Month: February 2013

Seeing the Future Through the Eyes of the Past: The Utopia That Never Was

I rarely miss a beat when it comes to science fiction films especially those produced in the 1970s. I love cheesy special effects and horrible acting. I was pleasantly surprised to find this gem of a film the other day.  I had never seen it before and it contains all my favorite 70’s elements. Below is the link to the full movie. The movie only runs about 38 minutes which is probably why it was never shown in wider circulation and why I have not seen it before.

https://www.avgeeks.com/wp2/libra-1978/

This film postulates an orbital libertarian utopia and is set against a backdrop of a worldwide socialist state. While I discount perfect utopias out of hand, this film postulates some scenarios (the socialist state) that are currently playing out in our own society. Well worth watching.

CHARITY AND JUSTICE: A DEFENSE OF ALTRUISTIC ETHICS AND POLITICAL LIBERALISM BASED ON SCHOPENHAUER’S PHILOSOPHY AND SUPERMAN’S MYTH

CHARITY AND JUSTICE: A DEFENSE OF ALTRUISTIC ETHICS AND POLITICAL LIBERALISM BASED ON SCHOPENHAUER’S PHILOSOPHY AND SUPERMAN’S MYTH

Schopenhauersup1. INTRODUCTION

 

            In present times, I think there are few attitudes more naïve than those which most people have about our modern fictitious heroes, when people consider them as simply imaginary figures whose only function is to entertain. Certainly, the greatest part of our imaginary characters from movies, series and comic books, give us nothing more than entertainment; but there are heroes that go beyond this commonplace condition, and they reach the status of true modern myths whose function is, above all, to reveal more profound information hidden inside the human soul. And such information is hidden in such a profound way, that before it can be revealed to us through descriptive language – in a scientific or philosophical text – it needs to show itself through expressive language – in poems, novels and fictitious stories. (It is worth noting: the philosopher Wittgenstein, according to Buchholz [2009: 118], sometimes had a preference for fictitious stories instead of philosophical texts, because it could show us concrete images of human life in a more clarified way). For that reason, the legendary writer Elliot S! Maggin rightly said, in the introduction to the graphic novel Kingdom Come, created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross: “Super-heroes stories (…) are today the most coherent manifestation of the popular unconscious. They’re stories not about gods, but about the way humans wish themselves to be; ought, in fact, to be”.

In my own opinion, I believe that there is not any imaginary hero who has become more mythological than Superman, in our day. In fact, he can be easily considered the archetype of modern superhero, and all the others superheroes are, in essence, a variation of him, according to Christopher Knowles (2008: 140); but much more than that, I even affirm that never has there existed a hero in history – and here I refer even to the great heroes in Homeric poems – who represented or represents our moral convictions, in such a perfect way. For Superman, above all, appears in popular imagination as a man truly good, in moral sense. In general human conscience, the “super” in his name does not represent only physical power; above all, it refers to his incredible moral superiority. Therefore, the myth of Superman reveals through the expressive language of his adventures, our more universal moral convictions (that the function of our myths is to communicate truths disguised in apparently ludicrous language, this is the central thesis of Joseph Campbell’s The hero with a thousand faces). Superman is incorruptible; he only does what we all know that we ought to do and for each other. And if he fights unconditionally for truth and justice, and adopts a rigid moral code based on protection of human life (as the character expresses in chapter 3 of Kingdom Come), so it’s because all of us adopt these values – certainly, a moral relativist adopts it secretly – so we deeply desire that such a man could exist, to fight for such values. And as a gesture of approbation, we call him Super-man, because we recognize in him the perfect image of our purest moral aspirations.

If the image and acts of Superman express our moral convictions, the function of philosophy,  is to describe the reasons for those same convictions. I think Schopenhauer’s Ethics fulfills such a purpose. And the fact that Superman – the icon of our moral aspirations – has a extremely compassionate personality, reinforces my judgment. For that, when we admire the morality of his actions, we agree with the Schopenhauer’s doctrine – even without knowing it consciously – when the idealist philosopher strongly relates morality and compassion. My objective in this work is to evidence the compatibility between the myth of Superman and the moral philosophy of Schopenhauer. Doing that, I pretend to defend, at the same time, the moral altruism – which consists on the idea that the ethical apogee is the abnegation of own benefits in order to improve the happiness of another person – and the liberalism as political vision – which represents the idea that the political power is not legitimated to impose, by coercive and jurisdictional means, the virtues of charity or altruism, but it can only obligate its citizens to be righteous, that is to say, to abstain themselves from any unjust act, i.e., to refrain themselves from the undertaking of any injury against individual life, freedom and property.

