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Building a Better Future: Utopias, Heroes, and Responsibility

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 

So the Internet has been blown up discussing Man of Steel's portrayal of Superman these last few weeks, but even before that one of my favorite authors Neal Stephenson was contemplating the science fiction author's role and responsibility in guiding and influencing society. He considers how earlier science fiction tended to inspire hope through depictions of utopian futures, while more recent science fiction (and fiction in general) has gravitated toward dystopian futures and pessimism. 

 

Comic book author and columnist Steven Grant responded with an article applying this to Man of Steel, considering specifically what Superman has meant for audiences in the past and what he means now. His take is a little bit long winded, but makes valid points about the similarities and differences between utopias and dystopias. He does, however, lose points for discussing the film without actually having seen it.

 

The infamous Devin Faraci, independently of Stephenson, must also be tapping into the zeitgeist, as he published this article recently that breaks down the history of the hero and how modern heroes (Superman in Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger, Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness) have become selfish, egotistical, and mundanely normal. No longer can we look up to our heroes, but instead writers strive so hard to make them relatable as to remove anything that makes them admirable, instead clinging to destiny tropes to instill a sense of "special". 

 

So what's happening here, folks? Many heralded Iron Man (2008) and Star Trek (2009) as a resurgence of optimism, the new optimism as Obama came into office. His second term, however, has started off bumpy but maybe there's still hope? Are we bound to see a flip flop in the direction of heroes as ideals and fiction as a tool for learning, or more boom boom splosion Joe Sixpack stumbles into his fate?

post #2 of 32

I'm beginning to think that Man Of Steel is becoming the nerd-purist's Last Temptation Of Christ.

post #3 of 32

I know I'm usually the one who chafes at "It's all Star Wars' fault," but the way that film brought to prominence the idea of the hero's journey is still echoing today.  The problem is, too many people forget that Luke was heroic from the get-go.  He wasn't some moody, tortured youth who didn't care about anything, and while there was a hint of destiny to him, the choices were his all along, and he chose to do the right thing.  Now, filmmakers seem so obsessed with showing us the journey to becoming a hero, we barely see them actually BE a hero.  The film ends when most of the heroic films of the past would have just been getting started, with the promise of the really heroic stuff coming in the sequel.

post #4 of 32

It's a tricky one.  There's an anthropological theory that we, as a species, need to have role models.  It harks back to the idea of the Alpha Male and Alpha Female in primate and other species societies.

 

Previously this was easier to do,a s everything was controlled and there were only a few (Kings/Queens/Royalty etc).

 

Then composers/singers/artists.

 

Moving forwards people could get more and more and seemingly closer to their idols through radio/movies/television.

 

Now it seems that any old fuckwit can be and is a role model.  In fact, in a lot of ways, it seems that the more vacuous, shallow and simple the better, hence your Paris Hilton's and Kardashians.

 

A lot of their following I believe comes from the fact that people now believe they can become these people, all they need is a lucky break.

 

So if a presented hero is TOO perfect, maybe for the herd it's something that's too far to strive for, or massively unrelatable.  When you can watch one of your idols have a breakdown effectively live, on any gadget you own any time, anywhere, then an actual ideal becomes irrevocably distanced.

 

So you have our modern heroes, who are still, basically, moral.  They aren't flawless, they are learning their way, feeling their way, but are, at heart, at their core, morally sound.

 

I think that's the closest you can get now.  You HAVE to have it be relatable.  But they are still espousing core values.  Goodness, kindness, concern for others.


Say what you like about Kirk in NuTrek, but he is, at heart, a moral man.  Yes he's a dick, yes he shags around, but he wasn't prepared to fire 72 individuals to their doom without trying first.  And he did sacrifice himself for his ship (in the context of the movie he didn't know it was reversible).  

 

Clarke in Man of Steel is the same.  He is striving to help people, but also striving to keep his word to his adoptive father, especially after having to let him die to keep that secret

 

So in that sense, his morality is not only about helping people (which he does from an early age) but keeping his word to his father as far as he can.  People have issue with him punching Zod through  buildings and colateral damage, but at the end of the day he completely severs his ties with his own people and planet by killing Zod to save a family.  Hence his cry of anguish.  Not because he killed someone, but because he effectively chose to leave himself alone rather than let people die.

 

So, while the implementation may be murky I think these heroes are, in a way, more valid, because they are showing you can be flawed, but at heart still a good, morally centered person, rather than some unrealistic ideal which people won't be bothered to follow.


