Monday, March 24, 2008

As With Our Heroes, So With Our Politicians

As you probably know, I live in Washington, D.C., where, instead of sports, we have politics. Sure, there's fewer teams, and the outfits aren't very colorful, but it can still manage to entertain....

In this morning's
Washington Post, columnist Howard Kurtz ponders why the media continue to pretend that Senator Clinton might yet become President Clinton.

But that's not the interesting part right now... .
What is interesting is this statement he quotes by the New Republic's Michelle Cottle:
I like a commander-in-chief who can keep his/her emotions under control -- possibly even under wraps -- and who is a damn site more dignified and qualified for the job than I, my friends, or any other Average Joe. I want a president who is better than I am, not one who makes me feel better about myself. That's what Oprah's for.
Hm. Sound familiar? It's the exact same basic reason I have for preferring DC over Marvel. It's what I assert is the essential difference between DC and Marvel: DC tries to give you heroes who are better than you are and Marvel tries to give you heroes who make you feel better about yourself.

Since it's unlikely that Cottle stole that idea from me (although I'm sure she reads here; hi, Michelle!), and I know I didn't steal the idea from her, I'm guessing we're both perceiving the results of an underlying phenomenon in American society (at least, current American society).

So, that said, Absorbascommenters, please give me your opinion:

Does the kind of comic books one likes correspond with ones political leanings or how one chooses a candidate?


Anonymous said...

Not completely but it DOES allow one to view peoples positions on things.

I mean, I love Namor and the Silver Surfer, but I'm not about to nominate any canidate who strips down to their undies and Monolouges about power while choking out the Hulk.

What is interesting is that the core themes for Namor's anger are usually Enviromental in concern and Silver Surfer does openly debate his own actions. There is nothing done that hasn't been turned over countless times, usually while standing on the end of a Surfboard staring down at earth from space.

So yeah, kinda?

Brushwood said...

I'm mainly a DC head now... When I think of my favorite 60s Stan Lee directed Marvel, I think of characters who might be flawed and have issues, but are still heroes and "better" at heart, and persevere despite their misfortune.

This was at the heart of the original Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, I think, and a few others. Okay, maybe not the Hulk. But those were the Marvel comics I love the best, and I'd say good DC like Geoff John's stuff still plays with similar themes.

So for instance I liked Bill Clinton because he seemed inspiring, even tho (and maybe partly because) we saw his flaws from the beginning.

darknessatnoon said...

Americans resent intelligence. We prefer figureheads who are visibly incompetent. I forget the German word for "idiot Father," but I think that's sort of the desire at work -- actively craving someone utterly farcical, worthy of relentless mocking.

Or maybe that only applies to Marvel fans.

Anonymous said...

I prefer my comics to be apolitical. Not because I am. Usually political views, when expressed in comics, range from left leaning to extreme liberal. Conservatives, like me, are included in comics only as tokens or, more commonly, as warmongers, hypocrites, etc.

The quickest way to get me to drop a comic is to get into politics, the "environment," or certain cultural issues, because usually I won't like where storyline goes.

Gus Casals said...

You made me stop and think... I'm a DC reader, yet I harbor no power fantasies of the kind "I want to be Superman!" and I hate "perfect Batman" with passion( although a GL ring would be a cool toy to have ).

But then, I always identified with the B lister...those who look up to these demi gods. And I guess that colors my politics too: I too want a leader who, well, can LEAD. By example, by excellence, by sheer charisma.

I don't want to be these characters, I want to be able to admire them.

Have you ever heard the "aspirational vs. inspirational" argument that Neil Tennat from the Pet Shop Boys applies to pop and rock bands? Aspirational are those who we think as on a different plane, something that we may want for ourselves, to be, to posess. Inspirational are those who make us think " gosh, they are just like me" . I leave it to you to decide which acts or comic book characters or political candidates this applies to, but it's an interesting thought.

Scipio said...

That's very interesting, Gustavo; I wouldn't have thought to apply the concept to popular music! But it just goes to show that it's a basic duality that can crop up everywhere.

Michelle and I should have dinner with Neil sometime!

Matt said...

Wait a minute! So SUPERMAN killed Kennedy, after mistakenly giving away his secret identity in this panel?

Scipio said...

"Great Scott@ That knoll's not grassy-- it's glowing with green kryptonite radiation! Better head to the nearby book depository, which, for safety reasons, is lined with lead..."

Anonymous said...

Glib Response:

Marvel fans tend to prefer Republicans because they have a hard-on for guns and like to see stuff "blowed up!"

DC fans tend to prefer Democrats because they're so used to being in second place.

Serious Response:

I always grow a bit leery at the idea of correlating ideology with one's media consumption, if only because it's hard to explain how a knee-jerk pacifist liberal such as myself has come to acquire such a large collection of slasher movie DVDs. That said I have noticed that readers who tend to favor the grim, take-no-prisoners approach of (anti-)heroes such as Wolverine, The Punisher and (even) Batman, do tend to err on the side of conservatism.

