Examining the Hidden Social Costs of Today's "Fandom-Obsessed" Culture...
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
-- I Corinthians 13:11, King James Bible (New International Version)
“The Avengers 2, Superman? vs Batman, Ant-Man, James Bond, Fantastic Four reboot, Terminator, Assasins Creed.... Oh my CANT WAIT !!!!”
-- YouTube Comment on Comic Con 2013 Video
Watching the “reveal” for the upcoming “Man of Steel” sequel at this year’s Comic Con in San Diego was one of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed as a human being.
First and foremost, ANY human being that would invest so much in a movie that he or she has absolutely zero personal involvement with is just pitiful. Perhaps such emotion could be justified if the work was about something that had actual historic resonance with an individual -- i.e., a film about one’s ancestral slavery or genocide or something along those lines -- but to see so many people freaking out over a movie that pits two COMPLETELY FICTITIOUS characters against one another is one of the most horrifying sights I’ve witnessed in quite a while. At least with something as atrocious as the Boston Marathon bombing or the Sandy Hook massacre, you can take solace in knowing that such displays of mass psychosis are relegated to only a few fringe fanatics. But when you watch thousands upon thousands of nerds, dorks and dweebs -- many of whom spent their life savings to flock to this Mecca of all things geeky and fantastical -- literally crying like they were at a religious festival at the mere vision of a hybridized Batman/Superman logo, you know we’ve gone somewhere seriously wrong as a collective peoples.
Just try and read the comments section on this YouTube video. Despite living in a popular culture that prides itself on abandoning the savage factionalism of Protestantism and Catholicism, scores of socially-maladjusted individuals see absolutely no irony at all in the fact that they’ve become a culture as sharply divided over issues that are far, far more trivial -- that being, one’s preferred entertainment brands.
The vitriol of old-time religion (completely abandoned by an atheistic/agnostic pop cultural machinery) and politics (which have coagulated into an impossible, hyper-politically correct liberal/conspiracy theorist libertarian abomination) have been supplanted by the new-wave rancor of consumer preferences. To be fair, Google fanboys aren’t throwing Molotov cocktails through the windows of Apple stores, nor or PS4 fans crucifying Xbox One supporters, but that’s largely due to a general lethargy among the masses -- after all, engaging in actual violence would require an individual to get up off his 400 or so pound ass, while engaging in flame wars is an activity that can be waged without ever taking a fist off one’s double grilled steak fajita XL burrito.
Granted, this “Superman vs. Batman” hullaballoo seems pretty innocuous. I mean, it’s just a bunch of kids getting excited about a movie -- what’s so bad about that, right?
A quick Google search for “Batman vs. Superman” netted 63 million return items (it’s inverse, “Superman vs. Batman,” returned approximately 5.5 million more results.) In all, there’s more Internet content related to those two constructs than there is Oskar Schindler (1.95 million returns), the War of 1812 (19.2 million returns), Richard the Lionheart (1.82 million returns) and affirmative action (29.9 million returns) combined…with a gulf of about 20 million results still between them.
What’s so disheartening here isn’t necessarily the fact that so much bandwidth is dedicated to a wholly fictitious construct as it is the fact that “Batman vs. Superman” is responsible for such a massive amount of Internet content while, at the current, not even being a concrete thing in a fixed medium yet. Yeah, there have been plenty of comics and cartoons and other stupid bullshit that revolved around “Batman vs. Superman,” but presently, the term represents not a single tangible thing (like a movie, or a specific book, or an actual video game), but instead, represents a widespread thought across culture. For a lot of consumers, this is a mythology that has completely replaced religion, becoming something of a secular obsession that still ports about some of the same illogical, dogmatic excesses of actual religious experiences. Marvel and DC fan boys are more or less Sunnis and Shiites, with loathed figures like Joe Quesada serving as the periodic Salman Rushdie for the frothing masses. They may accept their fandoms as empirically unreal, but they frequently act as if their brand/franchise loyalties are as serious a commitment as a pledge to constructs like national or religious identities.
That’s the troubling thing about “fandom.” Instead of celebrating something one does -- or even, what one is -- it’s a lifestyle wholly anchored around a celebration of the work of others.
I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that nerd culture is destroying America. This utter submersion into make-believe worlds is indicative of a wider infantilization trend in U.S. culture -- in essence, a transcultural tendency for young people to embrace the simplicities of childhood while simultaneously finding themselves faced with the very real challenges of adulthood.
There’s nothing wrong with fostering a certain taste for the juvenile and uncomplicated. Hell, that’s more or less what half this blog is dedicated to. The difference here is, I’m looking at these things through the perspective of an adult instead of passively basking in the offerings like a mindless eight-year-old. If I’m going to experience something childish -- like an “Iron Man” movie, or a couple of Pixar flicks, or even do a countdown of the Top 50 Sega CD games of all-time -- I’m going to do so with adult sensibilities. That means begin critical, and deconstructive, and searching for subtext. If not, I’m just being a drooling man-child, staring indiscernibly at bright colors and flashy images like a pyromaniac roasting a marshmallow.
The thing is, that’s exactly what all of this comic book claptrap and incessant, adolescent pop culture nonsense is doing to us; retarding our sensibilities and feeding us a steady diet of non-complex mental drivel. Yeah, “Batman vs. Superman” might be entertaining, but will it being enlightening on the same level as a true cinematic accomplishment like “The Act of Killing,” “The Gatekeepers” or “Gideon’s Army?” We’re encouraging a culture that forsakes the intellect in favor of a deluge of loud sounds and swirling colors -- a society that will spend $2 billion dollars to watch two make-believe action figures fist-fight while truly insightful and intelligent cultural offerings a'la “Beyond the Hills” and “How to Survive a Plague” are relegated to 98 percent empty art house theaters in the parts of town frequented only by junkies and purse-snatchers.
If you’re wondering why multiplexes are loaded with sequels, derivative CGI movies and comic book movie after comic book movie, it’s because we keep buying tickets. After all, the movie studios and entertainment complex in general is just giving us what we want, and who cares what a nonstop diet of junk food will do to a person’s physiology?
Well, “Batman vs. Superman,” no matter how you want to slice it, is social junk food. In fact, it’s probably the cultural equivalent of one of those 1,000 calorie plus fast food burgers. One every now and then isn’t all that bad for you, as long as you’re mostly eating stuff that’s actually kinda’ nutritious…in other words, reading actual non-fiction books and real-life newspapers and watching non-sensationalistic documentaries most of the time. But when all you ever fucking take in is “Captain America,” “Thor”, “X-Men,” “Spider-Man” and Jesus Hernandez Christ, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you better believe that’s bound to result in some cerebral regression on both the individual and collective level.
As long as rabid fans keep pouring money into ventures like “The Avengers 2” and “Batman vs. Superman,” I assure you that’s ALL the mega-conglomerates are going to give us. And as long as we’re infatuated with such adolescent consumer fantasies, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get up off our own asses and create something meaningful and socially relevant as independent producers, either.
Of course, there’s nothing I can do here. It’s “Batman vs. Superman,” in a movie that will probably cost the gross national product of Ukraine to produce and market, that will more than likely see a triple return on investment once merchandise, DVD sales and international box office figures are tabulated.
You can be ecstatic for “Batman vs. Superman,” I suppose. But if you are, there’s no way in hell you should ever feel ecstatic about yourself...