Edited by Andy Bain - 6/29/13 at 10:23pm
post #5 of 32
Are we speaking strictly of fantasy and sci-fi pictures? Because when I look back at the classics, I see timely allegories about:


Resentment of the intellectuals who had given humanity the atom bomb, married to deep-seated distrust of elected politicians with nuclear firepower, phrased as horrified speculation about what they might unleash next (Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still, every movie with an enlarged animal ever);


Self-conscious justifications for western colonialism masked as warnings about the motives of other races (Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu, Flash Gordon versus Ming the Merciless in the Buster Crabbe serials, the island natives kidnapping Faye Wray in King Kong);


More rarely, stinging criticism of the by-no-means-new phenomenon of capitalist predation upon the working classes (from Fritz Lang's Metropolis to Lucas' THX1138 and Scott's Alien and Blade Runner). Metropolis in particular stands out, because Lang had the insight to immediately diagnose the recent invention of the penthouse apartment as a psychological tool that the wealthy could use to insulate themselves from the proles who were truly vital to the city, while telling themselves that they had ascended Olympus and become gods.


To look back at 20th century speculative fiction and see just utopian wishful thinking about the bright and shining future requires - yes, I'll go there - it requires an audience that has turned its brain off. These genres have always featured art that was angry, that had its eyes open, and that criticized - sometimes with a scalpel, sometimes with a club.


Where Devin cites the current trend of the hero as everyday schmuck, lamenting that today's cinematic heroes are all too human, I see a writer whose online persona is defined by his contempt for the average person. It is cause for hope when we see fallible characters make it, in spite of their flaws. That's how we've gotten from the Dark Ages to where we are, stumbling the entire goddamn way, and that's how we're going to make it to that brighter tomorrow - staggering, out of step with one another, bumping into each other, imperfect, mortal, building a better world anyhow. We don't need an allegory about how we can sit back and wait for Krypton Jesus to fix it for us, we need to see Perry White struggling to get his fellow human being out of the wreckage - because we're a hell of a lot closer to walking in Perry's shoes than we are in Kal-El's. I want a Superman movie to show me that it understands why the people deserve Superman, and Man of Steel took the time amidst all the destruction to do just that.


If you don't like your heroes flawed, I hope you're not reading the Greek classics. Heracles was a drunk, a womanizer, and a brute. He had one of those annoying destinies, too. He was singled out for harassment by a God, and his enemy's greatness made him great, and it was not giving up that made him both human and divine.

_
Edited by Reasor - 6/29/13 at 4:32pm
post #6 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Dickson View Post

I know I'm usually the one who chafes at "It's all Star Wars' fault," but the way that film brought to prominence the idea of the hero's journey is still echoing today.  The problem is, too many people forget that Luke was heroic from the get-go.  He wasn't some moody, tortured youth who didn't care about anything, and while there was a hint of destiny to him, the choices were his all along, and he chose to do the right thing.  Now, filmmakers seem so obsessed with showing us the journey to becoming a hero, we barely see them actually BE a hero.  The film ends when most of the heroic films of the past would have just been getting started, with the promise of the really heroic stuff coming in the sequel.
Yeah, pretty much. I think it's also that antiheroes and their accompanying "gritty" aesthetic are simply fashionable these days; teenagers in the "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME!!!" phase of adolescence see the double-win of a role model who looks cool but also probably annoys their parents, adults of a critical stripe generally believe that antihero equals moral ambiguity equals complexity equals artistic merit (often even when none of the latter are in evidence,) and dickbags like the message that dickbags are fine as long as they direct their dickbaggery into stopping other, bigger dickbags, with maybe the occasional sneer at the naifs who think that it's possible to accomplish anything without being a dickbag. This has been seeping out of comic books into pop-culture at large since the late '80s, and the only real change since then is that entertainment media's constant struggle to top itself, coupled with the creeping sequelitis you mention, has been progressively draining most (if not all) of the "hero" part from "antihero," and leaving us with a bunch of bleak-ass, unlikeable "antis" who only really resemble heroes in that they wind up thrown against the villains.

Not to say that antihero types can't work, or that nobody ever does them right anymore - Oz the Great and Powerful did a surprisingly good job, but that was because it wasn't afraid to acknowledge that its protagonist was a self-serving sleaze and have him be forced to deal with the consequences of his behavior (in the process doing a pretty good straight, serious take on the running subtextual joke in Army of Darkness where half of Ash's problems are his own damn fault but he's just oblivious to that.) Equally crucially, it recognized that you really can't naturalistically keep an antihero "anti" indefinitely; eventually, if you're allowing a proper character arc to develop, he's going to have to make the transition to actual hero of some stripe. Oz by the end of the film is still a rascal, still allowed to be fun, but he's a good rascal who actually cares about and looks out for people other than himself. Hell, even fuggin' Riddick dropped his utter sociopathy by the end of Pitch Black.

