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October 2016 Archives

Lord of the Wings


It's been a busy fall so far, not least because I've been working on some pieces for Audubon.org, one of which went live today.

radagast robin.jpg
If you've read this blog before, you'll know that Tolkien, birds, and Tolkien-related birds make up a significant portion of its contents. Here's hoping this latest commentary on those topics meets with your approval.


5:29 PM
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We Don't Need Another Hero


A few days ago, I was discussing what books my students could use for their independent reading journal assignments, and one kid raised his hand to ask if graphic novels were allowed. I said I saw no problem with them, and he expressed surprise: "You look like you wouldn't like them."

I blinked and said, "My first professional writing sale was a review of a comic book."

I suppose I could have said something else like, "I could name every member of the Legion of Super-Heroes before I was in 5th grade," or "I owned the issue of The Incredible Hulk where Wolverine first appeared," or "I was a member of F.O.O.M., for god's sake," but I doubt it would have made any more sense to a 6th-grader than what I actually said.

My point, however, is that whatever my appearance may suggest, I'm a fanboy. Can't deny it. That's why I'm so excited about the new Luke Cage series on Netflix (I started reading Hero for Hire when I was in 5th grade; I missed the debut, but started with issue #3 and was immediately hooked.) When I heard about Marvel's various superhero TV series, I was pleased to find out that Daredevil would get his own show, and I have to say that Jessica Jones was just a terrific series all around, but Luke is the guy I've really been waiting to see, and as played by Mike Colton, he's just about perfect. Mind you, I've seen exactly one episode so far...

But my fanboy status also inclines me to view the world through a certain lens, and that lens can sometimes be very helpful when I'm trying to wrestle with a complex question. For example, one complex subject I enjoy wrestling with is politics. I read a lot about it, and I try to stay active when I can; for example, I did a couple hours of canvassing this morning because I want Democratic voters to come out in big numbers this year. I also write about it reasonably often, sometimes because I'm uncertain about what I'm thinking, and other times because I know exactly what I think but want to express it in a way that might help other people understand what they're thinking. In 2008, I wrote a piece about the GOP's attempts to find Obama's kryptonite, and as I look at the 2016 election, I am once again moved to consider how comics might explain our situation.

Basically, the thing I haven't been able to figure out is why Trump is getting so much support. Not only has he been demonstrating obvious disqualifying personality traits, plus committing gaffes that boggle the mind, but he has also been caught repeatedly in situations that call his ethics, intelligence, and preparation into question. And given that his policies seem to have no consistency, it's really hard to figure out exactly what his supporters expect him to do if he manages to reach the Oval Office. All I could see is that they really, really like him and don't seem terribly interested in critically examining either his history or his current conduct.

But this morning, something clicked, and I realized just what Trump fans are. They're fans.

The superhero genre depends one thing: the adolescent power fantasy. Basically, when you're a young kid, especially a young nerd, you begin to understand that you have no power. Oh, you may have brains, or amazing ideas, or superb talents, but you don't have any way to exploit them; your decisions don't matter to anyone else, and you can't bend parents or teachers or even your friends to your will. What you dream of is the ability to have your way--the power to make things happen the way you want them to. And that's what makes superheroes so appealing: they DO have that power.

Better still, most superheroes have that power, but it's hidden. Superman's might is undeniable, but those around him are too ignorant to see it when it lies behind Clark Kent's glasses; the frivolous behavior of Bruce Wayne keeps the public from recognizing the skill and prowess of Batman; and who would guess that a loser like Peter Parker would have the proportionate speed and strength of a spider? In other words, the comics fan not only gets to see his heroes demonstrate what it's like having great power, but also what it's like being unappreciated. 

It's the latter that really makes the power fantasy work. You may not have the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but you don't have to have it, so long as you can imagine having it--and when the guy who really does have it is having girl troubles, or struggling with money, or feeling guilty about people he's let down, you begin to think Hey, he's not that different from me. He just has more power to change things. Sure, he's from another planet, or he got bitten by a radioactive spider, or has millions of dollars given to him by his real-estate mogul father, but he's basically just like me. And that means I'm just like him. Ha ha! You fools! You may laugh at my haircut or my awkward behavior around girls, but in reality I'm special! And someday, when I come into my own, you will look at my awesomeness and regret your insolence!

This, in sum, is the Donald Trump voter. He (or in too many cases, she) sees things about the current state of the world and wishes they were otherwise; that's not in and of itself a problem, because EVERY person thinks that. But the Trump voter doesn't approach the situation by thinking, Okay, how can we determine the causes of this complex problem and what can I do to help fix it? The Trump supporter instead focuses on how cool it would be if someone would just come solve the problem by throwing it into the sun, or maybe by using some fantastic gadget to reverse scientific law, or maybe by pulling off somebody's mask and revealing the bad guy underneath. Or, y'know, building a wall and making Mexico pay for it through pure will power.

Yes. Yes, it would be cool. If we lived in Gotham City.

But systemic racism cannot be thrown into the sun, and there is no single terrorist whose unmasking would end the evils of terrorism forever. Climate change cannot be fixed with something out of a utility belt. 

And Donald Trump is not the hero you imagine. He is not a hero at all. And when you look up past the brim of your MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN cap and shout "Save us!" he won't even bother to whisper, "No."


4:41 PM
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