Monday, July 28, 2008
We didn't start this. But we think we know how to finish it.
THE COMIC IMPERATIVE. Last week, Andrew Klavan really stirred the pot by daring to compare the hated George W. Bush with The Dark Knight's depiction of Batman:
A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .
Oh, wait a minute. That's not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a "W."
There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.
And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction.
Just searching for the piece, I discovered that the Dems and lefty blogs are really steamed about this. Klavan has drawn all kinds of responses and rebuttals. All of which is fine. But Andrew Klavan didn't start this business of inserting comic book superheroes into the national political dialogue. It was back in July 2004 that NYT reviewer Frank Rich decided that Spiderman would be a good U.S. president because he suffered from bouts of paralyzing self-doubt. Yeah, that would be a wonderful.improvement.
We should probably elevate this form of political commentary to its own genre. It's fun, it's a great way to engage the interest of young people who don't know how many states there but can list the secret identities of every superhero in the comic-book-o-sphere, and it's a lot easier playing with images instead of facts. So I thought maybe we could jump-start the discussion with a few nominations in the form of -- what else? -- pictures.
For example, it's not that hard to imagine how our two presidential candidates would cast themselves if life really were a comic book.
But it's probably not that simple for the rest of us. All his recent gymnastics about his positions on, well, practically everything make Obama seem less like Superman and more like the ultimate rubbery, stretchy commander-in-chief of the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards.
You can make up your own empty suit jokes.
If you don't like that one, maybe you'd find a more appealing metaphor in the otherworldly glow of the Silver Surfer.
If doom weren't so inevitable, he'd save us. He really would.
John McCain unfortunately isn't quite as handsome and elegant as Obama. Which makes the superhero casting considerably more difficult. Does this one seem all that wrong?
It has a certain je ne sais quoi, doesn't it?
No? Then how about this one?
Well, everybody knows he has a temper.
What's important about these suggestions is that they lead to trenchant, deeply thoughtful essays, so that we can all learn in our favorite way -- by simplifying everything to the point where everybody can understand it and make an informed decision about who to vote for in the fall.
Then we can set about the challenging task of unlearning what we thought we'd figured out and start trying to find an appropriate supervillain to compare our terrible new incompetent president to.
Maybe that process witll start with Batman too. For example, it probably won't take long for someone to write an op-ed piece identifying President John McCain as...
...the most obnoxious, irascible little pissed off penguin in U.S. history.
Or President Obama as...
...the most conniving, two-faced slickster president since Bill Clinton.
You know it's going to happen that way. We've got too many comic book characters all around us to ignore the abundant opportunities. So you can start early on the supervillain challenge if you want to. I've done my part.