But yeah, I'm long since ready for some honest, unqualified optimism in film again. When was the last time we had that? The most recent example that springs to my mind was the first Raimi Spider-Man, which I still love very much for calling out the "sadistic choice" trope as contrived bullshit. We could use more of that.

I'm curious about the assertion that JJ-Trek is in any way optimistic, though...
post #7 of 32

And you can have a flawed hero who's still someone the audience wants to root for.  Too many times these reluctant heroes are kind of assholes.

post #8 of 32
Exactly.
post #9 of 32
Thread Starter 

What's fascinating about Stephenson is that back in 1997 literary critic and philosopher Richard Rorty did a series of lectures, and then published as a book called Achieving Our Country, accusing Snow Crash of portraying a dystopian future. He said, "Novels like Stephenson's...are novels not of social protest but rather rueful acquiescence in the end of American hopes."

 

Of course, Stephenson wrote that book over 20 years ago and the content of his novels has evolved. The question is, and steering this away from grumping about Superman and Man of Steel, do authors have a responsible to guide and influence society? Oscar Wilde's "Art for Art's Sake" is certainly a valid take when it comes to questions of censorship, but science fiction in particular has always been about speculating on the future. So should those authors in particular at least try to challenge people to better themselves? 

post #10 of 32
In my opinion? No, they have no such responsibility, although I love it when artists do challenge people. Having a vision for the future that people can get behind and which actually turns out to be a good fit for conditions on the ground when it's implemented isn't an obligation that anybody carries, whether it's Isaac Asimov or the Channel 8 News meteorologist. I'm not even sure that speculative fiction like that exists and can be isolated from fiction that's really about the here and now, given that the present is always the starting point when you look to the future. Maybe it's all commentary on the moment when the fiction was written.
post #11 of 32

Without having read the articles too closely, this debate does seem to be less about whether sci-fi tells us a great deal about how depressed we all are or whatever (and some stuff about US manifest destiny/christianity mixed in, I dare say), but whether or not Superman should be down in the muck with all the other 'human' heroes as per trends in superhero characters and films.

(ed. ie  Art is on the money.  Reasor too)

 

Anyway I'd find pulling up Snow Crash for being dystopian as odd, to say the least.  It's like pulling up some Gothic Romance for being over emotional.  There's a large element of satire in Cyberpunk and Snow Crash in particular. To some extent it's even a satirising Cyberpunk's excesses themselves.

post #12 of 32

I think that Western society has turned away from needing Utopian novels/stories for the same reason that it will soon turn from Dystopian novels.  Those utopian stories fulfilled a need to find goodness in a world filled with death and despair. Some of the earliest cities in America were set up as utopian cities to escape hunger, deprivation, political manipulation, and corruption. From the massive deaths of the World Wars through the Cold War, the world only looks worse. People write about hopes and futures that have fixed the terrible things that have gone on. Th lack of safety and material wealth drive Utopian literature, asking the question "What would a world without hunger and want be like?"

 

Somewhere, though, in the mid 70s* that idea gets turned around. I think the rising tide of personal safety and material goods sparks the opposite reaction. Dystopian literature tends to ask "What happens if I lose my shit and normal life?" or "What happens if my government goes overboard attempting to give everyone personal safety or material goods?" The material possessions we have taken for granted over the past 40 years is directly referenced in nearly every dystopian/post-apocalyptic work. V for Vendetta, The Handmaiden's Tale, 1984, Never Let Me Go are all examples of the second question, while every zombie, nuclear fall out, and environmental disaster film/book/parody are examples of the first. 

 

 

And, with all things, I think that will eventually go away. There will reach an equilibrium where you see more complex representations of the future. Dervish House by Ian McDonald is an interesting mix of dystopia/utopia technology and the tug of history and politics. There is no utopia and there is no dystopia.

 

*Don't get me wrong, there were Dystopian novels long before the 70s, but those were often a reaction to political movements that pushed the state over the person in an attempt to fix societal ills.

post #13 of 32

What's made Science Fiction such an interesting Literary beast is that it's very often tried to change society, unlike say the Gothic or Western genres.

 

At the absurd end of the spectrum you had L Ron Hubbard taking SF ideas he'd been publishing in magazines like Astounding and putting them into practice as a new form of applied Pyschology then a full blown Religon. At the more benign end of the spectrum there are generations (heh) of children who grew up watching Star Trek and now work in the Space industry or some other scientific endeavor, actively trying to make a better world. I'd argue that for a great many people growing up in the 20th century, Pop Culture provided ideals and a vision of the future that was attractive and attainable.

