Wednesday, 23 January 2008

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Alan Moore's Watchmen: The Rhetoric of Heroism in a MAD World (The following is a collection of rough notes for a class I'm guest-speaking in on The Rhetoric of Heroism. The intended audience is a group of freshmen composition students. Just something to keep in mind.) During WWII, superheroes fought Nazis. Superman and Captain America took time off from fighting masked novelties to put a whipping on an evil all the more disturbing because all the more mundane: people obsessed with the desire to remake the world in their image and according to their ideology. To your left is Captain America smashing Hitler. To your right is Superman punching a tank. (Because the most effective way for the American government to deploy someone with the ability to melt cities with his eyes and wilt fields with his breath is to send him out with the grunts and have him punch tanks. But I digress.) That moment in our cultural history has passed. As proof, I offer the sad decline of Frank Miller, who not but two decades back put the darkness back into "The Dark Knight." In 2006, Miller decided to revive the tradition of American heroes fighting alongside the American military by sending Batman off to fight Osama bin Laden. His idea was widely reviled. What could one man dressed as a bat accomplish against a worldwide jihad movement? How could Bruce Wayne single-handedly forestall the coming of the Caliphate? The answer was obvious to everyone but Miller, who by this point had become a caricature of himself. All the bold strokes of cinematic excess on exhibit in the two recent films of his work—Sin City and 300—seem to have dulled his critical faculties. (To this day, the publication status of Holy Terror, Batman! remains unclear.) A contemporary audience, composed of people like of you, would mock the absurdity of Miller's nostalgic vision. As gratifying as it might be to see Batman deck bin Laden—there is no small joy in seeing Captain America land a solid hook to Hitler's jaw—as a statement it would be nothing short of perplexing. Why would Batman, the perpetual outsider, act in league with the United States government? As is obvious from the panel on the right, that role is better served by someone without an adversarial relationship to authority; by someone who believes it is his duty (and pleasure) to serve the land that adopted him, however pragmatically, as one of their own; by someone, that is, like Superman. In 1986, at the height of the Cold War, that is precisely what Miller did. To your left are panels from The Dark Knight Returns in which the American flag morphs into the "s" on Superman's chest. Miller could hardly be less subtle. However, the threat facing the nation in 1986 is far different than the one facing America today, as I will discuss in more detail shortly. For now, it is enough to say that the role of the hero in modern society has changed, and the book we'll be discussing this next week,...
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Elderly Jews Deserve Our Scorn SEK has spent forty minutes standing in line at the pharmacy. Behind him the line stretches back from the pharmacy, past the wine aisle and into the dairy section. (He made the mistake of picking up a prescription the day they truck in seniors from area nursing homes.) In front of him is an ELDERLY ASIAN-AMERICAN WOMAN. The pharmacist calls the woman who can't stop chewing to the counter and the ELDERLY ASIAN-AMERICAN WOMAN and SEK are now first and second in line respectively. Up walks an ELDERLY JEWISH MAN. Elderly Jewish Man: (looks at the lines and exhales loudly) This line too long. (to elderly Asian-American woman) You tell me how long you in this line? Elderly Asian-American Woman: Half one hour now. Elderly Jewish Man: (shrugs shoulders in dramatic show of resignation) Half hour? You stand here half hour? (peers down the line and scrunches his face in annoyance) Who can stand here half an hour? Elderly Asian-American Woman: (shoots him a sympathetic look) What can do? The ELDERLY JEWISH MAN blusters in circles. He surveys the line again, then looks back at the counter. He huffs bombastically. He nods at the ELDERLY ASIAN-AMERICAN WOMAN and turns as if to walk away before thinking better of it. He wheels his cart in front of the ELDERLY ASIAN-AMERICAN WOMAN and stands there. Elderly Asian-American Woman: Line start back there. (points toward dairy section) Elderly Jewish Man: You not see. I am tired and at front of line. Alright? Elderly Asian-American Woman: (indignant) Line start there. (points) Understand? Line start there. Elderly Jewish Man: (emphatically) You not understand. I am tired and I at front of line. Right here. I in line right here. See? Elderly Asian-American Woman: You back there. No "right here." Back there. Please you back now. Elderly Jewish Man: I say this to you again and you are to understand me now. I am tired and at I at front of line. You can now see? (turns his thumbs to his chest) I tired. (points down) Now I front of line. You understand yes? Elderly Asian-American Woman: Who not tired? I tired. I been here half hour. (turns to me) Been here half hour? SEK: Longer. Elderly Asian-American Woman: See? We tired. All tired. You are back now please. Elderly Jewish Man: (stretches in frustration, revealing a chai tangled in the thicket of his chest) No. You are who it is who needs seeing. I am tired. I at front of line. (glaring) See? I am tired. I at front of line. We have it straight now? The pharmacist calls for the next customer. The ELDERLY JEWISH MAN starts to walk forward only to be stopped by the ELDERLY ASIAN-AMERICAN WOMAN. He tries to push her away. The pharmacist dashes from behind the counter and asks what's going on. Elderly Jewish Man: I am tired and I at front of line. I tell this to her and she make to hit at me with purse. SEK:...

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