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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Barack Obama

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I had considered Senator Cruz my least-likely-to-vote-for Presidential candidate ever, until Donald Trump robbed him of the title. Worse, I recently learned from his New York Times Magazine interview that the Tea Party favorite and I share at least one interest/obsession: superheroes. Not only did the former “unpopular nerd” describe himself as “a Spider-Man guy,” but he named his company Cruz Enterprises after Iron Man’s Stark Enterprises—a quirkiness that hovers in the sweet spot between adorable and psychotic.

Cruz might be horrified to learn that his arch-nemesis Barack Obama (Cruz likened him to Darth Vader in one of his filibustering rants) is a Spider-Man guy too. When Entertainment Weekly asked the then Presidential candidate to name his favorite superhero in 2008, the Illinois Senator chose both Spider-Man and Batman.  Why? Because, Obama said, “they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.”

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President Obama has spent his two terms getting knocked around by Republican-controlled congresses, but, like his comic book role models, he’s won many a battle “against insurmountable odds.” That’s how John McCain described Batman, the superhero the former Republican candidate championed when asked the same question.

The standard answer is Superman. When Darren Garnick and his nine-year-old son, Ari, asked the 2012 Republican primary candidates, “If you could be any superhero in the world, who would you be and why?” Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain all went with the Man of Steel (check-out the six-minute documentary Republicans in Tights for the delightful details). Rick Santorum shook things up with Mr. Incredible, the super-dad from The Incredibles (which, unlike Mr. Santorum, is finally getting a sequel). Only Ron Paul, the only candidate older than comic books, snubbed the nine-year-old interviewer.

McCain was born in 1936, same year as Detective Comics, but most candidates (including Hillary Clinton, who has yet to be asked her superheroic preference) were born in the Golden Age of the 40s.  Obama was the lone wolf, born in 1961, the year the Fantastic Four launched themselves to the moon and Marvel Comics into pop supremacy. But now Ted Cruz has him beat. Not that his birth year, 1970, is an auspicious one for superheroes. The comic book industry was in decline, and Vietnam-influenced antiheroes were flooding the market along with a new breed of horror titles.

Cruz’s birth also marks the first year without Star Trek. A fact that doesn’t stop him from preferring Captain Kirk over The Next Generation’s Captain Picard. Why? Because, he told The New York Times, Kirk is “working class,” and Picard an “aristocrat.” That actually makes Cruz a fan of President Obama’s superhero team. Obama’s other reason for endorsing the “Spider Man/Batman model” (his term) was his dislike for Superman’s lazy privilege: “The guys who have too many powers — like Superman — that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy.”

It also turns out that Obama wouldn’t vote for either Kirk or Picard. He’s a Spock guy. When he met Leonard Nimoy during a 2007 campaign event, he greeted him with the Vulcan salute. When the actor died earlier this year, the President eulogized him:

“Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

“I loved Spock.”

Cruz isn’t quite so generous about the arts and humanities, but he does like NASA. When he became chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness, he announced his desire to expand the U.S. space program—even though he had to laud Democratic President Kennedy in the process. Ensign Chekhov, however, will not be invited aboard the new Enterprise. According to Cruz, NASA’s partnership with the former Evil Empire, Russia, on the International Space Station could “stunt our capacity to reach new heights and share innovations with free people everywhere.”

That’s not as bold as Newt Gingrich’s pandering promise to place astronauts on Mars by 2020 (he was speaking to laid-off NASA employees at the time), but it’s still unclear how the budget-slashing Cruz would finance his space exploration. Perhaps a joint public-private venture with Stark Enterprises? Or is this a job for Superman? Or super-businessman Lex Luthor? Even most comic book readers forget that Lex won the 2000 Presidential race (a fact since rebooted out of existence several times by DC Comics).

A Cruz-Trump White House isn’t more far-fetched, right?

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Matt Damon for Obama

“He broke up with me,” Matt Damon said about President Obama. “There are a lot of things that I really question, the legality of the drone strikes, and these NSA revelations. Jimmy Carter came out and said ‘we don’t live in a democracy.’ That’s a little intense when an ex-president says that, so he’s got some explaining to do, particularly for a constitutional law professor.”

It’s not the kind of publicity soundbite you expect from a Hollywood star the weekend his latest $100-million-budget, hope-to-be blockbuster opens. But then Elysium is fed up with the President too. His name is Patel in the movie, and his right arm is right winger Jodie Foster. Allow illegals a path to citizenship? She’d rather gun them down. Give the poor universal healthcare? She’d rather gun them down. Sure, the brown-skinned President scolds and threatens his renegade Security director, but it’s Ms. Foster and her Tea Party of drones and psychopaths keeping the 1% afloat. The gated community of Elysium orbits high above the slumlands of allegorical Earth.

Damon and his running mate, director Neill Blomkamp, deny the film is overly political. It’s mostly about boys with guns blowing each other up in new and interesting ways, same as any summer blockbuster. But the Damon-Blomkamp ticket does make some big campaign pledges:

Had enough of the Affordable Healthcare Act? We’ve got giant robotships filled with cure-anything Med-Pods, and we’re flying them down to a parking lot near you.

Annoyed with the immigration reform bills flailing around in Congress? Tap a key on your laptop and the entire population of the planet are instant citizens.

Sick of greedy CEOs exploiting employees? We’ll shoot down their private jets and pirate their brains.

Worried about the psychopaths running the drone program? We’ll slit their throats and explode their bodies in sprays of CGI blood.

