Skip to content

The Patron Saint of Superheroes

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

Tag Archives: politics

When I read that both President Obama and Mitt Romney are Star Trek fans, I pictured that episode where the aliens are half white and half black. Their bodies are literally divided down the middle. Except—and here’s the subtle civil rights allegory—the planet actually has two races: half of the population is black on the left side and white on right, while the other is white on the left and black on the right. Instant hatred! The episode ends with the two surviving aliens jogging in place with images of their burning planet superimposed behind them. Kirk mutters something profound, and then off zooms the Enterprise to its next FX-challenged adventure.

Although New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich didn’t pursue the Star Trek connection further, his description of both Romney and Obama as “shy” and “analytical introverts” does fit the Trekkie stereotype. I’m left wondering which series the President and the Republican nominee liked most.

Leaving Voyager and Enterprise to the Ross Perots and Ralph Naders of the Federation, I see a major political divide between Next Generation and the original. Maybe it was the result of changing Cold War politics (late-sixties MADness vs. the collapse of the Evil Empire), but creator Gene Roddenberry traveled light-years between his shows.

The Prime Directive (Thou Shalt Not Interfere) was originally a devil’s advocate position voiced by the devil-eared Spock whose inhumanness rendered him a cultural relativist incapable of passing judgment. Kirk, on the other hand, shot from the moral hip. Week after week, the captain of the space cowboys employed a kind of frontier vigilantism that, while technically violating Federation policy, put each episode’s hapless species on the right track.

Alien civilizations had a way of sacrificing noble individualism to evil collectivism, usually dedicated to a false god or a planet-dominating supercomputer or a planet-dominating supercomputer disguised as a false god. It could even be the result of good intentions gone very very bad, like those people who tried to make war more peaceful by firing pretend bombs at each other and then peacefully reporting to crematoriums when they were told they had “died.” Whatever the problem though, Kirk fixed it.

In the age of Glasnost, however, Roddenberry recast his Enterprise with a crew of Spock-minded relativists. Suddenly the Prime Directive really was Primary. Remember that planet where the inhabitants had to “retire” at sixty? That meant reporting to a crematorium so their children didn’t have to pay elder care bills. Barbaric, right? Kirk would have had that planet fixed in under 50 minutes. But Jean-Luc’s Enterprise sails off in the last shot, having supported the sixty-year-old alien guest star’s decision to accept his people’s custom.

Week after week, the Next Generation crew embraced the views of aliens. Remember when Riker dressed up in skimpy shorts as was the custom for males on the planet of the Amazons? When an Admiral’s son is raised by enemy savages, Picard disobeys orders and lets the boy stay with the adoptive father, siding with Nurture over John Wayne Nature. Even individuality-crushing technology was user friendly now, with a Pinocchio android and a Reading Rainbow cyborg. When Kirk encountered an android endowed with its creator’s consciousness, he set his phaser to kill. But TNG helped Data’s human mom live a happy and fulfilling retirement in her new android body.

So which of Gene Roddenberry’s universes do Romney and Obama endorse?

As far as I know, not even the Republican Party is considering replacing Social Security with retirement-age euthanasia, though it would certainly rein in health care costs (obviously the policy would not include 1%-ers who would instead opt to retire as immortal androids). Since Obama assumed charge of the military’s terrorist Kill List, I’m guessing he’s not about to start dropping pretend bombs on Afghanistan and wait for the Taliban to peacefully incinerate themselves. Both Republicans and Democrats vacillate on Middle East Prime Directive policy according to who happens to be sitting in the captain’s chair on the Oval Office bridge, but Republicans seem more prone to view Islam through supercomputer-posing-as-false-god glasses. They are also a party of Kirks when it comes to not embracing alien customs, whether Spanish-speaking or gay-marrying.

Bottom line though, both Obama and Romney prefer TNG‘s seven-season longevity, basically two terms in office. The original series barely survived three years, before achieving its godlike status in reruns (also a likely fate for the first African American President of the United States).