 

At the same time SF has always savagely attacked culture, society and politics as well. Moore's Utopia itself was intended as a direct Mirror image of then contemporary Europe, and it's a damning portrait. You can find satires of contemporary society disguised as SF from the 30's to the 70's.

 

I do find it troubling that when I go to the book store today the shelves are filled to bursting with Fantasy series and Alternate Timeline series (lots of Confederacy Wins! and Nazis win! series, often running into the tens of volumes). Even the "Hard SF" published today seems as much preoccupied with the apparent inevitability of Politics and Corruption  as with Big Ass Alien Objects or races. (and I'm sure many of you will cite exceptions to this broad observation, which is fine: I'm always open to new stuff to read).

 

My problem with contemporary Heroes or Antiheroesin films isn't that they have flawed characters, it's that (as Devin points out) they seem to be Assholes for the most part. Nu-Kirk is a great example: he's a dumb Frat boy  who because of Destiny gets to captain the Enterprise. Olde Kirk worked his ass off for years to attain the rank of Captain, and was still the youngest Captain (in his 30's ) in StarFleet. Olde Kirk faced up to and pontificated on the consequences of his actions: NuKirk sloughs it off and goes to bang a couple of Alien Chicks because he's not Gay.

 

I think what Stephenson & Co are disturbed by is the Entitlement culture we've evolved into. We don't need to spend years in school learning shit because we're great! People see guys like Zuckerberg found multi-Billion dollar companies by hacking together some code and screwing over their partners (allegedly) or becoming famous without talent or even attractive looks, and they ask why can't they do the same. I mean, they must have a Destiny, right? Everyone around them told them so growing up.

 

Super Heroes in particular are really more Fantasy figures rather than SF: the heavy reliance on "Science" to explain characters like Superman and Spider-Man is a product of the almost Mystical reverence Americans had for Science in the late 19th to mid 20th Centuries. (As a side note there is a whole sub genre of "Edisonaides" which feature characters like Tom Swift who create marvelous inventions in the service usually of Old Fashioned American Values). Thus Superman can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes because Science!

 

This is why the Nolan Batman films are so interesting to me: they are an extended dialogue about the affects of violence, how that violence leads to more violence, or not, how children process trauma and abuse, the ethics and consequences of vigellantism, just to name a few. And Nolan's Bruce Wayne is a real honest to God Human Being who is also a Hero. He has all the flaws and most of the physical frailties of a Human Being, but he can transcend them through intelligence, will power and of course gobs of money. (Which is yet another theme Nolan directly addresses, mostly in TDKR).

 

Since Superhero stories were intended to be read by 8-12 year old boys, it was entirely appropriate that the writers try to inculcate mores and values (though if you've seen the "Superman is a Dick" related covers from the 50's you'll see there was some subversion going on even then). Now I'd guess the average Superman and Batman fan is a man in his late 30's to early 40's. If they still need to be educated on what's right and wrong or given an ideal to strive for, they maybe have deeper issues that movies or comics won't address.


As for the Kids? Well they've got Harry Potter, who's a Hero because Destiny! And NuKirk who's Captain because Destiny!

 

Then we have Superman, who even in the latest film is (yes) a child of Destiny, but who also has two (!) Fathers who guide him, and Batman, who is essentially processing an atrocity, trying to make things right, and imperfectly succeeding at great cost to himself.

 

Yeah, you know, I'll take the Comic Book Super Heroes please.

post #14 of 32

You want to have a gritty, complex, conflicted protagonist?  Fine.

 

But think carefully about that before hogtying it willy-nilly to an icon that is strongly tied to an ideal of heroism while blaring the sound system with a heroic anthem and desperately trying to present it like a hero based on an audience's collective awareness/association with it.

 

That's a big part of the disconnect, I think.  So many of these old 'heroes' and 'role models' are being trotted back out without much thoughtfulness.  They are being brought out specifically to spit in the face of 'corny old heroism.'  The "THIS AIN'T YOUR DAD'S ___________" approach to mining a property to sexy it up.

post #15 of 32

I totally agree about the lack of thought or intelligence in  today's Hollywood fare. And I think it extends to the shit being published today as well (it's telling that Robert Heinlein's juvenile novels like Between Planets compare favorably with much "adult" SF published today).

 

But as we've seen in the Man of Steel threads, Superman has been portrayed as a Dick many times (albeit as a cutsey "oh Superman wouldn't do that so let's show him doing that" way). And he has killed. Just like Batman originally shot people with a .45 (or was it a .38? Or a Bat .38?).

