Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Comics v Terrorism

As you might have heard, convicted terrorist Tarek Mehanna credits Batman for inspiring him to plot against American forces (and allegedly against American civilians here in the states).

I've made passing reference to the similarity of superhero ethos and terrorism before (something that's hard not to do when talking about Marvel's Civil War). Quite simply, the desire to punch the world until it behaves is common to both superheroes and terrorists.

Both of them tell the world it's not good enough. Both want to use their power to bend it to their will. Both break the law to do what they think is right. 

You could argue the difference is scale. Terrorists seek to affect political change through fear; constructing like-minded governments, removing foreign influences from their territory, suppressing criticism, and/or simply dictating the social structure of the world around them. Superheroes usually punch out the guys that regular governments and law enforcement can't handle.

The real difference is rooted in how reactive superheroes are, largely because of a toothless, lowest common denominator morality that's necessary to sell generic heroes to the widest possible audience without offending anyone.
An aside: I'm predominantly talking about a majority of superhero comics released by Marvel and DC, which is the same thing most people talk about when they talk about "comics," as if the stream of tepid milk they subsist on is the whole of the medium.
Rorschach's conjecture on Veidt's sexuality and interest in investigating wasn't because he was drawing hearts around Ozymandias' name in his crime journal; it's there because it makes him look like a homophobe; illustrating the excessive fascism implied by the superhero genre and highlighting how it's so often glossed over. I'll spare you the high school Watchmen dissertation, but once you get into super powered morality that actually has the testicular fortitude to decry anything but flat, amoral monsters, you're getting into a niche market and leaving superheroes behind.

Man, if it's one thing I love more than anything, it's photoshopping Watchmen.

Two implications of this:
1) Superhero comics cannot rise to the intensity of international terrorism.

You can go a bit deeper with it. Because they're reactionary, they end up being quite democratic. Batman can't tell people (that is, you) how to behave, but he can punch people who violate that shell of interaction, when one person begins infringing on that of another person. Superman got his start taking out wife beaters and other all-too-common criminals. By only going after clearly transgressive crimes (and not things like "corrupting music," "dangerous politics," or "negligent parents"), they play to a common sense of moral temerity and self-determination. Keeping everyone from playing in each other's sand box is the damn near the definition of democracy. It''s like... root beer.

2) The inspirations that superhero comics give are generic enough to be socketed into any belief system, even terrorism.

Anyone can pick up a book and feel inspired by it. By many accounts, Bruce Wayne is someone who has been wronged and is thereby given carte blance to break every rule that society creates to do what he thinks is right. Every disadvantage he ever has, every ounce of opposition (physical or moral) is just more coal for the consuming furnace of his indomitable willpower to burn as fuel. He is awesome.

But he's also a blank slate that anyone can project their hurt, self-righteousness, and perseverance onto. That's why he's so popular.

Ultimately though, I don't feel I have to defend superheroes from accusations (I have yet to see) that they inspire terrorism because they're light entertainment that--even at their most sincere attempts at relevance--simply can't reach out of the safe, first world mentality that creates them to do anything more than simply shake its pom-poms as they cheer that "bad is bad, good is good."

Most mainstream superhero comics are so fucking bad that I'm embarrassed for them. I respect that they try, but they have a well-established track record for trying to create complex conflicts between reasonable people with understandable motivations and instead producing a pretty, clumsy, laughable mess.

So yeah, saying that comics inspire you to international terrorism is like saying Takeno's Cavalry inspired you to get a sex change; maybe it was in there, but you probably did most of the work yourself.

1 comment:

Derek said...

If a person is looking for inspiration/justification for an act they are bound to find it regardless of the media/content they are exposed to.

Still kinda annoying, hope this isn't the new "video games make kids violent" fad.