Saturday, June 10, 2017

links for the weekend, leading with the passing of Adam West (that Adam West)

Adam West has died, you know, the one who played Batman half a century ago.

Now my favorite Batman has been the one from Batman: the animated series followed by Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.  That said, I still enjoy The Brave and the Bold and also enjoy the old 1960s Batman series with West. The is a continuum of ways of working with the character of Batman and if the Frank Miller/Christopher Nolan side represents the troubled vigilante and BTAS has defined the "center" then Adam West's take is on the other end of the spectrum, emphasizing that a character like Batman can only exist in a social network with a sense of communal obligation.  Plus bad jokes and garish costumes.  I've never felt obliged to commit to liking just one take on the character.

What I've liked about all these aforementioned versions of Batman is that they are not what I have too often seen in comics writing (not that I want to name names)--the superhero stories can too often be examples of author surrogates or audience surrogates.  Either the author makes the superhero a cipher what he or she wants to say about society in a way that submerges possible character into the author's voice (and after twenty years I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the apotheosis of this bad habit of an author writing a single point-of-view across a dozen characters saying quips would have to be Joss Whedon); or, even worse, the character is rewritten as a reader surrogate and in this way Batman comics have, at times, gotten kinda lame.  Zack Snyder's been all over the map for me because his best stories have had a Batman who seems like an actual character while his worst stories have memorable antagonists but a Batman who seems little more than a parboiled cipher between an author surrogate and an audience surrogate.

Theodor Adorno was, no doubt, an elitist snob, but the core criticism of mass culture is still worth remembering, that in a lot of mass culture the aim is to create a kind of blank slate, a kind of literary/character tofu in which you can impose your own self on the hero or heroine's journey.  That's how, as Frankfurt school sorts put it, the culture industry works.  But it is also, in a real sense, the nature of the quest for representation.  Building a case that there should be more people of color in mass entertainment is simultaneously a worthwhile goal and yet at the same time there's a sense in which BeyoncĂ©'s lifestyle does absolutely nothing to make life better for women or women of color in any observable daily life way. 

Whatever the various strengths or flaws of Adam West's depiction of Batman (and art being what it is, yes I called Adam West's Batman art) very often the things that are regarded as strengths by one person are regarded as weaknesses or flaws by another person.  At any rate, we've had so much stuff about Batman here at Wenatchee The Hatchet there's hardly a way we could not note the passing of Adam West this weekend.

On to other topics.

Anyone suggest that this is a golden age of entrepreneurial adventurism?  It might not be after all.

The idea that in spite of the myth of never-say-die entrepreneurial drive and spirit that Americans are more resigned and complacent is not a new proposal this year.  After all ...

Now this one is a little bit older but it's a riff on whether or not the dystopia in the recent adaption of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is "plausible" in the sense that some find it believable or "plausible" in the sense that any such dystopia has, in fact, been observed to historically exist.

Shadi Hamid
May 24, 2017
As someone who likes to build up my capacity to imagine the worst, I’ve been finding The Handmaid’s Tale, the new television series adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, harrowing to watch. The show is an investigation into religious totalitarianism and patriarchy, and perhaps more interestingly a meditation on collaboration and complicity. I’ve been struggling with it because it seems, at times, so plausible, but also so far-fetched.
In creating the fictional Gilead—a theocratic regime that comes to power in the United States after falling birthrates and terrorist attacks lead to mass panic, then a culture of enforced sexual servitude—Atwood was issuing a warning. That the television series has come out in the era of Donald Trump has apparently helped make it a sensation. “What if it happened here in America?” viewers and critics are asking. Yet, something like Gilead couldn’t happen here, in part because it hasn’t happened anywhere. [emphasis added]
Some liberals have managed to draw parallels closer to home, which has led to some absurdly mismatched comparisons. The New Republic’s Sarah Jones writes that “Texas is Gilead and Indiana is Gilead and now that Mike Pence is our vice president, the entire country will look more like Gilead, too.” No, Texas is not Gilead; it’s a state where people are peacefully and democratically expressing social conservatism. And as for the nation, Americans did just elect the most secular president perhaps in the country’s history. [emphasis added]
As someone who wrote last year in The Atlantic that “it” could happen here, running through a number of worst-cases scenarios under a then-hypothetical President Trump, I believe it is sometimes just as important to argue that it can’t happen here. It is, of course, possible that the United States could experience a religious awakening, particularly if partisan polarization and Trump-style ethno-nationalism exhaust enough people. But the fact that Christian intellectuals like Rod Dreher and Russell Moore have resigned themselves for now to a “post-Christian” society—the idea being that Christians are an embattled minority that has lost the culture wars and that would be better off making a “strategic retreat” from America’s increasingly secularized public life—suggests that the time horizon for any such change is quite long. [emphasis added]

