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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comic Book Philosophy Part 3

One of the great favors Hollywood gifted to us comic book fans was letting Christopher Nolan helm the Batman franchise for the last few years. Prior to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan made a career out of examining the dark side of obsession and giving brilliant breath to madness. Whether it's Hugh Jackman vs. Christian Bale in The Prestige or Guy Pearce vs. his amnesia in Memento, Nolan shines brightest when he's making us uncomfortable.

In the second installment of his Batman run, The Dark Knight, he does something very subtle and very powerful in its macabre implications.

The first film enacted one of our common myths: that of a champion rising up to battle evil in the world. This is Joseph Campbell 101... "hero journey" stuff. But The Dark Knight depicts a kind of "equal but opposite reaction". This time the universe conjures up an avatar of chaos (in the form of Heath Ledger's Joker) to combat Bruce Wayne’s attempt to impose order and civility on society. This is a much more disturbing story, one that challenges our faith that anything good can come of heroism. If the very existence of Batman necessitates a Joker... what has Gotham really gained?

Michael Cain, as Alfred the Butler, gives us a chilling distillation of this dilemma. He relates a story of what happened in southeast Asia years ago when his secret ops squad tried to capture a rogue warlord. Alfred explains that this warlord had no intelligible purpose; he was someone who “just wanted to see the world burn.” So how did they finally capture him? They burned down the whole jungle.

At work, I know a man embroiled in a difficult marriage. He sees himself as a provider of reason. He feels he can “out-logistic” the chaos and dysfunction of his wife. As he described their relationship, I saw them as two figures balanced on a teeter-totter… slowly bobbing up and down but more or less balanced on a fulcrum. But they are both reactionary by nature, and every step he takes back to keep her weight in check results in her moving further from the center as well... becoming more and more bizarre in her reactions. At this point they have moved so far apart that they can barely see each other anymore. Any sense of intimacy has long dissolved. He said tearfully that he cannot even remember how it felt when they could still see and appreciate each other. But he also cannot imagine life without this person... after all, his whole identity is wrapped up in countering her energy.

Like Nolan's Batman and Joker, they "complete each other". And this is a dangerous thought, especially for those of us who believe that we are capable of acting with some sense of heroism. Are we not just provoking the universe? And might the consequences of this provocation result in the burning of our entire jungle?

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Post Election Ruminations

I think Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire owes Obama her job.

I heard on one report that McCain got the same basic number of votes that Bush did... it just wasn't enough this time. With record numbers of voters showing up at the polls, inspired to vote for Obama, lots of other progressive candidates and agendas did well on election day. Color me a pessimist, but I thought Gregoire's opponent Dino Rossi was a lock. And I didn't think the death with dignity bill had much of a chance. Both did very well on election night, and I think (with the sad exception of the California gay marriage ban) progressive leadership ruled the day across the country. It's amazing what an inspiring presidential candidate can do for your whole party and platform.

Fear is the mind-killer.

I maintain that we attacked Iraq out of fear... not fear of Saddam Hussein's military... or his mischaracterization as a "wacko Muslim with nukes." Not out of fear of terrorist cells or weapons of mass destruction. The fear that lead us to attack Iraq wasn't even directed at the country we decimated. Our fear was of "foreign dependence"... a catchphrase that rang through the speeches of both presidential candidates this fall.

The neocon plan was to control oil reserves on a par with Saudi Arabia (and carving them up amongst various private oil companies is still "controlling" them.) The desire to eliminate America's international energy dependence is symptomatic of a basic American fear: having to negotiate interdependency. Instead, we seek Empire.

"Empire-building" is a drive to dominate and control everything you need until there are no more external threats in the world. It seems to me to be a very male instinct to eliminate any sense of vulnerability. One example is our established "slavery culture" with Hispanic migrant labor. Our agribusiness depends on their sub-minimum wage, non-unionized, no benefits labor. But rather than honor a symbiotic relationship, we demand all the power. Complain and you can be deported. No OSHA, no payroll taxes, no worries about skyrocketing health care costs. We need them, so we better make sure to keep them under our heel.

Because OPEC and the House of Saud actually have some power over their natural resources, and aren't under our heel, we hate them. We refuse to accept interdependent relationships. They need us (we're their best customer) as much as we need them... but we can't abide such relationships.

Actually, America under the neocons wasn't able to sustain any healthy international relations at all. We were like an abusive husband who controlled and manipulated (at best) and raped (at worst) the other states of the world.

If a person behaved in this fashion, you would have to conclude that they were sociopathic and solipsistic... a serious danger to other people. Under our laws, that would mean incarceration and isolation. Unless America was a black man arrested in Texas... then he'd probably be executed.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

RIP Tuba Man

A Seattle icon has died, and the details are grisly.

Tuba Man is inextricably linked to my very first memories of going to Mariners games back in the mid to late 80’s. The team was terrible but I didn't care. Stealing one out of three when the fearsome Oakland A's came to town was all I really wanted.

I always brought my mitt (with the crossed out "Jose Canseco" signature where I wrote in "Lyman Bostock" instead) even though we were sitting up in the 300 level. By the second inning, it was easy to sneak down to one of the prime seats along the first baseline. I came across the ferry from Bainbridge Island and walked down through Pioneer Square to the stadium. My friends and I laughing and feeling the thrill of the "big city" the whole time.

Tuba Man was a fixture of the carnival atmosphere outside any Seattle sporting event. I can’t remember a game when I didn't hear him from at least a block away from the stadium. I remember Mark James and I asking him if he would play Stairway to Heaven. He had this baritone chortle of a response… "How does it go?" It was the only time I ever actually talked to him.

He seemed like one of those eccentric and committed fans who you can’t help but love. It seems grossly unfair for him to leave this world in such a way. He was mugged and beaten by teenagers, and died in the hospital shortly thereafter.

I wish that those kids could attend the funeral… and that there would be thousands of people there... and eulogies by long-time public servants like Ron Sims or Seattle historians like Greg Palmer who might explain the value that such people bring to our city… so that their eyes might be widened.