 

2. PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS ON SCHOPENHAUER’S POLITICAL AND ETHICAL PHILOSOPHY

 

Arthur Schopenhauer is a philosopher who was very famous because of his pessimism about human condition. Such pessimism has its origin in the premises which his philosophy sustains: here, a basic idea is that the essence of the human being is concentrated on his will, a will to life, because he is always searching for satisfaction of his own necessities and individual vital impulses. The intellect is under the power of will; a mere instrument, by which the individual finds the necessary means for the satisfaction of his own desires, and such desires are in itself irrational. In sum, first we want; then, we think in order to satisfy that wanting. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer recognizes the human capacity for good. Recognizes that justice and right are equally possible, and even charity can be found in any period and civilization. Schopenhauer’s explanation for this apparent contradiction (radical egoism and capacity for good) is as it follows: each individual human being is capable of reaching  metaphysical and intuitive knowledge, through which knowledge the subject transcends the limits of individulism, as long as he perceives that all the individuals share a common essence:  the will. In such circumstances, the suffering of another becomes my own suffering too, because through that knowledge the barriers between the You and Ego do not exist anymore: all human beings are equally volitive beings. Such knowledge or perception is generally called compassion. Therefore, from compassion we acquire a moral conscience. If before we always wanted our own happiness and pleasure, independently if such desire could bring suffering to another one, now, because of the feeling of compassion, we want to restrain ourselves from provoking any suffering on another, and, sometimes, we even want to help anyone who suffers. According to Schopenhauer, in the first case we have the virtue of justice; its principle is neminem laede! (“don’t you injure anyone!”). In the second case, we have the virtue of charity; its principle is si potes, iuva! (“if you can, so help!”). (The basic of Schopenhauer’s moral doctrines can be found in his greatest work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung – The World as will and representation – and Über die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik – On the two fundamental problems of Ethics).

Therefore, the feeling of compassion inspire in us not only the mere respect to another, but even the genuine love and abnegation of itself through charity, that is to say, self sacrifice. Consequently, Schopenhauer’s moral philosophy renders the greatest reverence to altruism. For if the virtue of justice only demands the restraining – i.e., it forbids any action that causes suffering to another – differently, the other virtue, the charity, demands a positive action: si potes, iuva! . But it is obvious that this last virtue cannot be imposed by means of legal coercion, because such imposing would violate the virtue of justice itself: if the human essence cannot be in any way a saint or heroic essence, so a political State which requires from its citizens heroic or altruist actions, it would require from them much more than they actually can give, i.e., it would injure them; it would practice injustice as long as it violates their nature. Therefore, the State only can require the restraining by legal means, but never heroic actions that could put the citizen in a dangerous situation for his life or patrimony. Such altruist actions or charity must appear in a thoroughly spontaneous way. From here, I can introduce the myth of Superman.

 

3. SUPERMAN’S MYTH AND COMPASSION

 

The perspective that understands Superman as a mere fictitious character whose function is to bring us entertainment, is certainly a misguided one. The importance of that character transcends simple entertainment: much more than that, it is a true myth that acquires special importance as it became, since its creation in 1938, the summa of all our ethically desirable virtues. By definition, his way of acting and thinking is exactly the way that must be in conformity with our fundamental moral intuitions. Above all, Superman is a perfect moral being. He only wants, unconditionally, what is good. Even his physical gifts, have, as their true purpose, the emphasizing of his true excellence: the moral excellence. Such physical powers would be a great means through which a bad person could pursue his own good and advantages. But for Superman, they became instruments to reach a higher purpose: the good of all mankind.And his actions have moral purity as long as his motives have the same degree of moral purity. Differently, other heroes have motivations that cannot be considered noble, in a moral sense – that’s what happens with characters like Batman and Punisher, determined by a desire of vengeance against criminals. But the motivation of Superman is basically the feeling of compassion and love for all mankind. A great part of his classical, best and famous stories, exalts such feelings. This is the case of the excellent graphic novel Peace on Earth, produced by Paul Dini and Alex Ross; here, the central theme is the extremely compassionate Superman’s character. The story begins when the hero saves a young woman in Metropolis. Nobody was hurting or attacking her; the problem was another one: she was dying of starvation. He immediately took her to a asylum for homeless people, where she is cared for, but the girl stays in his thoughts for the next few days: her personal pain has became his own pain. He cannot avoid the feeling of compassion, and his semblance – admirably designed by Alex Ross – expresses the intensity of such restlessness and suffering.

Physically, such mental state is inexplicable. After all, how could be possible the sharing of suffering between two individuals whose bodies are incommunicable through space ? Someone could object that the feeling of compassion is developed through intellectual effort, by which we imagine ourselves suffering the same pain of another individual; in such circumstances, the feeling of compassion would not be opposed to the egoism: on the contrary, would be based on it. But the myth of Superman seems to contradict such objection. It is noteworthy that in Peace on Earth, Superman expressly pronounces himself to be completely ignorant about the human sensation of starving. “It’s ironic”, he says. “I don’t need to eat. I will never know hunger. I don’t know what victims of starvation feel. I can’t decide if that is a blessing or a curse”. Therefore, he is incapable to imagine his own ego suffering from such misery, because of his invulnerability. Despite this, his attitudes, his intensive concerns, restless, and inconformity shown by that story, confirms the authenticity of his compassion. A kantian philosopher could argue that what Superman does has not any direct relation with feelings and inclinations of his natural character, because such thing is irrelevant for our discernment between right and wrong. This discernment would be entirely made by our pure practical reason, which announces to us, rational agents, categorical duties of virtue. In summa, a kantian philosopher would say that Superman wants to free the girl from suffering because his pure practical reason demands categorically such actuation (for more details about a most “orthodox” Kant, see his greatest and most famous works on morals, Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, Kritik der praktishen Vernunft. Then the rigidity of his own doctrine on morals is significantly diminished in Metaphysik der Sitten). But what is shown in Dini’s texts and Ross drawings, indeed is not a man determined by a “pure respect before the moral law”; on the contrary, we see a man whose semblant seems to be very disturbed by feelings and emotions. Certainly, his actions are all in conformity with the moral law. But Paul Dini and Alex Ross reveal to us that intimately the fundament of the Superman’s searching for good can be found in an intense suffering and restless of emotional nature. Is the compassion which moves our hero; the respect before moral law is a consequence of it.