 

The fact that Comic Book fans are now middle aged men for the most part explains the "adult" take on a lot of these characters. Let's face it. Man of Steel is exactly the film many Fanboys craved esp after Superman Returns. And even still, there are things in that film, like Jor El saying "What if a child wants to grow into something other than what's been intended for him?" (featured in the trailers) and Pa Kent telling Clark "you have to decide what kind of Man you want to be" that does inform the movie. I'll bet you kids (the perceptive ones) pick up on that even as we get distracted by all the punching and neck snapping.

post #16 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Reasor View Post


Where Devin cites the current trend of the hero as everyday schmuck, lamenting that today's cinematic heroes are all too human, I see a writer whose online persona is defined by his contempt for the average person. It is cause for hope when we see fallible characters make it, in spite of their flaws. That's how we've gotten from the Dark Ages to where we are, stumbling the entire goddamn way, and that's how we're going to make it to that brighter tomorrow - staggering, out of step with one another, bumping into each other, imperfect, mortal, building a better world anyhow. We don't need an allegory about how we can sit back and wait for Krypton Jesus to fix it for us, we need to see Perry White struggling to get his fellow human being out of the wreckage - because we're a hell of a lot closer to walking in Perry's shoes than we are in Kal-El's. I want a Superman movie to show me that it understands why the people deserve Superman, and Man of Steel took the time amidst all the destruction to do just that.
 

 

From the man himself:

 

We live in the Age of the Amateur, when people without college degrees feel secure debunking global warming, and that sort of stooge-on-the-street quality is what they want to see in their heroes. They don’t want to go to a movie, clutching a 64oz soda and a popcorn with extra butter, and be reminded that they can be better. They want to be assured that, should the situation arise, they’d do just as well as Superman.

post #17 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cylon Baby View Post

But as we've seen in the Man of Steel threads, Superman has been portrayed as a Dick many times (albeit as a cutsey "oh Superman wouldn't do that so let's show him doing that" way). And he has killed. Just like Batman originally shot people with a .45 (or was it a .38? Or a Bat .38?).

 

 

But I'm talking about the public's general perception of the character.  The image that has endured in the collective consciousness.  Not some fringe stuff that shows up on a blog for humor's sake.

 

And I'm also talking about the way that theme is presented in the work itself..

 

The juicy trailer lines you refer to are no different from the empty messages in a fortune cookie if they're not dramatized.  Sure, an already perceptive kid could GET that line.  But I imagine that's because he/she was predisposed to accept that bit of 'wisdom.'  The films themselves are not dramatizing those wisdoms.  They're not teaching.  Just preaching... and then bungling it up by contradicting those things.  We all know the difference between knowing the lesson and actually taking it to heart.

 

Gonna pimp my friend's blog from when he was briefly commenting on the topic of this thread in 2006:

http://invisibleinkblog.blogspot.com/2006/09/hero-worship.html

 

...and then about the PROPER use of the Reluctant Hero:

http://invisibleinkblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/strength-of-reluctant-hero.html

 

 

Both of these tropes are being severely misused now.  And it's not just bad storytelling/filmmaking.  It doesn't help that this is what the big budget movies think the audience wants and continue giving us constant examples of this SHITTY HEROISM.  And as someone who thinks a bombardment of things like this does have a cumulative and collective effect on all of us... I think it matters.

 

WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE AWFUL CHILDREN???


Edited by mcnooj82 - 7/1/13 at 10:24am
post #18 of 32
I'm not discussing Man of Steel. Because I'm scared this thread will implode. Seriously that film's doing some serious collateral damage to other threads on here.

I've always felt, personally, that tales of heroism have never really changed much. Heroes - super or mythical - have always been sock-puppets for their creator's beliefs. They've always been an instrument of propaganda.

For instance, Homeric heroes were myths that carried Homer's ideals (honor and fealty to the gods over human attachments) to the ancient Greeks ("arete"). Ancient Indian myths have always been tools for extolling the virtues of detachment and duty ("dharma", as it were).

It's quite the same with modern superheroes - only, propaganda has become a quaint term now, looked upon with bemusement. This is a post-modern world; nothing is quite so black and white anymore. As such, heroes now revolve around one of two things - theme and/or character.

Heroes that revolve around character have explicit arcs. They start out as "mere humans", gain power, abuse their power a little bit and then learn a life lesson. Peter Parker, Tony Stark, Thor (both in comics and the films). I suppose one could say Captain America is the only superhero in the current Marvel roster without an explicit character arc. Even The Avengers is most entertaining when its characters are playing off each other and interacting. This kind of superhero film is about people.

