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So if I had the time, I’d write something that started with Jim Henley’s “literature of ethics”—his enlightening apologia for the capecapades set—then whipsaw through John Holbo’s posts on imaginative resistance (here, and here), moving quickly so you couldn’t tell I hadn’t done the relevant reading, and then bring it on home with Dylan Horrocks’ new essay on art as world-creation, and what that means for comics and gaming, those squallingly disreputable media-children. —But nothing’s gelling yet. And anyway, there’s other stuff I need to be up to. So.

(But hey: if you get there first, I’ll happily crib whatever you’ve got to say.)

  1. Alas, a Blog    Mar 24, 12:36 PM    #
    Links links linkity link linkie
    Julian on the difference between slippery slopes and reductio ad absurdum. Also, Julian defends Noam Chomsky. Okay, not really. Or, he defends Chomsky from one particular attack while maintaining a face-saving disdain for Chomsky in general. Whew! Spea...

  2. jholbo    Mar 26, 05:02 AM    #
    If it wouldn't be too much trouble: if you get around to writing your own post, and have time to spare, finish writing mine for me. The comic book stuff really interests me and I want to hear more about it. But my post just cuts off suddenly, which is sort of intriguing - but more disappointing than intriguing.

  3. --k.    Mar 26, 05:47 AM    #
    Wouldn't dream of it, sir; I am, after all, but a dilettante; broad but shallow is my watchword. --It's the idea that genre fiction cheats by not so much moral deviance as stretching the moral boundaries for the nominal hero--that they can get away with peforming the same actions as the villain (torturing a flunky for desperately needed information; kidnapping someone's children to make them talk), and yet are not judged for it: the bomb is about to go off, after all! The ends justify the means! It's a moral deviance we're all too willing to accept in our fictional worlds, to make the ethics of action a little easier to accept. (Or, more seriously, the moral tension created in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: it's okay for her to kill vampires, because they are soulless demons; yet [in order to have villains who are of some little interest, and in order not to bore one's guest stars to tears] those same vampires are capable of love and sacrifice and questioning themselves and guilt and remorse. They are soulless, then, mostly because we say they are; it's okay for Buffy to kill them remorselessly because we say it is. [I, for one, loved the subversive tension of chipped Spike in seasons four, five, and six: he was growing a soul, and without the mystical mumbo-jumbo and bright lights that suddenly made it perfectly okay to tolerate the centuries of bloodshed Angel had wrought--perhaps what you do is more important than some mystical sense of grace and special effects. Spike was a moral irritant in the Buffyverse, prompting important questions the writers knew were there, but didn't tackle, not directly, because they call into question the very "sacred" nature of Buffy's destructive mission. --Then they went and gave him a soul with mystical mumbo-jumbo and bright lights, and I threw things at the television set.] [Then again, most of the vampires do try rather assiduously to kill us, to say nothing of the other assorted demons; as one liberal arts student said to the other, coming out of a screening of Alien: "They aren't better than us. They aren't worse. Just--different." (That was Phil's joke, right, Charles?)])

    And superheroes are somewhat aware of these moral cheats--see any issue of X-Men you care to name: "If we do this, we'll be no better than them." Or how Batman reacts to Superman, the Big Blue Boy Scout (and what ethics is the Bat's literature propounding? "Be cowardly and superstitious, and stay in school"?). But still: the moral universe is--simplified--to make the ethical situation bright and clear and easily called. Step in! Take action! Swing those fists, pilgrim! Fire your energy blast! Thunderbirds are go! ("If a cripple can help--why can't you?" to quote Phantacea, cited above.) --The costumes, beyond being a way to liven up the composition and use those color printers that otherwise sat idle until the Sunday supplements came into the shop, help with this simplification (of course): I see by your outfit that you are a supervillaim. Have at it!

    But: dilettante, and incoherent to boot. Still mullilng. Still need to do some reading. Hmm.

  4. Steve    Mar 29, 10:19 AM    #
    Or how Batman reacts to Superman, the Big Blue Boy Scout (and what ethics is the Bat's literature propounding? "Be cowardly and superstitious, and stay in school"?)

    Stepping in defense of my favorite cape-and-mask character, I think that the very best takes on Batman (with the possibly exception of Miller's) acknowledge that the character is fundamentally monstrous; not necessarily villainous in the sense that comics define villainy, but genuinely unheimlich. Where Superman is a genuine alien who has grown to fill the identity of an all-American boy, Batman is, deep down, basically inhuman. (The revelation, given only in one of the animated series episodes, that Batman thinks of himself as "Batman" was brilliant and entirely in keeping with how I envision the character.) The interminable "Batman: Murderer?" storyline went completely off the rails, but most of the writers, particuarly Brubacker (whose Catwoman run was wonderful) and Rucka, seemed to accept this as the single most interesting thing about the character. Contrast it with Captain America, a similarish character concept entirely different in tone.

    I could run on at more length about this (and about Batman's villains as mirrors and what they mean for this point), but basically I think Batman is essentially a negative lesson (not unlike how I read Taxi Driver) unlike more ideologically simple conceits (Harry Callahan, I'm looking at you).

  5. --k.    Mar 29, 05:02 PM    #
    When we see Batman (or Daredevil, though I'm not up on Bendis' take, so I'll merely gesture at that limb, rather than cllimb out on it) at his best, I agree wholeheartedly, Steve. So there. (The important difference between Batman and Superman--or Spider-man, for that matter--is not the superpowers the latter two have that the former can only match through money and toys.) And that's "best" in terms of the cartoonist(s) working at the top of the game, and not "best" in terms of his efficacy, or mental health, or moral turpitude.

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