At this point, is important to emphasize that the true function of the myth is not the creating, but the expressing of the most profound aspects of human soul: and the myth of Superman is an expression of our most profound moral convictions. Thus, it attests that we do not condemn the feeling of compassion; on the contrary, we laud it. Such conclusion has special importance because it demonstrates to us a convergence between that which is expressed by Superman’s myth and that which is explained by Schopenhauer’s philosophy, and contradicts the moral rigidity of Kant’s philosophy, when such philosophy conceives a good will as something which is exclusively related with the action motivated by moral duty, enunciated by pure practical reason; thus, independently of any pathological inclination. It contradicts too the moral conception sustained by Ayn Rand’s objectivism, because she rejects the altruism – and, consequently, the compassion – as an ethical fundament, to privilege the “rational selfishness” (as exposed in her work The virtue of selfishness). In my point of view, this is absurd. Therefore, there’s a convergence here: if Schopenhauer teaches us that the root of our moral feelings is the compassion, and as such, it must become object of respect and reverence; so the Superman’s myth confirms such thesis: because our greatest imaginary hero, who expresses our moral convictions, is a compassionate man, and his love for all mankind is the element that dignifies even more his beautiful deeds.

 

4. DISTINCTION AND CONCILIATION BETWEEN ALTRUISTIC ETHICS AND POLITICAL LIBERALISM

 

If we discuss virtues like charity and altruism (I understand them as the same thing), so we must to make a clear distinction between private virtues – and here I include the charity or altruism itself – and the public or political virtue per excellence: the justice. In a liberal conception, the objective of the political power is to avoid the perpetration of injustice. So the State, as Schopenhauer (1966, p. 594) has defined, is just an institution of protection: protection directed outwards, against other nations; protection directed inwards, that is, protection of the members of a State against one another; protection against the protector, that is, against the State itself. Therefore, the duty of the State is the creating of laws, by which it can forbid actions against individual life, freedom and property (Schopenhauer advocates the thesis accordingly with such individual rights are naturals). Consequently, inside moral limits, the State can only impose the virtue of justice, through the legal exigency accordingly with we must to refrain ourselves from offensive actions. But the virtue of charity or altruism cannot be politically imposed without injuring the citizens at the same time, because generally men are not naturally inclined to altruism. The State is not morally legitimated to demand through legality more than the human being can give; so such exigency would be unjust. After all, heroic or altruistic acts are laudable as long as they are not legally obligated, but when they occur through spontaneous and autonomous action.

The Superman’s myth reinforces such liberal convictions. In truth, Superman can be easily considered as a symbol of conservative liberalism: he sustains a strictly obedience and respect for American laws and public institutions, and, consequently, he only claims from the citizens the same behavior, without forcing them to take altruistic or heroic attitudes. Here again I can take Peace on Earth as paradigm. Superman says: “it’s not my place to dictate policy for humankind. But perhaps the sight of me fighting hunger on a global scale would inspire others to take action in their ways”. This quote is specially important because through it Superman expresses his greatest mission: to give a symbol by which the humankind can be inspired to choose freely the good and to reject the evil; to embrace spontaneously the heroism and altruism and to abandon the natural egoism, inaction and indifference. He is not a judge or a politician: above all, he is an educator.

 

5. CONCLUSION

 

Therefore, I can appoint here two distinct conclusions (not necessarily on this order): 1) in the mythological image of Superman we can find a picture of the conciliation between political liberalism and altruistic ethics, as long as Superman respects the human limitations and imperfections, and because of that he does not demand from them nothing more than the virtue of justice, i.e., the self refraining from provoking unjust acts according to Schopenhauer’s definition (which is here the liberal and political element); on the other hand, Superman quest to foment, in the heart of men, another values like charity, solidarity, heroism and altruism, through his own example (and here we can find the pure ethical and altruistic element). There’s no contradiction: the only value which is imposed – even through physical coercion – is the justice; the charity or altruism can only be recommended. 2) So Superman’s actions incorporate those two virtues appointed by Schopenhauer, justice and charity, exactly as conceptualized by Schopenhauer, and the cause of such incorporation is the compassionate character of Superman – another point explained by Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Consequently the myth of Superman seems to offer  an expressive correlate for Schopenhauer’s philosophy: what Schopenhauer teaches through abstract conceptions, Superman expresses through esthetical performance.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

BUCHHOLZ, Kai. Compreender Wittgenstein. Tradução de Vilmar Schneider. 2. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Vozes, 2009.