I doubt it's a coincidence that my favourite comic of late is Booster Gold, in which a hero who once served as a satiric example of the worst-excesses of Reagen-era capitalism has been transformed into an altruistic do-gooder who continues to save the world despite the knowledge that his heroism will never go rewarded.

But, that said, the majority of comics I buy each week feature strong female characters in central roles, largely because I find such characters much more interesting than their male counterparts. This, you would think, would make me a Clinton supporter, but I'm not and not just because I'm Canadian and I acknowledge that my support of American presidential contenders is essentially meaningless. In that way my comic book preferences bears no relationship to my political preferences.

Go Obama!

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm just going to have to say no to the proposed correlation. I grew up on Marvel, enjoying their stories more simply because they were better written and drawn. After the rise of editorially driven event comics and the Image exodus, I left Marvel for DC, which was now where the best written comics happened to be. Now that DC's gone the route of Marvel in the 90's, and so too has Marvel, I'm not overly much supporting any universe.

Hmm... come to think of it, I'm socially liberal and financially conservative. I could see voting for either Obama or McCain, depeding on how things go. I guess I'm what might be considered an independent voter. Maybe there's something to this after all...

My only concern is that, historically, DC would be the right wing, seeing as they've tended toward authority figures/paragons of virtue while avoiding social issues/race/etc. Seeing as how most polititians who drape themselves in the flag and crusade against evil-doers turn out to be double-dealing scumbags, the association condemns the DC icons and their ideals. In that case, I'd rather keep the companies apolitical, or at least acknowledge there's right and left elements at each company.

Anonymous said...

"Conservatives, like me, are included in comics only as tokens or, more commonly, as warmongers, hypocrites, etc."

If it makes you feel better, Hal is considered politically conservative. Or so we're told, I'm not sure you can see much evidence of it in comics: he's your standard superhero but he volunteered for military service.

PJ said...

I'm not sure that the characters that a person likes really have all that much bearing on political choices. I would be more likely to say that the reverse is true: that politcs might inform how and why I respond to certain characters. Two quick examples, both at the forefront of their universes: Superman and Iron Man.

One of the big reasons I respond to Superman has come up numerous times in this space; the idea that Superman isn't really impressive for the things he does, but for what he doesn't do. I like that the modern interpretation of the character realizes that just because you have the power to do something, doesn't give you the right to. Only the people have the right to do that. It's what separates him from guys like Hyperion and Apollo and Justice Lord Superman. It's also what seperates him from Spider Man. If it's true that with great power comes great responsibility, maybe the greatest responsibility is knowing where to stop.

On the other hand, there's Iron Man. He drinks and screws and is manifestly imperfect. But he's also very intelligent and really wants to do good. And the fact of the matter is that, on policy grounds, he's usually right. The big problem Tony had in both Civil War and in World War Hulk wasn't that he was wrong. It was that he was so monumentally pigheaded and convinced that he was right that he forgot to show people why he was right. And he forgot that there would be some very real losers if he went ahead woth his plan.

None of this should be news to anyone whose followed Tony for any length of time. The problem is that, before when Iron Man screwed up, the damage was contained to Tony and Stark Enterprises. Now the damage has spilled all over the MU. Cap's dead, Fury' in hiding, and the eye has been off the ball for so long that Skrulls were able to invade without anyone noticing. He's really screwed the pooch this time, and it ought to be fun seeing him BS his way out of this one.

Anonymous said...

I started as a Silver Age DC fan; what I loved about the comics (then and now) was the willingness to act on behalf of others. My heroes were heroes -- not killers, not mercenaries, not whiners. They had gifts (earned or given), and used them for the less fortunate.

I read far fewer DC comics these days. And practically no Marvel.

Anonymous said...

I'm in it for the story, myself, far more than the actual politics. That said, what appeals to me in comic-book politics is when both sides of an issue are presented by characters who present compelling reasons for why they think the way they do.

Nobody ever thinks they're wrong, but as the US elections regularly show, there are tremendous differences of opinion on significant issues of both policy and approach. I am refreshed when writers treat those differences fairly.

SallyP said...

I'm not sure exactly how my politics translate into my comics, but you are definitely right about Americans wallowing in "feel good" emotions. I firmly place all the blame at the feet of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who managed single-handedly to destroy the Age of Reason.

Frankly I prefer a modicum of intelligence and competence in my leaders, I just rarely get to see it.

Scipio said...

"I firmly place all the blame at the feet of Jean Jacques Rousseau"

Well, I know I certainly didn't vote for him...!

Anonymous said...

So what happens if you throw Archie comics into the mix? :)

I started with DC Comics back in the days of Superman Family, Batman Family, Marvel Family - well you get the idea. And my favorites were Supergirl (because she was nice and did the right thing and was powerful and could fly), Batgirl (she was smart (go librarians!), athletic, and did the right thing), and Mary Marvel - well the whole Marvel family -(because they were fun, nice, and had fantastic adventures). See the theme? I haven't been able to read any of my former DC heroes for years now.

I hopped over to Marvel for a while and enjoyed Power Pack (family, nice, and fun adventures again); but now I mostly read Archie.

