I Miss Virginia

 Posted by on 23 February 2003 at 5:37 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 232003

Nick Gillespie’s recent article on the success of Marvel comic cinema adaptations has a nice discussion of why Marvel was failing until recently. But he misses the boat in explaining why the movies are now so popular. He writes:

To engage the Marvel Universe, then, is to contemplate an existentialist koan, an insoluble riddle about individual identity, community, and self-transformation. How does a person, much less a society, balance these things? To engage the Marvel Universe is also to engage our contemporary world, which anthropologist Grant McCracken has convincingly argued is characterized by “plenitude,” or “the quickening speciation of social types.” Pick any category of humans–seniors, say, or teens, or goths, or gays, or straights–and there are more identities available to individuals than ever before, and, says McCracken, generally more acceptance of that choice. As important, this transformation process is never fully under our control, even as we strive to direct it through ever-varied patterns of culture-making and operations small and large, figurative and literal.

Spider-Man, The Hulk, the X-Men, Daredevil–that’s us on the big screen. No wonder we’re packing the theaters to watch.

Well, I remain unconvinced by that convoluted and quivering mass of postmodern multiculturalist gobbledygook. The more plausible explanation for the success of Marvel-based movies is that 9/11 shifted many people back into a deeply moral frame of mind. Good and evil — and the ever-so-significant difference between them — took on a reality that had faded into a gray morass for many.

The universe of Marvel comics is one which affirms the distinction between good and evil in the sharpest terms — even while acknowledging that heroes may have personal demons of their own to fight. (Superman is completely uninteresting as a superhero precisely because he has no such demons, because he seems to lack an inner life at all. Perhaps he should be called SuperZOMBIE rather than SuperMAN.) We love Marvel heroes because they live in an exaggerated version of our own dangerous world — and instead of asking “Why do they hate us?” and worrying about the dangers of unilateral action, they fight and forebear and generally do whatever is necessary to serve justice.

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