Not So Comical
By Blair Jackson
Maybe it’s the recent reboot of The Justice League comics. Maybe it’s the Occupy Wall Street movement. Maybe it’s the death of Steve Jobs. Maybe it’s all of these things that are causing me to, like a child-sage, seriously ponder the possibility of super heroes and super villains.
Throughout our nation’s history, Nazis, communists, and terrorists have all played the arch-villain role in popular culture. The villainization of a group is a complicated process that draws from media influence and national propaganda as well as personal experiences and inherent cultural values. The result is often an oversimplified stereotype of a group’s worst qualities.
There is security in this flat, one-dimensional portrayal of evil — because it is obvious, to any onlooker, that Good will always win. These frightening, but ultimately unthreatening portrayals, are mere shadows of the real villains — Hitler, Stalin, Suddam Hussein, bin Laden — who live on as such enormous proponents of evil that our culture finds immense satisfaction in thwarting them, time-after-time, via movies, comic books and video games.
I have no doubt that combating these enemies in person is a much more complicated, much more visceral experience than the cathartic (ever-triumphant) war that wages within the pages of comic books and other outlets of popular culture. A face-to-face confrontation with another human is much more difficult than defeating a Bad Guy in a video game.
The difference between a Super Villain and a Bad Guy is that the Super Villain retains an element of humanity that empowers him to succeed and that drives him to challenge and destroy his opponent. In this way, the Super Villain and the Super Hero are alike.
So how do comic books translate to reality?
Batman and Lex Luthor have the same power-base — money, information and technology — but one fights for “Good” and one fights for “Evil.”
The question is, what exactly is “Good”?
As I mentioned before, villainization is a complicated process. Consider the Nazi’s villainization of the Jews. Identifying a group as a total threat incites fear and action (often violence) that is considered the necessary means to protect the interest of the (potentially) vulnerable group.
I am not suggesting that as Americans we have villainzied an innocent group of people, but instead would like to venture that the terrorists we face have villainized our culture in a similar processing of fear and values. We are all human.
I will dare to say, billionaires are people, too.
I think it is fitting that Steve Jobs should be mourned in the midst of protests against multinational corporations and their influence in the government. He was a true entrepreneur, and he lived the American Dream. (How many protesters are using iPhones to communicate and organize?) I would typecast him as a hero, not because of his wealth or his philanthropy, but because of the tools he provided the world.
Thanks to social media moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, networking, organizing and sharing information is effortless. These are the heroes of our generation because they have given us power. But they have also given conglomerates access to the most personal attributes of our identities, creating new avenues of marketing tactics. Though advertising is a large part of social media, the original framework supports a world in which money is not the only commodity — a world in which the transfer of information and ideas is a currency in itself.
Communication is the new power of the people.
It has occurred to me that perhaps Super Heroes don’t exist as individuals, but instead as groups of people. When one person is given total power, a co-dependency is created. After all, isn’t the weakness and corruption of Gotham perpetuated by Batman’s interference? Why should they become better citizens if there is always someone there to save the day? Why should they look within?
True heroes share themselves with the world. True heroes strengthen individuals and communities. True heroes give.
The Super Villain is another story. Consider bin Laden — a son of an oil tycoon — who was obsessed with avenging Islam against America. He had enough money to help arm a fringe group of extremists and orchestrate an attack on U.S. soil. He even attempted to purchase nuclear weapons and supplies, but was swindled by his suppliers and ultimately silenced by a bullet.
The effects of al-Qaida were amateur compared with what billions of dollars paired with the right information and technology could do. If, at the height of his power, bin Laden had been able to secure weapons of mass destruction, the economy would be the least of our worries right now.
Is there a Lex Luthor waiting in the wings, preparing to scoop up disenfranchised youth as mercenaries of knowledge and technology? Could the lines between good and evil be drawn so lightly in America that we could be fooled? Is the possibility of an internal Super Villain a reality?
I know it’s bordering on the fantastic.
I know it seems like a silly comic book scenario.
But the topic of billionaires, greed and power has my mind spinning with possibilities.