Don’t worry, I’m not going to do another comic book movie review. But the bad guy from the new Avengers movie I just saw, Thanos, presents an interesting question. He’s really concerned with overpopulation, and he wants to kill off half the universe to solve it. The film-makers are clear that he’s the bad guy, but I think they very cleverly set up a question… Is Thanos Right?
With Saturday’s 11 AM live discussion, I’ll point out why he’s wrong, and why a defect in all of our mental furniture makes his viewpoint appealing.
Today’s video talks about the ambivalent approach to the use of power we see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Marvel movies are often as much about how great power hurts itself and what it aims to protect as they are about bad guys. The video lays out that the DC movies have none of this subtlety. As I think more about it though, I think I was too easy on the DC movies. These films are pro-US power, and even pro-torture in a very Trumpian, Fox News way.
A couple years back, with a review of Batman V. Superman, I talked about the main influence on the DC movies, a guy named Frank Miller. Frank Miller is an undisputed genius, but he’s got a world view that is deeply rooted in the 1980s. His vision is of a world that is being torn apart at the seams. In Miller’s world we need powerful people to do what’s necessary to face “evil” no matter the cost. This vision of the world made a lot of sense in the 1980s, with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, and with US cities falling into an abyss of crime and drugs.
I am writing this from the heart of New York City, a place that is now safer than it was in the 1950s. Despite the US’s careful cultivation of rogue states, and the ever present threat of a dirty bomb, nobody expects human civilization to be wiped out anymore. I hate to throw this word around, but from this perspective, Miller’s vision looks more than a bit fascist. And that’s the perspective the DC films have adopted. Evil is everywhere. Power must confront it. And that power should not be questioned. You can see this world-view on Fox News every day, and you can see it in the speeches of Donald Trump.
After the critical and financial failures of Batman V. Superman, and Suicide Squad, the Warner Brothers corporate offices mandated that the films get more “optimistic”. But this pro-power perspective has continued in the DC movies, regardless. Last year’s “sunnier” Wonder Woman takes place during World War I. The film-makers don’t know anything about World War I, so they just portray the Germans as Nazis. This fits with the US foreign policy establishment’s lionization of Woodrow Wilson, and insistence that US power is always used for good. As someone who would love to see pop culture reckon more seriously (or at all) with World War I, I was pretty disappointed.
I may be over analyzing things here. The DC movies have been a mess, top to bottom, since Christopher Nolan finished his last Batman film back in 2012. But there are a lot of really, really bad ideas floating around in that soup of crap…
This one has been percolating for quite a while. I think the way we discuss Race, and “Racists” in the United States has some real problems. These issues were thrown into high relief by the events in Charlottesville this month. The Tiki-Torch White Supremacists are of course awful, but they are also a distraction. We LOVE to pick out examples of evil, and point to racists as something evil and different. Everybody can get on board the vilification train. The Alt-Right protesters are very deserving of our contempt, but that’s not always the case with our scapegoats. We get hung up on the evil of individuals, and we ignore our own faults and failings. This is a shame, because it’s the racism we all participate in that is the real problem.
I am very pleased with this one. It manages to throw together George Orwell, Steven Pinker, Jack Kirby and just a sprinkling of Jesus Christ. Good stuff as far as I’m concerned. More than anything else, the thoughts in this video can be credited to Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, a fantastic book on the civilizing process, the decline of war and about a million other things. You should start reading it today. It’s been at least five years since I read it, so it’s fair to assume the ideas have shifted on the way to this video…