Comics Cause Cultural Catastrophe – CRISIS!

Amazing Alliteration Adored by All. ūüėČ

Simon Pegg was interviewed by the Radio Times recently -an interview in which he discussed his concern about the infantilisation of culture caused, or reflected, by the popularity of American superhero films.

[…]part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we‚Äôve been infantilised by our own taste. We‚Äôre essentially all consuming very childish things ‚Äď comic books, superheroes‚Ķ Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

‚ÄúIt is a kind of dumbing down because it‚Äôs taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys. Now we‚Äôre really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.‚ÄĚ (The Independent)

Now; whilst I do believe that we¬†are seeing an increasing infantilisation of culture, at least in the anglophone world, I think that this has more to do with the steady creep of a trend with American culture which has been¬†seeping outwards thanks to the internet and the dominance of the American cultural voice in that medium -exploring that isn’t the purpose of this post though. What Pegg seems to be saying here is that it is the practice of the culture that has formed around the comic book/superhero genre which is causing the infantilisation of culture. I really don’t think that this is the case; I think that Pegg is here putting the cart before the horse -the popularity of superhero films and comics I think reflects the way in which cultural production -in Hollywood at least, churns out lightweight escapist material at times of great social tension or unease. Of the top ten grossing films in the US during the 1980s, another time of heightened social tension, nine are fantastical and the tenth, Beverly Hills Cop, is a comedy (LINK). In fact if we look at the charts reported then we see that films incorporating the fantastic show up repeatedly in every decade’s top grossing films -right back to Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ in the 1920s. Which isn’t really that surprising given that crisis is the permanent state in which we, in late capitalism, find ourselves as capital seeks to adjust to technological and social developments.

I think that I understand however where Pegg has gotten this impression. Science Fiction fandom is experiencing something of a shock as it has found itself, more so than ever before, dragged into the mainstream. For those of us who have had an attachment to all things geeky that stretches back before this new surge in popularity it may seem as if literally *everyone* is getting hooked on all things SF. I don’t really believe that this is the case. The Avengers and Avatar may be the biggest grossing films in recent history but that doesn’t mean that this interest necessarily transfers into a desire to explore other manifestations¬†of SF/F for most people.When my Mam, or the guys at work, start talking about the latest Avengers film as something other than a film to take the kids to I may reconsider this position. An SF or Fantasy film is almost always going to be a visually spectacular treat for movie goers -even the bad ones like Transformers or Prometheus are visually stunning- and so are going to have a wide general appeal for some of the same reasons that action films do -they are spectacles. We find ourselves in a situation where we have the circuses but not the bread.

Pegg’s view is one that seems to be shared by the great Alan Moore who told the Guardian in 2013:

I hate superheroes. I¬†think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what¬†they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the¬†imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the¬†audience is¬†certainly not nine to 13, it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men.¬†Someone came up with the term¬†graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in¬†a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or¬†Spider-Man without appearing in¬†some¬†way emotionally subnormal. (The Guardian)

Moore’s criticism here though seems more directed at the world of the superhero comic itself rather than at any wider social trends and with this I agree -though my knowledge of comic book, and especially superhero comic book, fandom is extremely limited as they are something that has never appealed to me, even as a youngster. Moore expanded on this in an interview last year, 2014, where he said something that I think is a lot more relevant to teasing something out of Pegg’s position:

I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times. (Slovo Books)

This, I feel, is a much more incisive critique of not only the current plethora of superhero films but also of the preponderance of reboots and ‘re-imaginings’ that we have had over the last five years or so. I don’t, necessarily, have an issue with the concept of the reboot/re-imagining -the reuse and remixing of older stories is the bedrock from¬†which 4,000 years of human literature¬†has grown after all- but this current glut does seem to be as though a previous generation is, consciously or not, trying to indelibly imprint the present day with the semiotic signs of its youth.¬†¬†This isn’t the infantilisation of culture but the cultural manifestation of the mid-life crisis of a generation of, mostly, American, mostly, men -some of whom have found themselves in the position of powerful cultural producers. In this way the recent spate of reboots and superhero films are culturally reactionary in that they serve to displace and subdue new forms of cultural expression that need to arise to address the situation in which we find ourselves today.

That’s not to say that people who enjoy superhero films, or reboots and rehashes of films gone by, are swivel eyed conservatives -far from it, I really quite enjoy the Marvel films and TV Shows, but the effect they have on new forms of culture is, I feel, undeniable. This collective mid-life crisis, coupled with massively increasing social stratification and hardship, has defined the form that the circuses with which we are amused have taken: Superheroes and attempts to recreate the youth of a generation of American men. Which is probably a bit healthier than throwing religious minorities into pits full of dangerous animals to be sure. I have little doubt though that there are those amongst us who seek to have a reboot (or would it be a re-imagining?) of that old tradition….

A Right Old Two & Eight

Plans are afoot to make the terminally ill work in order to receive benefits. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the story, shared on Facecrack just now, as I had just finished the most recent part of a new story set in near future Britain where the narrator is recounting facing an eerily similar situation himself. (Very rough unfinished draft here) This comes as the latest in a wave of horrifying attacks from the millionaires in Whitehall against the working people of this island. Attacks that have seen people starving to death, taking their own lives to be free of the hardships and humiliations heaped upon them, dying because they can’t afford to refrigerate their medication, thousands upon thousands of people forced to resort to charitable handouts from food banks. On and on it goes, colder and colder it grows.

I’m reminded of the introduction to Alan Moore’s masterful analysis of the Thatcher regime,¬†V for Vendetta, in which Moore says:

Naivete can be detected in my supposition that it would take something as melodramatic as a near-miss nuclear conflict to edge England towards fascism.

“It’s 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government have expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be next legislated against. I’m thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. Its cold and its mean spirited and I don’t like it here any more.
Goodnight England. Goodnight Home Service and V for Victory.
Hello the Voice of Fate and V for Vendetta

It is cold here. It is cold and mean spirited. I’ve never been the biggest fan of what passes for ‘British culture’ but now it seems that all the bitterness and spite that sits quietly poisoning our society is coming to the fore. We’re luckier than some, the Family Strange, as C and I both have, hard won, university educations and so have at least the¬†potential¬†of finding jobs that will allow us to escape these small minded tiny islands. ¬†Is it right to consider jumping ship merely because we can? Are we rats deserting a sinking ship? Should we not stay and try to fight alongside our fellow islanders? Our class? But that means that we likely condemn Little Ms X through our choices. At least if we flee then we allow¬†her the potential to grow and live somewhere that isn’t being dragged so rapidly into a Neo-Victorian age of misery and dread. The choice seems made.