 

CAMPBELL, Joseph. The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton: Princeton university press, 2004.

 

KANT, Immanuel. Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Stten. Werke in sechs Bänden IV. Ed. W. Weischedel. Wiesbaden: Insel, 1956.

 

______. Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. Werke in sechs Bänden IV. Ed. W. Weischedel. Wiesbaden: Insel, 1956.

 

KNOWLES, Christopher. Nossos deuses são super-heróis. Tradução de Marcelo Borges. São Paulo: Cultrix, 2008.

 

RANDY, Ayn. The virtue of selfishness. New York: Penguin Group, 1964.

 

ROSS, Alex; WAID, Mark. Kingdom Come. New York: DC Comics, 1997.

 

ROSS, Alex; DINI, Paul. Peace on earth. New York: DC Comics, 1999.

 

SCHOPENHAUER, Arthur.  Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik. Zürich: Diogenes, 1977.

 

___. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. Erster Band. Zürich: Diogenes, 1977.

 

___. The world as will and representation, volume II. Translated from german by E. F. J. Payne. New York: Dover Publications, 1958.

 

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Chad Byers of the World of the Weird Monster Show

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Chad Byers of the World of the Weird Monster Show

The Enquiring HitchhikerThis week The Enquiring Hitchhiker interviews Chad Byers who is better known as Undead Johnny the host of World of the Weird Monster Show.

The World of the Weird Monster Show is a horror host/sketch comedy show that premiered on Halloween Night 2004. It airs on Comcast Cable in Chicagoland as well as on The Monster Channel (monsterchannel.tv) The show is currently on hiatus on The Monster Channel but will be back soon with all new shows showcasing up and coming independent film makers featuring some of the best new horror short films being made today. The World of the Weird Monster Show also does a Live Show on the Second Friday of every month at the Wilmette Theatre in Chicagoland where they present and shadowcast the ultimate cult film of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Chicago Sun-Times called The World of the Weird Monster Show “a sketch comedy/horror show that could be likened to SCTV and Son of Svengoolie having a mutant offspring together.”

The Hitchhiker asks…

Question 1. How did you get into the horror host business in the first place?

1. Horror Hosts had a huge influence on me growing up in Rockford, Illinios. As a kid I watched Svengoolie (then Son of Svengoolie) from right here in Chicago as well as Rockford’s own Uncle Don’s Terror Theater. And of course Elvira, Commander USA, and Joe Bob Briggs over syndication. I would be a totally different person if I hadn’t been exposed to those movies as a child. Everything from the Universal and Hammer classics to the AIP films to grade Z monster movies….I loved them all. It was a wonderful introduction to film in general and film of all types (color, black and white, foreign, old and new) and just gave me a place to go where my imagination could run wild. Later in life, I had an encounter with William Shatner that really inspired me and thru a series of events, The World of the Weird Monster Show is what came from that inspiration. We premiered on Halloween night 2004 and have been going ever since. It’s a great way to share my love of these types of films and this subject matter with other people as well as a great creative outlet for myself. And it’s been wonderful. The World of the Weird Monster Show has led to so many magical and memorable moments in my life.

Question 2. My favorite episode of World of the Weird Monster Show has to be the one where you parodied Mystery Inc. What is your favorite?

2. Well, I’m a huge Scooby Doo fan so I love the Mystery, Inc spoofs so thanks for saying so. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite. I do have a soft spot for our first Christmas Special. To me it’s exactly what I want a Christmas special to be. I also have enjoyed the three or four El Santo episodes we’ve done as those are just plain goofy and ridiculously silly and over the top. Probably our best episode was the one we made for “Horror at Party Beach.” Where we infiltrated the studio of one of our fake ‘shows within a show’ “The Geek Fantasy Hour.” But my personal favorite? I don’t know. Maybe our “Night Train to Terror” episode. Or our HP Lovecraft tribute, “Pardon me, is that a shuggoth in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

Question 3. Do you script most of the shows or are they largely improv?

3. The shows are scripted. Pretty much 100%. Once we get on the set, we all definitely play with the words a bit. And we’ll go thru each sketch a few times before shooting and we’ll maybe drop a line here, add a line there. Change some stuff. So there is some improv, but not too much. We use the script as a firm structure, but everyone contributes while we’re shooting.

Question 4. I have to ask about Dementia. I will be honest and tell you that she is the reason I first started watching World of the Weird monster show. Why did she leave the show? Will she ever return for a cameo?

4. Dementia was great (and still is great!) Dementia left the show in the middle of the 5th season. She was a favorite of so many viewers and I think she was definitely one of the reasons for the show’s success. The Dementia and Johnny characters just worked very well together and a lot of that came from the friendship between her and I in real life. She left on the best of terms after four years and five seasons of being on the show. We definitely hope to have her back at some point…maybe a cameo, maybe a whole episode. We’ll see. It’s brought up now and again.

Question 5. Most people hate to discuss their politics in public for fear of alienating parts of their audience, and your show never seems to get political beyond the politics of Viseria, so I will simply ask do you think the country is heading in the right direction?

5. That’s a hard question to answer. I mean, I feel as if there are many things wrong with the country for sure. And our political system. But on the other hand we have a President speaking out for same sex marriage in his inaugural speech and so many states have passed laws for marriage equality. You know? So many things are going right, and are better than ever before, but yet, I can turn on the news and hear a politician….someone who obviously had the people’s support in his area to get elected…blatantly not know something like how a woman’s body works. You hear terrifyingly hateful speeches from public officials and from the American public itself all the time. It can be frightening. But there is always hope. And I think we can be better.

All that being said, I have to say that I don’t think that just because someone is in the public eye (even in such a small way as us) that they automatically need to start talking about where they stand on every topic under the sun. Nor do I think we the public should really care what, for example, our favorite action hero has to say about gun control. The cult of celebrity in this country is ridiculous. If I or the cast of WOWMS has something to say, we’ll say it thru our art. We’ve made plenty of statements on various topics such as religion, politics and elections, commercialism and more on the show thru satire and humor. And we will continue to do so. Our show strives to be more than just your typical one camera/one host talking directly to the audience horror host show. Thru our comedy and the overall feel of the show we strive to be entertaining and also to say something about how we feel about the world we live in. And obviously politics is a part of that. But I prefer to let the show speak for itself. If you watch it, I believe our viewpoints on many topics are pretty clear.

Thank you for the Interview.

Libertarian Genesis: How a Little House on the Prairie Inspired the Libertarian Party

Libertarian Genesis: How a Little House on the Prairie Inspired the Libertarian Party

This is not technically an article about speculative fiction. The marriage of science fiction and libertarian thought can not be dismissed however, and this marriage has given us some of the greatest works of science fiction of the twentieth century. I have discussed in earlier articles the idea that all modern American science fiction is a direct descendant of our common frontier heritage. The same can be said for libertarianism. It found its first expression in the pioneer spirit and that spirit rekindled it into an actual political movement in the late twentieth century. Where did this movement come from and who was the driving force behind it?

According to the Libertarian party website the history of the party starts in 1971. While that may be the official date of the start of the party it is far from the beginning of the story. To find that beginning we need to look much further back to 1886 and a little house in the Dakota territory.  Here Rose Wilder (later Rose Wilder Lane) was born the only child of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Most Americans know the story of Laura Ingalls and her frontier experiences. Her story is probably one of the most important series of American children’s novels. While most people know of Laura few know what happened to her Daughter Rose.

Rose became a writer and journalist. She helped her mother develop her stories into workable form and she is also probably responsible for ghost writing the first few books in the series. These stories based on her mother’s experience have been popular since they were first published in 1932. Growing up in poor and seeing the deprivation that often accompanied frontier living and work conditions Rose Wilder Lane became if not a communist… a fellow traveler. In her own words

“Politically, I cast my first vote — on a sample ballot — for Cleveland, at the age of three. I was an ardent if uncomprehending Populist; I saw America ruined forever when the soulless corporations in 1896, defeated Bryan and Free Silver. I was a Christian Socialist with Debs, and distributed untold numbers of the Appeal to Reason. From 1914 to 1920 — when I first went to Europe — I was a pacifist; innocently, if criminally, I thought warstupid, cruel, wasteful and unnecessary. I voted for Wilson because he kept us out of it.

In 1917 I became convinced, though not practicing communist. In Russia, for some reason, I wasn’t and I said so, but my understanding of [Bolsdevism?] made everything pleasant when the Cheka arrested me a few times.

I am now a fundementalist American; give me time and I will tell you why individualism, laissez faire and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the best opportunities for the development of the human spirit. Also I will tell you why the relative freedom of human spirit is better — and more productive, even in material ways — than the communist, Fascist, or any other rigidity organized for material ends” (Lane, WPA Life History Collection)

As a journalist she traveled to Russia in 1917 to see the glorious revolution first hand and intended to bring back news of the worker’s paradise to America. What she found there changed her life forever. She had seen for herself the depravity of communist Russia and it struck her to the core. This was not what she thought it would be and her beliefs were shattered. Out of these fragments she began to construct a new philosophy based on individualism that she coined “The Libertarian Movement”.

Lane wanted this new movement to be based on the values and beliefs of the frontier. A movement for rugged individuals who defied the world and could make it without government intervention or interference. A movement that would focus on making oneself the best that they could be. She fully developed these libertarian ideas while working for the largest African American newspaper of the day “The Pittsburgh Courier”. During her time working for the paper she strove to inject her libertarian philosophy into  her writing. Emphasizing to African American entrepreneurs that they did not need government interference to give them equality, but that they could grasp the reigns of the economy and make themselves more than equal through hard work.