What dystopian literature tends to reveal are two impulses.  The first impulse is a paranoia that establishes what an author and the author's target demographic regard as the "other", the existential threat to "our" way of life.  But a second impulse that is revealed could be described as the kind of totalitarian and reactionary impulse that is imputed to that "other" that "we" can think of because we're sharing a story about what "they" are going to do to us that reflects on what "we" can consider doing to them in return ... but by dint of transference.  There's a sense in which our dystopian fantasies about the totalitarianism of others is an indirect confession of the totalitarian impulse in ourselves.  One of the things that delineates the original Star Trek from its spin-offs and sequels is that in the original Star Trek James T Kirk could talk about how there's always a streak of barbarism in the human condition and that it's only by recognizing it in ourselves we can attempt to keep it at bay.  Kirk would know, eh?  Fighting so much.  Deciding it would be a waste to send Khan to a Federation reorientation facility, er, brainwashing camp.  :) 

Looking back on the Cold War and what the United States and the Soviets were willing to do could be a sober reminder to us here and now that formal ideology is not only no insurance against atrocity, it generally permits us to exonerate ourselves from seeing that we've been complicit in our active promoters of atrocity.  Reading how Maoist sympathizers in the United Kingdom could approvingly quote his thoughts about the arts in the 1970s is a reminder, a reminder that a lot of people were harmed by the Cultural Revolution.  The temptation for people on the left and right is to exonerate themselves of atrocity by way of a "no true Scotsman" fallacy.  Did it turn out that Stalinism was horrible?  Well, retroactively Stalinism just becomes right-wing.  Did the Nazis exterminate Jews?  Transform them into socialists who are regarded as "far left" to impugn the left now.  Whether it's a think-piece at Jacobin describing how neo-cons were basically Jews who might have supported civil rights for blacks but for the fear that affirmative action would end Jewish prestige in American academia or Ballmer's account of the racist origins of the Religious Right the propagandistic imputation of racism and anti-Semitism to just the "other" team without accounting for its prevalence across the white spectrum of "left" and "right" can be evaded. It shouldn't be evaded. 

Back to things in a would-be Gilead, it would seem that guys like Dreher would have more optimism if they really believed culture and institutional power was "going their way".  I'd ... hesitate to call Dreher a Christian intellectual as such, though. But what a Dreher thinks isn't as important as what an Atwood fan feels about the precarious nature of privileges and rights that feel under attack by the existence of other viewpoints.  It's getting to the point where it almost seems like you could propose that all dystopian literature is ultimately about the displacement of "our" totalitarian impulses on to the "other" that we want to blame for our own capacities for tyranny.   At the risk of dredging up Mars Hill history yet again, if any battle you'd rush to take up against tyranny or totalitarian actions or stifling cultural norms is not first and foremost a confessional and self-examining and even self-implicating exploration then the odds are really, really high that you are never going to be part of a solution as you're going to be a manifestation of the problem.  With the red and blue and the left and right eager to impute their own respective tendencies toward tyranny to each other the net result seems like it's going to be what Ellul warned of half a century ago, a society of totalitarians who have exempted themselves from the possibility of totalitarianism simply because, on paper, they have the appropriate ideologies. Just as being a pacifist in avowed principles doesn't keep you from perpetrating violence or theft, being against tyranny in principle won't keep you from being a tyrant.

Finally, for those who kept intermittent tabs on the TBN situation (let's just say that somebody ended up watching more TBN than he ever planned to growing up because of family habits) ...


Cal of Chelcice said...

I understand that it's good to have multiple takes on a character, and given the community-oriented aspect of the Adam West Batman, I thought it was absurd. Not because it was campy or cheezy, but because it didn't make sense of the character. Why would someone dress up like a Bat if he was going to go cruising through a San Francisco-esque Gotham in the middle of the Afternoon? It makes sense for a rendition of Superman to be like this, but not Batman. I'll miss Adam West, but his Batman was just wrong, in the same way Henry Cavill's Superman is on the border of being wrong.

And yes, Kevin Conroy is 'the' voice for Batman. I wish they'd sign him for every animated rendition, it's disconcerting going to the new guy (Jason something-or-other).

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I don't actually OWN the West Batman, I just enjoy it when it's at hand. I've wondered whether another element of the West-era Batman was a residual defensive gambit taken in the wake of the McCarthy-era concern about comics characters as moral influence. There were people concerned that Wonder Woman was promoting polyamorous lesbianism over the years, after all.

Brave & the Bold I do actually have, though, and I remember reading the creative team on that series saying that as much as they loved Nolan's take on the character they wanted to make sure there was some screen version of Batman available that children could watch. I think for that particular and deliberately peculiar take on Batman that Bader worked well. If West-Batman is maybe too far to the bureaucratic civil-servant working during normal business hours side of the spectrum I think B&tB managed to move toward what I thought was a more effective take on that side of the Bat-spectrum. I know mileage and preference varies, of course. :)

Which I guess is to say that what I'm going to miss is voice-casting done by Andrea Romano! The common thread in the superhero tales I've found over the last twenty-five years is Romano casting of voice actors. Recasting the role of General Iroh after the passing of Mako had to have been a difficult, unenviable task. When Iroh got recast I had a hunch that Baldwin was going to probably have to take over Mako's role as Aku if Samurai Jack were going to continue. That hunch turned out to be correct. So if Romano cast someone besides Conroy for a Batman project she'd have a clear, articulate reason why she believed that a particular story and take on Batman required a different actor.