Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beware The Superman.

I work in IT. Tier one technical support to be precise. If you've ever seen an episode of The IT Crowd or called a toll-free number for help configuring your router you've got a rough idea of what I do. I help with your e-mail, I replace toner cartridges when the ink runs out in the printer. I loan out laptops and mice and ensure they can connect to the Internet if you need to train. Not a horrible career as they go, and it keeps the wolves fed while I do my best to hasten the arrival of my inevitable stardom(which at 37 years old better pick up on the hastening, but that's a whole other story). The point is, I help people. I enjoy helping people, and I like to examine problems and see if there's a solution that can benefit a person or persons in need. I wouldn't have hung on damn near a decade in the business if I didn't derive some satisfaction from it, however distant.

 I enjoy superhero fiction. Superheroes are born problem-solvers. Whether due to training from youth or the empowering light of a yellow sun, superheroes take on challenges and do their best to overcome them in the service of helping others. By no means realistic, but it's fun and it speaks to something in me that responds to the notion of might for right. Of using one's inherent gifts to help. That's got a lot of appeal as a fantasy, just look at the box office numbers lately. The notion of getting past all the red tape and the obstruction and the mistrust and the bullshit and just going out and kicking some ass in the name of what's right has a lot of appeal. The myth of the superhero is an appealing archetype and provides us with both entertainment and an ideal to aspire toward. That's great and I wouldn't change a thing.

 A common trope I see in comics and film is the notion of  "superheroes in the real world" or statements along the lines of "we took great pains to ground this film in reality". This sentiment of taking the iconic heroes of youth and placing them in a setting like our contemporary world had an initial appeal in my youth (I remember years past being stoked beyond words at how badass the 1989 Batman film had made the Dark Knight in terms of his mainstream appeal) but as I've grown older it's become more and more problematic to me. You could argue it's age and seeing the past through rose-coloured glasses, or a desire to keep my childhood icons from being forced from the idyllic realm of Good versus Evil and into the gray morass of the world outside my window, but I think the reason is inherently tied in to my experience in IT. There's really a simple reason why we all should be extremely grateful that superheroes don't exist in the real world.

They would go completely and irrevocably insane.

 Day after day, I deal with easily same problems (or variations on the theme). Helping people who run the gamut in terms of personality and technical ability. And for the most part they're wonderful people. Who invariably experience similar problems. Over and over and over and over. . .the stress can build on a body. It's definitely built on mine. Hell, in 2004 when I started working in the business I had hair. And it was brown. Now the few battered enclaves of follicles left on my head are brown turning gray. There have been moments when I have felt intensely happy to have helped out. . .and moments when I've cheerfully thought about taking a Louisville slugger to the nearest workstation and continue until every last vile glowing box has been smashed to bits.

 I've been reading Boom Studios' IRREDEEMABLE, Mark Waid's brilliant deconstruction of the superhero and his place in the world, and it's nothing short of breathtaking in just how low one hero can sink after years of letting that pressure build until it finally erupts. Superheroes are comforting enough on the page because within the universes created for them they can make a difference and the challenges they face are so often are external threats. But what happens when it's just the simple act of having to deal with the same level of crisis day after day after day without respite? Constantly hearing cries for help with your super-hearing and never getting a moment's peace? Or of being completely impervious to pain but a simple caress of a hand in your hair would cut a potential partner's hand to ribbons? And the worst bit, the absolute worst, is being able to discern the naysayers and critics even when 95% of the people love you. Because we all do it really; no matter how much praise we receive we invariably focus like a laser pointer on the negative.

 Imagine the worst day you have ever had. He dumped you. You lost your job. You got cheated out of that promotion. You get raked over the coals for something you didn't do. Imagine all of that, all of it. . .and then imagine you could shoot lasers from your eyes. Imagine you could flip a tank with one hand. Imagine you can crush coal into diamond. You're a nice enough person, so of course you help out as best you can but it just never stops, does it? There's always someone else to save, some other disaster to halt, another kitten in a tree and it just keeps going. It's not like a regular job where you at least get to take a break while someone else can spot you, is it? And what recompense do you get other than a pat on the back and a smile? Imagine being on-call twenty-four seven for these ungrateful little shits who constantly need, need, NEED--


 Lord Acton once wrote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In a fantasy, we know that the hero is true and just and good because for the most part that's how the writer envisioned him. Superheroes work brilliantly when they're fighting to save the world in a universe of jet packs, aliens, talking gorillas, and time travel. In reality, superheroes would be people. And people never handle power well. Much like salt, realism is best used sparingly, to enhance the flavor of a dish. Dump it on wholesale and the taste is ruined. I hope that the upcoming release of MAN OF STEEL strikes that balance.

 In the meantime, I'll enjoy superheroes in comics as they fight in a universe that understands and supports their efforts, while at the same time doing my best to use the gifts I've been given to fight the good fight. And if a radioactive spider or dying alien should offer me a nibble or a powerful knickknack, I'll just say no. Probably best for all of us that way.


Friday, May 24, 2013

In Defense of (the New) Captain James T. Kirk.

  In my recent internet wanderings, I came across an article online that piqued my interest and got me thinking. While I'd originally intended to respond to the article on the Facebook group upon which it first appeared, I thought this might be a better venue to put forth my argument (and hey, it's been a while since I posted anything around here). So here, in brief, is my counter-point:

With respect to Mr. Womack, who's clearly done his homework, I respectifully disagree. While I concede that the Jim Kirk of NuTrek isn't the same as the one from the original series, consider the circumstances by which they come to their respective stations.

The Jim Kirk of the primary timeline is one who was raised by loving parents, who bore witness to the massacre on Tarsus IV orchestrated by Governor Kodos. The young man who enrolled in Starfleet Academy far earlier, buckled down and became known as the single dullest student there. The Kirk of the Abrams films is not the young man who was in attendance at the peace conference on Axanar, but he does share the rebellious streak that prompted both men to cheat the Kobayashi Maru scenario out of a stubborn refusal to accept a no-win scenario. The Kirk who would go on to be humbled by the cloud creature on Tycho IV as two hundred of the Farragut's crew died is a man forged by years of experience to become the youngest captain of a Federation starship at the age of thirty.

  But by that same token the NuTrek Kirk is a different man in his own right. A man who grew up in the shadow of a father he barely knew, raised by an (apparently) emotionally distant mother and an abusive stepfather. A young man who grew up brilliant but angry at the world, who lacked the focus and direction he so desperately needed until meeting Christopher Pike and being flat-out called on his own bullshit. A Kirk who took the challenges of the Academy and met them and (over the course of years in my mind as there's no way you go from cadet to Captain in three weeks like the first NuTrek seems to imply, I'll grant you that) received the opportunity of a lifetime and became the youngest Captain in starfleet, and moreover captain of the flagship of the Federation. He's arrogant at times and cocky, very much not the Kirk of the primary timeline because -that Kirk had nothing to prove-. NuKirk adopts the veneer of being too cool for school as a defensive shield, to keep people back. Keep moving, keep up the bluff, and don't ever let people see a moment's weakness that can be preyed upon. This Kirk grew up with a chip on his shoulder easily the size of a small moon.

 The classic Star Trek had the luxury of a 45-minute format to tell the story it needed to tell, whereas with the Star Trek films of the current day we have two and a half hours at most to build an entirely new universe from scratch. The mandate of the Abrams films is entertainment with a humanist twist, and while we could explore themes of madness, the use of power, and humanity's place in the universe in the classic series, this new universe hasn't even had a chance to launch into the five-year mission proper. They're dealing with the aftermath of having the table completely flipped by Nero in the first film, of a Federation that is struggling to hold onto those high ideals in the face of a new and uncertain universe. Yeah, it's great that in the future humanity has gotten its collective sh!t together and we're going out into space to explore, but there's every chance that the people we're going to meet aren't going to be nearly so enlightened. That they will, in fact, try to kill us and threaten our entire way of life. It's the Roddenberryian (yes that's totally a word its in the becktionary) ideal slams into the reality of a world where we see the almost daily clash of differing cultures. The character of Admiral Marcus from Into Darkness may be an asshat. . .but he's not entirely without a point either.

 And yet it's through the actions of men like Kirk (Classic or New) that we learn to take on those challenges, to find the way to win even if it means changing the game completely. The theme of Into Darkness was hubris and its consequence: NuKirk had basically been all but told by SpockClassic and Nero that he's going to be a captain of some renown in the future, and he'd gotten a bit full of himself, confident in his own future legend. The humility he earned over the course of the film sets him up to be a Kirk who's an acceptable mix of both universes, at least from where I sit. A Han Solo in terms of confidence and ability but with a Luke Skywalker head on his shoulders. This Kirk has a lot more to learn than his primary timeline counterpart, but he has the same potential and it shines through over the course of the films.

  Just my $0.02.