Rose Wilder Lane continued throughout her life to push her ideas of self determination and free market capitalism as the answer to the ills of society. Writing several books on the subject and becoming the little known founder of the libertarian movement. She died at the age of 81 in 1968 only one day before she was to tour Vietnam as a journalist. Three years later her vision would be realized in the birth of the Libertarian party.

As Paul Harvey often says….”Now you know the rest of the story.”

Lane, Rose Wilder. “AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF ROSE WILDER LANE.” WPA Life History Collection. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/wpa/15100107.html. Web. 4 Feb. 2013

Mythology and the Superhero: A Personal Reflection on Genre. Part 3

Mythology and the Superhero: A Personal Reflection on Genre. Part 3

For thousands of years humans were supplied with myths and legends to fuel their psyche’s need for the archetypes and icons that came to them from their dream realm. Perhaps we could say that the rise of modern science and humanism subjugated that need but the need was still there as a shadow under the surface. We could trace the decline of myth back to the 17th century during the Age of Reason when scientific method was born and formed be backbone of The Enlightenment and humanism which is prevalent today.  Once this began, religion and superstitions began to fall by the wayside and were replaced with humanistic heroic imagery. For example, in America the myths of founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson became the standard fare for Americans. Instead of heroes with mythological godlike powers, the American heroes were an “everyman” sort of hero that was a person and was not too far removed from the normal man walking the street. In essence, it allowed every early American to participate in the heroic adventure of America’s founding.

https://i1.wp.com/www.iphonelife.com/sites/iphonelife.com/files/pr_mac_com_imgs/1353066307Ben+Lightning+Gun.jpg?resize=228%2C172

All the myths of the American founding fathers fulfill a certain need in the psyche for a mythological type hero, but it is American folklore that picks up where past mythology trailed off into academia. Figures such as the gigantic Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe or Pecos Bill bring back the fantastic elements into storytelling. It is these types of stories the reader/listener learns about the American character. Paul Bunyan chopping down trees with one swing of his ax and taming the American wilderness plays very well into America’s believe in manifest destiny in the early 1800s. This time of expansion gave rise to fantastic tales of men and women using their wits and the strength of their backs to carve the American dream out of the raw materials abundant in the wilderness. These types of figures are archetypical in that they help us understand the American myth as a means to teach the American story and give a sense of homogenous culture to an otherwise heterogeneous population.

Archetypes such as cowboys, pioneers, gangsters, and entrepreneurs speak of American independence and drive. One such story is told by my Great Aunt Ethel Marie Trantham. Aunt Ethel was born in Fines Creek, North Carolina in 1903 and she lived as a recluse in the backwoods of Haywood County in a log cabin on the North Carolina/ Tennessee border. The only road to her house was an old logging road which had fallen into disrepair and required a 4 wheel drive to navigate it. That night before bed she told my brother and I several stories but the one that stuck out the most is the one about Daniel Boone. She claimed that Daniel Boone was one of our ancestors which made us listen more closely because Daniel Boone is one of our cultural archetypes, the pioneer woodsman. Although at the time I did not know what an archetype was, I did know that Daniel Boone was very famous. She related to us that “Ol’ Dan’l,” as she called him, was out hunting one day and he had just killed a deer and he had not reloaded his rifle yet when a bear attacked him. She said, ” the bear opened his mouth wide and was about to swallow Ol’ Dan’l whole when Ol’ Dan’l reached down bears throat, grabbed him by his tail, and jerked him inside out so the bear had to run the other way.” And so my brother and I were tucked in bed with our bellies full of bear sausage and gravy and our heads full of stories.

Aunt Ethel never knew she was participating in the collective unconscious by telling us the story nor did she care. She was a simple woman that lived in the backwoods of Western North Carolina that meant to entertain two little boys before bedtime. In this story Daniel Boone is the American “Everyman” much like the Jack from the Richard Chase’s The Jack Tales where he says in the introduction, “for all true folk traditions have this dynamic appeal. They stick with us, and they grow and change with every individual who receives them.” (Chase, The Jack Tales XIII) Ol’ Dan’l is one of the archetypes that helped feed the comic book superhero’s development while Disney developed the icon of Daniel Boone. The classic image of Daniel Boone is a frontiersmen clad in buckskin with a raccoon skin hat. However, once again these American icons and archetypes are relegated to the past and need a new fresh face to stimulate our minds in the present.

We must ask ourselves what these heroes represent in the form of icons and archetypes? Is there a clear lineage for the superheroes to the past? Mythological heroes like Gilgamesh, Achilles, Aeneas, Moses, and Percival served a psychological need in the human psyche. They played a part in the history of our civilization. They connect us to our ancestors in ways that we might not understand because they go through the same trials as we do but only mythological scale. As Joseph Campbell states:

“In a word: the first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case(I. E., Give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and breakthrough to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what C. G. Jung has called “the archetypal images.”(Campbell 12)

This is an everyman quest and a quest for each individual who hears these stories and participates in the actions of the hero. This is the same quest of superheroes like Superman or Batman. They descend into the dream world of their alternate identities where they might participate in this quest and we might participate along with them. To go on this quest the superhero means to participate and interact with the archetypes just like our ancestors did when they attended a Greek play or worshiped in a cathedral. The fact that our ancestors chose to endow their mythological heroes with “extraordinary powers” (Campbell 274) gives deep roots to our superhero archetypes. It is because of these “old world sources” (Chase, American Folk Tales and Songs 11) that we must take the superhero archetypes more seriously. Our modern superheroes “go back through the adventure narratives of the last two centuries into epic, legends, and mythology.” (Coogan 115) It is these myths and legends that we participate in every time we read a comic book. It is a form of catharsis to participate in the “mythic narrative” (Ndalianis 3) which helps us “resolve conflicts, fears, and desires of the city-state ” (Ndalianis 3) or, in other words, the modern nation-state which we live in now.