The other kind of superhero story revolves around themes. These play off epic, mythic allegories. Watchmen (the comic... and to a lesser extent, the film) is the greatest example of this kind of story. Silk Spectre's affairs, The Comedian's personal history - all of these take a back seat to the themes involved. What happens when a superhero with an uncompromising code learns that his erstwhile colleague has killed a million people to save a billion? Would he bend? How would the world react to a Demi-god amongst them?

It's the same with The Dark Knight. The mob violence, escalation, anarchy, the idea of inherent human goodness - the themes are what truly drive the film's narrative.

And to a certain extent, it's the same with Man of Steel. First contact, alienation - the themes again take precedence to character (whoops. Sorry, I broke my promise not to talk about this film. Well... the best promises are the ones you can't... er... never mind).

Not much has changed. Stories in this part of the literary world still explore what their creators want to explore. As has been mentioned above by several posters more articulate than I am, in a more naive world, creators usually want to explore the idea of a moral utopia. In a more cynical world, they know/think that a utopia always comes at a dreadful cost - to such creators, the cost is far more interesting than the end result.
post #19 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnooj82 View Post

 

But I'm talking about the public's general perception of the character.  The image that has endured in the collective consciousness.  Not some fringe stuff that shows up on a blog for humor's sake.

 

And I'm also talking about the way that theme is presented in the work itself..

 

The juicy trailer lines you refer to are no different from the empty messages in a fortune cookie if they're not dramatized.  Sure, an already perceptive kid could GET that line.  But I imagine that's because he/she was predisposed to accept that bit of 'wisdom.'  The films themselves are not dramatizing those wisdoms.  They're not teaching.  Just preaching... and then bungling it up by contradicting those things.  We all know the difference between knowing the lesson and actually taking it to heart.


But all those Dick Superman covers represent the character as portrayed in the comics over three decades. I'd hardly call that fringe. Now if you want to say comic book's in general are fringe, I'd agree.

 

The general public's perception of the character is formed from the George Reeve TV show, the various Animated shows and of course the Christopher Reeve films. And the main criticism of all those incarnations is that Superman is a boring character. And Snyder/Nolan tried to address that, and the generally positive response outside the InterWebz seems to show that it worked.

 

I will agree with you that Man of Steel doesn't succeed in dramatizing the moral aspects of the Superman mythos. The Nolan Batman films totally do, but they don't preach, at all. They constantly show characters try to live by ideals, fall short, and deal with the consequences. How that is dramatized may be Ham handed, but it's there.

post #20 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnooj82 View Post

You want to have a gritty, complex, conflicted protagonist?  Fine.

 

But think carefully about that before hogtying it willy-nilly to an icon that is strongly tied to an ideal of heroism while blaring the sound system with a heroic anthem and desperately trying to present it like a hero based on an audience's collective awareness/association with it.

 

That's a big part of the disconnect, I think.  So many of these old 'heroes' and 'role models' are being trotted back out without much thoughtfulness.  They are being brought out specifically to spit in the face of 'corny old heroism.'  The "THIS AIN'T YOUR DAD'S ___________" approach to mining a property to sexy it up.

But see...Why does it always have to be between those two levels: gritty and heroic; light and dark; TDK and The Avengers. Why can't there ever be an inbetween? I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of swinging back the pendulum and going back to the era of unironic heroism because it kind of reeks of that old "it was better when I was younger" crap that old men and hipsters routinely spout; also, it doesn't really fix the problem that people have with modern superhero films anyways. It's not about reveling in the anti-hero (which I don't think is really part of the conversation anyways), it's about creating more nuanced characters that function more as human beings than simply heroes. You can certainly do that without having the character be like Wolverine.

post #21 of 32

I'm not saying there are only those 2 levels.  There can certainly be an in-between.  They just have to be done with more thought.  It's tricker and it takes more skill that I don't believe a lot of filmmakers to have.  They want the illusion of complexity, but also want the big old school grandeur of heroic moments.  And the two need more effort and care as opposed to just being mashed together with a simple, "YEAH, WE TALKED ABOUT IT.  WE'VE HAD CONVERSATIONS.  WAIT FOR THE SEQUEL.  THE SEQUEL WILL BE REAAAL GOOD!"

post #22 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnooj82 View Post

I'm not saying there are only those 2 levels.  There can certainly be an in-between.  They just have to be done with more thought.  It's tricker and it takes more skill that I don't believe a lot of filmmakers to have.  They want the illusion of complexity, but also want the big old school grandeur of heroic moments.  And the two need more effort and care as opposed to just being mashed together with a simple, "YEAH, WE TALKED ABOUT IT.  WE'VE HAD CONVERSATIONS.  WAIT FOR THE SEQUEL.  THE SEQUEL WILL BE REAAAL GOOD!"