Tired of lawless hoodlums looting your neighborhood? We’ll drill cybernetic exoskeletons into their skulls until they grow self-sacrificing hearts of gold.

It’s an ambitious agenda, but they promise it all not in their first hundred days in office, but in five. Because that’s all the radiated working class has left. Damon and Blomkamp even guarantee term limits. Once all that legislation is downloaded, you drop dead. No second term sequels.

Which is how Damon feels about Obama. He was a big supporter back in 2008, but now it’s conservatives playing the actor’s soundbites. Some of them must be buying his tickets too. Elysium earned $30 million its opening weekend. That’s not a landslide victory, but it’s respectable enough that the film should pull a profit once it hits foreign markets. That’s right, people outside the U.S. are going to see it. That’s how Pacific Rim rocketed out of the red too. America isn’t the exclusive pot of gold it used to be.

Elysium isn’t everything I’d want in a politically allegorical star-driven scifi action flick, but it’s a decent compromise for such a messy genre. The same is true of Obama. No, he’s not everything I want in a President, but he’s decent, and his genre is way way messier. Damon heard Jimmy Carter say last month that “America has no functioning democracy at this moment.” He meant because of NSA surveillance, something former President George Bush said he supports. If you’re the current resident of the White House, you probably don’t want either of them agreeing with you.

I don’t know if the history books of 2154 are going to agree with Damon or not. Probably the 44th President of the United States will get very mixed but ultimately if grudgingly positive reviews. Elysium will be long forgotten. Even in the shorter term, its plot is too simple, its villains too one-dimensional, its women and children too obviously in hero-motivating peril, for the film to be memorable.

But it’s not trying for memorable. It’s just a quick dip in Hollywood’s orbiting paradise before we plunge back into the grit of August. Forget democracy. All America wants at this moment is a theater with a functioning air conditioner.

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Newt Gingrich wants to be Superman.

In fact, most of the Republican Presidential contenders want to be Superman. Mitt Romney. Rick Perry. Even Herman Cain. To his credit, Rick Santorum only wants to be Superman knock-off Mr. Incredible. But since Santorum’s national polls have never left the single digits, kryptonite is the least of his worries.

Darren Garnick and his nine-year-old son, Ari, recently asked each Republican: “If you could be any superhero in the world, who would you be and why?” (If you haven’t seen the six-minute documentary, you should:Republicans in Tights.)

The question mostly reveals the politician’s age. Santorum was born in 1958, but Gingrich, Cain, Romney, and Perry are all late Superhero Golden Agers, born between 1943 and 1950. They admitted to “showing their age,” naming the first (and possibly only) superhero they remembered growing up. Ron Paul, the one candidate to snub the nine-year-old interviewer, was born in 1935, and so also the one candidate to predate the birth of the comic book.

When Obama was asked a similar question (by Entertainment Weekly, not Ari) back on the 2008 campaign trail, he named Batman and Spider-Man because “they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.” That’s Silver Age talk. Barack was born in 1961, the year the Fantastic Four launched themselves to the moon and Marvel Comics into pop culture. His opponent John McCain said Batman too, but because he pursues justice “against insurmountable odds,” a good ole Golden Age rationale. McCain was born in 1936, the same year as Detective Comics.

Gingrich is the oldest of the Superman pack, born as the Allies began to retake Europe from the Nazis. I’ll admit the idea of a Gingrich White House frightens me more than a Romney White House (The New York Times Magazine recently dubbed Mitt “All-Business Man, the world’s most boring superhero”). A Gingrich White House would be more like Lex Luthor winning the Presidency back in 2000. An event eliminated in the recent DC universe reboot.

I’m sure Newt would like to reboot a few facts in his timeline too. Like that affair he was having while his first wife was dying of cancer. Or that other affair he was having while trying to impeach Bill Clinton for hiding his own extramarital activities. If the guy’s going to wear a letter on his chest, it’s Hester Prynne’s, not Superman’s.

But Professor Gingrich doesn’t need a comic book to rewrite history for him. Superman spun the earth backwards on its axis to reset time. Newt does it with a pen. He’s published two alternate universe novels. One reboots the Civil War so the South wins at Gettysburg (thanks, we needed that). The second prevents the U.S. from entering World War II so that Germany can conquer Russia and face the U.S. in a new cold war.

And where would Newt be without a cold war? If elected, he plans a return to a comic book universe of pure good vs. evil. Instead of battling the nefarious Soviet Union, he’s casting the entire Muslim world as his new arch nemesis. Even Israel endorses a two-state peace with Palestine. Not Newt. On Earth Gingrich, Palestinians are a fictional people, no more deserving of self-determination than molemen, doombots or any other subset of evil minions.

President Obama’s other reason for endorsing the “Spider Man/Batman model” (his term) was his dislike for Superman’s lazy privilege: “The guys who have too many powers — like Superman — that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy.”

Isn’t that what Occupy Wall Street’s been shouting all year?

Leave it to the Republican field to emulate the ultimate 1%, Superman, the superhero of all superheroes. George Bernard Shaw (the guy who coined “superman” from Neitzsche’s “ubermensch”) prophesied that “the real Superman will snap his superfingers at all Man’s present trumpery ideals of right, duty, honor, justice, religion, even decency, and accept moral obligations beyond present human endurance.”

In other words, Superman’s sense of right and wrong will have nothing to do with what the rest of us think. Superman is only worried about his fellow Supermen.

Sounds like the Republican party to me.

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