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When we speak of catharsis and the archetype in comparison to the superhero genre we find that Superman /Kal-El is unique and singular among his peers. He is the alien /immigrant who will eternally be the outsider on Earth. As teenagers and even adults we can identify with this because there are times when we feel we do not fit in to society. Although Superman is the outsider because he is an alien, Batman as an outsider because of events in his past drove him to be something beyond that of a mortal. Many comic book critics compare Superman to the Nietzschian “ubermensch” (Coogan 164), translated as “Over-man.”  This is the person that Nietzsche says has the ability to overcome the animal side of themselves and go beyond human morality to achieve something greater and be an example to the herd around them. While sometimes this term is translated as “super-man,” that is not the meaning or the translation that Nietzsche intended. The “ubermensch” is the creator of new values in a world where the old Christian values are meaningless. This is the world of Batman. He is the true comic book “ubermensch” not Superman.  Batman rose above common herd and chose to be a champion. It is this “ubermensch” quality that all superheroes possess in way or another that allows them to participate in the ancient archetypes.

We might say that Superman represents hope of the future and what society should be and it is this hope of a new future it makes him more Christ-like than “ubermensch”. However, Batman represents what society really is and the stark harsh reality of modern life. In his article, “”Restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach its end”: Nihilism, Reconstruction and the Hero’s Journey” Raymond Younis discusses Nietzschian nihilism and how superheroes walk a fine line between being the”ubermensch” and falling into a villainous nihilism. This is the line of the existential quandary that every human being experience in their life. The fact that superheroes, such as Batman, choose to put on a costume and attempt to make sense of the chaos around them is a powerful archetype. This is the archetype of the ancient hero such as Odysseus, who must make his way back to his home after being lost at sea. This is the archetype of Heracles, who must atone for killing his family in a fit of madness. And finally, this is the archetype of the immigrants of the early 20th century. The immigrants who used mythic stories to help them make sense of the new American experience.

It is these immigrants that helped propel the comic book superhero into archetypical status in American culture. They fed on the stories and carried whatever lessons they learned out into the broader world. These are lessons of truth, justice, and for the new immigrants, the American way. Superman’s example encouraged them to integrate into America and gave them hope that their new home would treat them as well as Superman was treated. These comic book superheroes told them that they were in a place where all things could be possible and hard work and perseverance always paid off. These are lessons for all Americans not just the immigrants. We can look at the archetypical images of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as reflections of our hopes dreams and desires for a better world. It is this better world the superheroes created for themselves and inspire in all of us the hope that we can create a better world as well.

In final analysis, we must ask what does all this do for the reader? Reflecting back to the 12 year old boy on the rainy Saturday afternoon I come to realize that all my scholarship on mythology and superheroes comes from my love of the genre. It  is a love I developed to take the place of my alcoholic father and codependent mother. It was a world I needed to ground me in a sense of right and wrong. Through the monthly installments of characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman I learned the things I needed to become a good adult. Things like morality, perseverance, and tolerance embedded themselves in my psyche and drew me into the world of myths and legends. It is in these stories I saw the better side of humanity and was inspired to push myself beyond my upbringing to join the military, go to college, become an Army officer, and finally to become a teacher to kids like me.

To illustrate my point we need to examine the recent animated short called Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. In the film a young 10 year old named Billy Batson lives in a rundown slum with almost no food for him and his pet rats. As the film progresses Billy gets out of bed and put some a T-shirt bearing the Superman crest. This should indicate to the audience that Billy admires Superman. (For those who are unaware who Billy Batson really is in the comic book world, he is Capt. Marvel. Capt. Marvel was a property of Fox publications in the primary reason for litigation between National Publications And Fox Publications because National Publications felt that Capt. Marvel was infringing on the Superman copyright. ) When Billy leaves his rundown apartment to have breakfast with Clark Kent, he runs into a group of bullies robbing a homeless man. In an attempt to save the homeless man, Billy is beaten up by the bullies. However, he is rewarded by the homeless man with a subway token.  Billy meets Clark at a diner where Clark buys Billy breakfast and billy  relates the story of what happened in the alley with the bullies and how he got his black eye. Billy states that he tries to be good to matter what it is not help him in life. Clark’s reply is being good is hard but the reward for being good is a reward itself. At this time Black Adam attacks and a battle ensues between Superman and Black Adam. Because Black Adam’s powers are magic-based Superman is particularly vulnerable to them and he is being hurt severely by Black Adam’s power. At this time Superman could just leave. He has the power to do so but he stays to protect Billy even at the peril of his own life. Superman feels a duty to protect life no matter the cost to him. Some critics will say that because Superman is so powerful that this is no real threat and his actions are not in embodiment of any moral action. I will also point out that any such critic is not a comic book reader and does not understand the full extent of Superman’s vulnerability to magic. He is more susceptible to magic because Kryptonians are from a world where there is no magic. Is the simple fact that he stays and fights a villain who has the ability to kill him because he feels a duty to another sentient being that makes it a ethical act.