It's impossible arguing with you because I always end up agreeing.

post #23 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ska Oreo View Post

But see...Why does it always have to be between those two levels: gritty and heroic; light and dark; TDK and The Avengers. Why can't there ever be an inbetween?

 

Not to be glib, but it is hard. To maintain that balance is difficult. Too light and the film is stakesless or flippant. Too dark, and the film is accused of conversely not being dark enough OR too dark for its intended audience.

 

Quote:
it's about creating more nuanced characters that function more as human beings than simply heroes.

Absolutely, but you are calling for fine writers, actors, and directors to go for nuance. Nuance is critically awarded, but popularily dismissed. The masses can too easily misinterpret nuanced.

post #24 of 32

I think we've wandered off topic into a "why do movies suck" thread, which Ambler has devoted numerous threads to.

 

Since I'm not a Parent I'd be interested to know what in fact kids do look up to these days. I know amongst the people who grew up with them the Harry Potter books/films made a big impact (I'm slightly envious of the Potter generation since most of the series I grew up with declined in quality (Dune) or went into a endless plot loop (Hardy Boys etc).) I also see a LOT of kids in Iron Man costumes at Halloween. What else is there?

post #25 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cylon Baby View Post

I think we've wandered off topic into a "why do movies suck" thread, which Ambler has devoted numerous threads to.

Since I'm not a Parent I'd be interested to know what in fact kids do look up to these days. I know amongst the people who grew up with them the Harry Potter books/films made a big impact (I'm slightly envious of the Potter generation since most of the series I grew up with declined in quality (Dune) or went into a endless plot loop (Hardy Boys etc).) I also see a LOT of kids in Iron Man costumes at Halloween. What else is there?

Kids are not much different. For every cocky, arrogant Ben Tennyson, there's a calm, moral, introspective Aang. For every brash, hot-tempered Korra, there's an always-sunny ultimate Spider-Man. (Not comparing the quality of the shows - just saying that heroes still come in several different shades).
post #26 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ska Oreo View Post

I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of swinging back the pendulum and going back to the era of unironic heroism because it kind of reeks of that old "it was better when I was younger" crap that old men and hipsters routinely spout;
But, just to talk crazy for a minute here, what if it really was better? It's pretty foolish to dismiss a possibility out-of-hand just because you think you've heard it all before, without giving it honest consideration. I'm certainly not trying to say that everything was unqualifiedly wonderful Xty years ago, but in this specific way, I think you could make an argument for it; people in them days actually allowed themselves to earnestly believe in ideals, rather than just paying them lip service and thinking that "it would probably be nice but will never happen" like you're wishing for it to rain gumdrops and unicorn kisses. One of those is a hell of a lot more likely to inspire behavior in a more meaningful way than an occasional sigh and "whaddya gonna do" shrug.

Frankly, it's pretty embarassing that earlier generations, who we're constantly being reminded routinely lived in much worse circumstances than us, could show earnest conviction about this stuff without trite conceits like "irony" while a lot of us today can only sneer at their naivete and sigh about, like, the futility of it all, man, aren't we just so moderne and sophisticated for not subscribing to silly notions like those old people did, and culturally the best we can aspire to is increasingly looking less like "good person" and more like "useful asshole."
post #27 of 32

This is why SPEED RACER is GREAT.

post #28 of 32

The problem is this - we know the world doesn't necessarily hew to arbitrarily-drawn ideals today. As in, we know it. For certain (granted, we can never gain 100% Bayesian certainty; however, we can compare theories and say, this theory has ten times the chance of the other older theory of being true). There are several new, exciting fields of science today that weren't there before. Epigenetics, evolutionary psychology... hell, even String Theory (or the String Hypothesis, for those of you "technical folk" out there) came out of nowhere in the last three or four decades.

 

As such, we're slowly coming to terms with the fact that the universe is largely uncaring - I suspect we always knew that, but thing is... most of us know it fo' sure now. Hobbes' social contract is still valid today, but we know that morality stems from an almost arbitrary mechanism deep within the human brain, honed through centuries of evolution and genetic optimization. Social interactions have shaped our "conscience", honed it, and developed it so we can compete with other beings for social status. At the end of the day, genes are implicitly selfish, but the large jury-rigged bodies (jury-rigged on a geological time scale) they control give off the appearance of instinctively honed moral characteristics in order to enablet the genes to proliferate and make copies of themselves.

 

We're talking hard biological determinism - where our consciousness is nothing more than a mere simulation designed to predict and thwart the future. Our minds are the result of a slow, happenstance series of accidents over millenia - an accidentally occurring natural intelligence. For those of you that play Mass Effect, we're like the geth - floating bits of code that accidentally gained a modicum of sentience over millions of years due to random additions. In fact, the idea of culture influencing behavior is quaint now - human beings are no longer a blank canvas today shaped after birth. We're born with strict genetic templates, that are programmed from birth, but with constraints that were set even before birth. 

