Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Imaginary Heroes Reign While Real Villains Rule ... and I Can't Help But 'Marvel' (plus, some simple ways to start Avenging)

Believe me, I understand and endorse how "heroic" entertainment can provide escapism from the real world, particularly during troubled times. I don't think it's coincidental that both Superman and The Lone Ranger first arose during the Great Depression.

And I realize that ever since superheroes became part of the cultural landscape, cinematic adaptations have been quite popular, especially with teenage boys, the prime audience for turning movies into blockbusters.

Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc., etc., have routinely done huge box office--regardless of the state of the economy--and to make huge piles of money is the main reason the Hollywood studios make movies (as this article from Cracked points out along with other shrewd insights).

Although I am commonly chagrined by the type of tripe that Hollywood serves up, I acknowledge--as David Mamet brilliantly suggested in Speed-the-Plow a quarter century ago--the folly in demonizing Hollywood for feeding us garbage when the public shows an Oscar The Grouch-like appetite for it.

But while saying that, I really don't mean to specifically denigrate The Avengers nor anyone who has chosen to see it. And that's a lot of us.

At this stage in its release, the superhero supergroup has outpaced all rivals in history's box office battle, making over $1 billion worldwide (and $389 million domestically) in just 19 days (12 in the U.S.). Box Office Mojo estimates that after this weekend, The Avengers will be the fourth highest grossing movie ever. Though it will still have a good ways to go to catch Aviator or Titanic for the all-time lead, its take to date has been stunning.

Especially coming soon after The Hunger Games--not officially a superhero movie, but with similar themes--did similarly startling business, at least domestically.

This summer will continue to be huge for superhero movies, with both The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises certain to pack theaters.

I don't acutely have any problem with this. I've seen many of the big superhero blockbusters in theaters, including taking in The Avengers yesterday. I wouldn't call it awesome, at least in terms of a story, but director Joss Whedon certainly has provided sufficient entertainment with the help of thousands (the credit roll was more robust than any I recall).
Yet I can't help but wonder in a "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" sort of way, whether there's something more than coincidental about our mass consumption of cinematic superheroes at the same time we continue to demonstrate mass apathy about the real villains and the havoc they wreak.
Certainly, there are many, many people--especially I imagine among those who read my blog--who are arduously aggrieved by the corporatocracy, Wall Street, the military industrial complex and others that I believe are placing criminally corrupt self-interest above the common good.

In Chicago this weekend, we should see just how pissed off a whole lot of people are about economic conditions around the world, which have been largely decimated as a consequence of actions taken within just a few blocks in Manhattan and Washington, DC.
Given my opening paragraph, it's possible that many people are going to see The Avengers as some kind of salve for their struggles, whether the connection is conscious or not. With a whopping 52% of people under 25 unemployed in Spain--where overall unemployment is nearly 25%--why shouldn't they spend a few Euro to see Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, The Hulk, Thor, Hawkman, et. al. try to save the world from an intergalactic attack?
But as the villain in the Avenger--Loki, Thor's brother--hails from another galaxy and has a vague reason for wanting to destroy Earth, and his alien army is so devoid of humanity, I have a hard time seeing a the movie as a metaphor for heroes battling the Wall Street demigods that continue to bring Earth to its knees, or anything in a similar vein. (see item #1 in the Cracked article I cited above)

While I like to imagine that a mass market phenomenon such as The Avengers will get people thinking about real-life heroes and villains, I think that may be a leap of faith.

I'm not accusing Marvel Studios or their ilk of anything more that trying to make globs of money, but I suspect that these supersonic cinematic monstrosities--along with our addictive electronic devices, mind-numbing reality TV shows (or whatever genre of entertainment you despise) and mind-altering substances (including a preponderance of anti-depressants)--may be serving to numb society's senses, and not accidentally or innocuously.

Sure, some of the things I often rail about, here and elsewhere, such as the erosion of social commentary in our popular entertainment, may seem rather whiny and inconsequential, but consider that...
If the decline of America--and the world--over the past 5 years (and well beyond) was the plot of a science fiction movie, part of the alien scheme would involve the hypnotism of the masses via what my friend Ken calls "electronic hallucinogens."
So while including myself among those who enjoy an over-the-top superhero movie every now and then, I'll wish that more people--including young moviegoers, but not just--start to pay more attention and do more to change things...or at least start pressuring our "leaders" to do so.

Not just because I and many people I know (and millions that I don't) can't find a job, but because as JPMorgan Chase bungled away what is now looking like $3 billion in speculative trading losses, it's estimate that 1 in 6 Americans are going hungry. And because Europe's at the precipice of insolvency, with revolution and/or fascism theoretically not that far behind. And because if you own a home, it's worth less than half of what it did before everything went to hell. And because no matter what your political beliefs, you aren't being represented by people more concerned with your interests than those of the lobbyists who enrich them.

Go see The Avengers if you wish and if you haven't already, but after we're done rooting on fake superheroes, let's do something real.

How Can You Start "Avenging"?

These suggestions are rather simplistic and I certainly could use some more myself. They also tend to mesh with my personal beliefs, so I realize the content may not be universally agreeable. That's fine; to me there is nothing more patriotic than debate and dissent. But though they're just a starting point limited by my scope of awareness, I believe that if everyone who sees The Avengers (or any other blockbuster movie) were to also do most or all of the following, the world could truly start changing in heroic ways:

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