During the fight between Superman, Capt. Marvel, and Black Adam, Black Adam rips a woman from a car and holds her by the neck revealing to Billy Batson/Capt. Marvel the reason why he is Black Adam and chose to stay in his powerful form that he got when he said the magic word “Shazam!.” He said the power changed him; made him realize he was far above regular humans and God like. In other words, he is indulging his baser instinct and not acting according to a higher moral calling of duty for which the power should be drawing him toward. He is the antithesis to Superman because of this indulgence of the baser instincts. And Black Adam says if Billy does not revert back to his mortal form he will crush the woman like “ant.” At which time Billy says the magic word and reverts back to a child although he knew this would be his death it was Superman’s inspiration that drew Billy to this selfless act in an attempt to save the woman, whom he did not know, from death at the hands of Black Adam. At this point, being the villain, he truly is, Black Adam throws the woman over a skyscraper and grabs Billy by the mouth so he may not say shazam! again. Although Superman had been off saving the city from one of the many catastrophes set up by Black Adam in an attempt to separate Superman and Capt. Marvel from each other, Superman returns carrying the woman Black Adam had thrown over the skyscraper and distracting him long enough for Billy to revert back to Capt. Marvel. Filled with rage Billy begins to beat Black Adam into submission with the thought of ending the threat of Black Adam forever. Once again, Superman reminds Billy/Capt. Marvel that being good is hard and that the murder of Black Adam will serve no purpose other than to corrupt him.

It is stories like this that inspired me a boy and still move me as an adult and it is in the comic book superhero where the old stories are given new life. In Peter Milligan’s Greek Street he takes ancient Greek stories and modernizes them by setting them in the Greek Street area of London  and has each comic beginning with chorus much akin to the chorus of ancient Greek plays. This is not a chorus in the traditional sense because Milligan uses strippers of a nightclub to act as chorus for his story. The stripper Chantel sets up each comic as the chorus did in ancient Greek plays. In the first issue she says,

“I ‘ve been doing this dance for thousands of years. This is the old dance. This is the old story. You see, these old stories aren’t through with us. No matter how many different names or mask we might wear… They’re just not finished with us yet. What you might call eternal recurrences running through the generations like….. like blood. We think our science means we’re different or better than he used to be. We think we’re actually making progress. Every new Darfur reveals just how little we really change. Medea and Agamemnon are still playing at the Temple of Dionysus. It’s standing room only.” (Milligan and Gianfelice, Greek Street#1 2-3)

She is speaking of the old heroes and gods and how stories seem to be recycled into fresh new clothes. These new clothes are the superhero icon developed from the ancient archetypes from civilizations past and celebrated in the comic book convention and the superhero genre that I love so dearly.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Antonaccio, Carla M. “Contesting the past: hero cult, tomb cult, and epic in early Greece.” American Journal of Archaeology 98.3 (1994): 389-411.

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Mythology. New York: The Modern Library, 2004.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd. Novato: New World Library, 1968.

Chance, Jane, ed. Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

Chase, Richard. American Folk Tales and Songs. New York: Dover Publications, 1956.

—. Grandfather Tales: American-English Folktales. Ed. Richard Chase. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948.

—. The Jack Tales. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1943.

Coogan, Peter. “The Definition of the Superhero.” A Comic Studies Reader. Ed. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester. Jackson: Univesity Press of Mississippi, 2009. 77-.

Jung, Carl. Psychology and Religion. Vol. II. New York: Yale University Press, 1958.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: Kitchen Sink Press, 1993.

Milligan, Peter and Davide Gianfelice. Greek Street. 1. New York: Vertigo, September 2009.

Ndalianis, Angela. “Do We Need Another Hero?” Superheroes: From Hercules to Superman. Ed. Angela Ndalianis, Chris Mackie Wendy Haslem. Washington D.C.: New Academia Publishing, 2007. 1-10.

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. Dir. Joaquim Dos Santos. Perf. George Newbern, et al. 2010. DVD.

Whitley, James. “The Monuments That Stood before Marathon: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Archaic Attica.” American Journal of Archaeology 98.2 (1994): 213-230.

Younis, Raymond. “”Restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach its end”: Nihilism, Reconstruction and the Hero’s Journey.” Superheroes: From Hercules to Superman. Ed. Angela Ndalianis, Chris Mackie Wendy Haslem. Washington D.C.: New Academia Publishing, 2007. 97-110.