 

Don't you think this would breed a significant degree of cynicism towards conventional morality? If a man is defined by his genes and upbringing... wouldn't heroism stem from somewhere as a mental trait? Wouldn't villainy have to come from somewhere? Murdered parents? Murdered uncles? A vat of radioactive liquid in a sewer pipe? Heroes and villains never just are. They are made. See, we know today that most of our cultural traits - courtship, mating et al are merely advanced versions of courtship among lesser primates. That's why it feels instinctively right.

 

Granted, none of that has to inform our morality, but we can't help that it does. And most people writing science fiction today know all of this. I haven't even gotten to the sheer existential despair that would accompany a possible realization that the universe might not be a closed, orderly universe - if the String Theory is true, there might be 10^500 universes capable of supporting sapient life at any given moment.

 

The fact is, while the Earth has gotten a lot smaller, the universe has grown vast... and uncaring. And personally, I think it affects those in the know - especially those that write science fiction.

 

Maybe that has lent itself to superhero arcs getting darker? I don't know - either way, that's my take on it.


Edited by Aurora Vampiris - 7/1/13 at 6:30pm
post #29 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aurora Vampiris View Post

Don't you think this would breed a significant degree of cynicism towards conventional morality?
Frankly? I'm reaching the point where I don't care. Maybe the gritty hard-tack everything-sucks-and-then-you-die principles-are-just-a-fancy-name-for-survival-tactics oh-and-by-the-way-you're-a-squishy-biological-automaton perspective is as realist as you say; it's still a fucking shitty worldview to live with, and to write from.
post #30 of 32

The problem with any kind of Materialistic view of the Universe or Multiverse is, the Religious or Philosophical person can simply counter that it's all planned that way by an intelligent Designer. That's a matter of faith, not amenable to the Scientific Method. Which is why I've never understood how the Fundies can get upset about Evolution or proclaim against all evidence that the Earth was created in 6 24 hour days.

 

Speaking of behaviors that are hard wired into the Human brain, a big one is the need for Stories to explain the Universe to us. They can take the form of Myths to explain natural events, conspiracy theories to explain the actions of the Stock Market on a given day, or Morality tales to tell us how we should try to behave.

 

It's that later function of the Story that I think we're sometimes missing from our Super Heroes.

 

Science Fiction is a whole other breed of cat: at it's best SF leads us to raise just the sort of questions or "facts" that Aurora lays out. My complaint about SF is that I see it reverting to simple escapist fare instead of fucking with our heads. Even Asimov and Clarke could pose some pretty nasty scenarios, maybe not always consciously. (I think of a statement by Daneel Olivav, a Robot Detective in Caves of Steel, to the effect that it is intelligence that is the prime determinant of Humanity. You can certainly take that statement in some really nasty directions).

post #31 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by commodorejohn View Post

Frankly? I'm reaching the point where I don't care. Maybe the gritty hard-tack everything-sucks-and-then-you-die principles-are-just-a-fancy-name-for-survival-tactics oh-and-by-the-way-you're-a-squishy-biological-automaton perspective is as realist as you say; it's still a fucking shitty worldview to live with, and to write from.

I hold the view that atheism as an excuse for being an asshole is no better, no worse, but precisely equivalent to faith as an excuse for being an asshole; that Social Darwinists are cut from the same cloth as Christians who gloat over the damage done by hurricanes and tornadoes, because gay rights. Either way, it's starting at the finish line (being a jerk with no empathy) and working backward from there to retcon a philosophy to support it.

A sense of being in this together, of having nothing but one another, inspires far more empathy in me than the mythologies of bronze age agriculturalists arguing over whose women-hating god was better. At the same time, I acknowledge and admire the humanitarian works of sincerely religious people, like Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama. I believe that they, too, started from a place of being decent human beings and worked backward to shape their understanding of their faiths to fit.
Edited by Reasor - 7/1/13 at 8:24pm
post #32 of 32

Also, knowing that the system/game/matrix/life is corrupt/cruel/harsh/fixed doesn't seem to stop a lot of us from carrying on and lying to ourselves a bit.  Humans are really good at that.  Dumb ones.  Smart ones.

 

That's why we go to stories.  We know that these things are created by specific people.  We know it's not real.  But we buy into it for that hope that the story will either enrich or challenge our worldviews by being true to itself.

 

A lot of stories simply aren't true to themselves.  Too many cooks in kitchen.  Trying to please too many masters.  A bad mix of art and commerce. 

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