ARE SUPERHERO MOVIES TO BLAME FOR IT ALL?
Evil laughs in the face of consensus building. Far better to rely on rich, empowered, maverick individuals to smack it in the mouth. If that sentence carries echoes of at least one current world leader, you might want to reflect a little more on the modern blockbuster.
Creative sentencing in the US is becoming even more imaginative. A Missouri judge has sentenced a poacher to prison and a monthly screening of Bambi, to make him think twice about killing deer.
Quirky and fleetingly newsworthy as this is, it also testifies to the moral persuasion of movies within weeks of the release of The Sky is Falling by Peter Biskind (Penguin 2018). Its subtitle: How Vampires, Zombies, Androids and Superheroes made America Great again for Extremism provides a neat summary of the thesis and is a delicious mix of intellectualism and populism which flows so well, the reader is carried along from beginning to end (‘insanely readable’, in the words of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek).
My personal exposure to superhero movies has been more DC than Marvel. The darkness and moral complexity of Batman preferred to Superman too, who despite regular makeovers, feels strangely boring in a too good to be true kind of way.
I realise I will have lost several readers with that paragraph.
The avalanche of both Marvel and DC movie franchises and spin-offs must be popular and profitable for them to have endured so long and barely a week goes by without one screening at the multiplex. It requires special devotion to keep up with the genre, and most don’t bother. However, we are all influenced by their underlying philosophy.
Bi-partisan government working with multi-lateral international bodies to build consensus to tackle global problems are a boring waste of time. Evil simply laughs in its face. Far better to rely on rich, empowered, maverick individuals to smack it in the mouth, as Iron Man and Batman would. If that last sentence carries echoes of at least one current world leader, then you might want to reflect a little more on the modern blockbuster.
But it’s a no-win scenario, really. Who would watch Die Hard knowing the response to the seizing of partygoers in a skyscraper by apparent terrorists would be patient, enduring hostage negotiations to talk Hans Gruber down from the top? Far more satisfying to watch him fall from there instead. Our desire for entertainment and its strange assumptions of violence calls for lone individualists – vigilantes, in effect – who will save us. If law enforcement agencies are present in such movies, it’s usually to parody their impotence (John McLane was off duty, remember).
Biskind, with great humour, reveals the ideology behind these kinds of movies. We assume it doesn’t exist because the story is usually so superficial, but writers and directors are as smart and opinionated as other professionals and, despite Hollywood’s propensity for liberalism, big movies frequently read like an Ayn Rand fantasy. The individual must be liberated from the shackles of incompetent bureaucracy to fulfil their heroic destiny.
All stories carry meaning; Christians, of all people, should be aware of this. And films are the dominant narrative form of our era. This is all the more reason for the Church to take them seriously and to help people critique and learn from them in ways that enable their own following of Jesus. And if we can do this with a sense of fun and irony, all the better. We spend countless hours in front of movies (and box sets) as an escape from the world, without realising the world may be more at work than ever in our minds at those moments.
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