I suppose you could say I'm conservative based on the perception of the Archie-verse; but you could also say Riverdale has achieved the liberal dream. Race/ethnicity is never mentioned because in Riverdale a "person is a person no matter what color"(with apologies to Horton). :)

I will say my reading of characters like Supergirl, Batgirl, Mary, Isis, etc. did lead me to believe a girl could do anything a boy can so I've just been waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. :)

Anonymous said...

Americans certainly don't want exceptional people for President. Look who we've elected in the past few decades. A senile old cowboy actor. A fast food-scarfing lech. The village idiot. (Okay, that last one was never really elected, but still.)

I don't think my choice of comic books influences my choice of candidate. It's a sad state of affairs, but I base my vote on which one I think will do the least harm. And, as the father of two young children, McCain scares me to death.

Billy said...

I have to agree with what was stated before that DC would be the more conservative choice to Marvel's liberal.

Think about it this way, DC promotes heroes who are better than the average man, or as Scipio says "I want a president who is better than I am..." The Republican party is all about claiming they're better than you.

Snark aside, the Republicans do believe that we need people who are above average, and that's why they try to hold politicians to a higher standard.

The Democrats on the other hand say they're the party of the people, and that they are just like us. They feel our pain. They've had our struggles. We can relate to them and feel better about ourselves...cause even if we've been down and out, so have they...and look at them now, they're successful, they have people who have bee president! Jimmy Carter was an average guy just like me!

So obviously they're Marvel.

Now of course, all of this is just an illusion that both parties put forth, and not actually what they stand for. All of politics is just an's all about changing nothing, while keeping the popular support. Sure the names have changed, but there's nothing different with Washington now, than say 40 years ago.

So, therefore, all of Washington DC is Archie comics.

Proud Libertarian, Billy F.

Billy said...

"I firmly place all the blame at the feet of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who managed single-handedly to destroy the Age of Reason."

Back in college, me and my political science cohorts used to joke around that the "Discourse on Social Inequality" was just a joke and that Rousseau never meant to publish it. It really is the sore thumb of his work. Have you read "On the Social Contract"? He completely contradicts everything he says in the "Discourse" in it.

Then again I also think that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were just crafting the 19th century version of the Aristocrats joke due to their total lack of understanding of human nature, so maybe I'm not a good judge of this.

Scipio said...

"So, therefore, all of Washington DC is Archie comics. "


As I've discussed before, everything really IS Archie.

Anonymous said...

Snark aside, the Republicans do believe that we need people who are above average, and that's why they try to hold politicians to a higher standard.


Brushwood said...

Well, I've seen many Republicans claim to be "better", but actually act worse. So Republicans are Wildstorm. Haha! Generalization.

Anonymous said...

Aum...Billy...hasn't the conventional wisdom behind the current president's rise to the office centered around his everyman appeal? Bush was framed as the guy you could have a beer with, while Kerry was sold as an elitist wine drinker whose pretensions ran counter to the enthusiasms of the average American. And before that Gore was labeled a cold, unemotional intellectual who was more likely to give you a lecture than share a private joke.

If anything the actual reality runs completely counter to your analysis. The Republican machine, despite the wealth of its most prominent backers, sells itself as the party of the people, going so far as to insist that their philosophical rivals are effete, intellectuals snobs who are incapable of understanding the realities of normal people's day to day lives.

And, speaking of the current president, his rise to power certainly belies the notion that his party holds politicians to a higher standard, since his entire political career has been founded on nothing more than his status as his father's son.

Uh...I should mention comics at some point, shouldn't I? (I don't want to disrespect our host.)

Give me a sec...uh...If Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite formed a political party what would it be called?

My guess that it would inevitable feature the word "cheese whiz", but beyond that I'm not 100% sure.

Billy said...

read my last paragraph again guys. I'm talking in theories, not realities.

Billy said...

"Well, I've seen many Republicans claim to be "better", but actually act worse. So Republicans are Wildstorm. Haha! Generalization."

I can agree to that.

In fact, I'll add to my theory with that. If in theory DC is the Republicans and Marvel is the Democrats, then in reality the Republicans are Wildstorm because of exactly what you said Brushwood, and the Democrats are Image...because the comic company of the people was just a bunch of megalomaniacs who only made the 90s worse.


Billy said...

"Snark aside, the Republicans do believe that we need people who are above average, and that's why they try to hold politicians to a higher standard.


I'll admit that point is a little shocking, and I'll also admit that I think I thought it out better in my head than I did on paper.

Either way, I know it isn't really what they do, but it certainly is what they claim.

Anonymous said...

Either way, I know it isn't really what they do, but it certainly is what they claim.

Well, someone has to explain to me how sending 4000 Americans to their needless deaths is a "higher standard" than getting a BJ in the oval office.

Scipio said...

"We prefer figureheads who are visibly incompetent. I forget the German word for "idiot Father," but I think that's sort of the desire at work -- actively craving someone utterly farcical, worthy of relentless mocking."

That would certainly explain many of our sitcoms.