At least both candidates draw the line at campaigning in Amazon-tailored short shorts. We really don’t need to confirm which of their legs are all white and which are all black. But for a joint political ad, I suggest the two of them jogging in place with images of the U.S. economy burning in the background. At the very end, the electorate can zoom off to another galaxy in search of a less bold political environment.

One where Gene Roddenberry’s contradictory scifi vision doesn’t look like weak-minded flip-flopping, but a sincere desire and willingness to test new and old ideas, to look for compromise in an endlessly evolving universe.

Unfortunately, today’s voters would only want to know whether he’s blue on the right side and red on the left side, or red on the right side and blue on the left side. Instant hatred! Too bad we don’t have Captain Kirk to beam down and fix our divided-down-the-middle nation.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It was a big weekend. Obama officially launched his reelection campaign, the French equivalent of a Tea Party President lost his, and The Avengers swept box offices. The Monday was also the anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender. Coincidences? Obviously. But revealing ones.

The Avengers is a love-to-hate-you letter to Adolf Hitler. Marvel Entertainment is telling us that without a supervillain to focus us, America can’t reach its superheroic potential. And it’s not just any supervillain we need. The Cold War’s Evil Empire only gave us nuclear deterrents. Global warming just gives us something to bicker about. But Hitler, he gave us unity.

Nazi nostalgia is ingrained in the superhero formula, but director-scriptwriter Joss Whedon makes it explicit. Nordic ubervillain Loki declares his dictatorship in Germany, and the star-spangled Captain America is the first to sock him on the jaw. The World War II hero is the heart of the film, showcasing the “old fashioned” patriotism that launched Golden Age superheroes and still keeps them afloat.

But America has changed in seventy years. Our worst enemy isn’t a Democracy-stomping dictator. It’s ourselves. We’re like a bunch of superpowered leotards bounding off in contradictory directions. We waste our time smashing our hammers against each other’s shields. The Avengers are at their worst while Loki is chilling in his cell. No threat, no unity.

Once things start exploding though, we know how to rally. Democracy is messy, but when it really matters, it works. Even narcissists like Tony Stark, the ultimate 1%-er super-CEO, eventually fall into line. Those equally self-righteous religious types finally stop talking about Asgard and start taking orders from the American flag. Why? A cop on the street voices the question, and Whedon answers: anyone standing on the front line blocking bullets for you (or whatever those shiny blasts of energy are) is the guy to get behind.

Being truly democratic, the team also includes some of our darker sides on its roster. Black Widow reminds us of all the blood on our national ledger and our collective need to atone for it. And lest we think the ledger ended with the sexy Soviet Union, Hawkeye murders his victims right on screen. But it’s okay, he was brainwashed by a demagogue, so let’s not torture ourselves by counting up the number dead (in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq). It’s the lesson that matters: America is always angry, always capable of unthinking destruction, but we can learn to control that rage and use it for good.

The trick is how to inspire unity. Nick Fury learns that barking orders isn’t enough. You have to make us want to be a team. Sure, trading cards are dorky, but they’re about childhood. They’re about believing in simple truths. So what if Nick dipped them in blood for dramatic effect? He did it for the right reason. Which I guess means Whedon does too when he plays the 9/11 card at the end of the film. It’s okay to copy ground zero memorial footage as long as you show America coming together as a result.

Though it turns out disunity is important too. Fury isn’t just taking orders from upper ups. Some in-fighting is necessary. It’s evidence of our national health. In fact, it makes us stronger. So when the space portal opens and the legions of doom descend, we’ll be the best team possible. Not a government mandate, but a grass roots majority guided by its own (slightly manipulated) will.

Too much government is a will-devouring dictatorship, too little is nation-splintering anarchy, but The Avengers serves democracy just right. It’s the baby bear balance suitable for all political persuasions. It’s also a nifty way to earn $417 million in two weeks.

When the fight’s over, we splinter again, and that’s okay too. Because we’ve reminded ourselves and the universe that America is always secretly ready. Plus, now that we’ve proven we can pull together, we’ve earned the right to be free of government surveillance. Fury and Whedon turn off the cameras, and we all go home feeling good about being Americans. We can hardly wait for the next catastrophe to make us all feel even better.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: