The past isn’t coming back, and nor should it. We humans are great because we move forward. Like Orson Welles and Amelia Earhart and Epictetus and Jackson Pollack and Muhammad Ali, we move forward.
And anything that tries to get us to move back … well, to hell with it.