Just Thinkin’: We’re Painting the Roses Red

So, I’m trying to watch Pitch Perfect on Disney’s ABC Freeform (formerly ABC Family, but even they couldn’t keep a straight face for that one anymore) and it’s somewhat maddening when they dub over the more crass/sexually explicit language. They’ve also switched up some of the camera shots to avoid what is presumably considered partial nudity.

Am I the only one who sees the absolute hypocritical irony of a channel with shows about lesbian parenting (The Fosters(), underage/gay sex (Pretty Little Liars, at the very least) and fathers becoming transgender “women” (Becoming Us) dubbing over/bleeping out words like “fuck” and “boner”? Seriously? It’s like shooting up heroin but feeling morally superior for not smoking. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is wrong with these people? It’s an R rated movie and, catchy tunes aside, it’s pretty crass. It probably shouldn’t be on a channel supposedly for under-voting-age kids and family entertainment, all bleeping aside. But, since they’ve already made themselves a temple to depravity and deviancy, why are they wasting their time worrying about language? language

(Yes, I understand the concept of FCC regs, but that only emphasizes my point about hypocrisy.)

There are days I feel like the White Rabbit kidnapped me and I’m being held hostage in Wonderland. “We’re painting the roses red, we’re painting the roses red…”

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Bread and Circuses: The Beast Within

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So continuing my Phase I series, spent the weekend watching The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton. This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen The Incredible Hulk, having skipped in the theaters while in the middle of major move and then forgetting about it later. Once past the solid hour or so of exposition and into the plot, the movie was actually pretty enjoyable, but not for younger kids, since Abomination is ugly and the fight scenes are brutal. If not for the intervention of Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest, I’m pretty sure Hulk would have yanked Abomination’s head clean off his shoulders with a chain.

The gist of his origin story is part staying out of government hands, part trying to find a cure and part learning to control his emotions to control the Hulk. He spends a lot of time doing breathing exercises, martial arts and trying not to get too excited. He has to have a firm leash on his baser nature or risk his own life and the lives of those around him. He cannot just let fly whenever something irritates him, or when he’s in the mood pour l’amour (yes, that’s right folks, Bruce Banner is celibate) or even when he is afraid. So what does it boil down to? Self-control and discipline. Banner, for all the strength and indestructibility of the Hulk, can’t just let it all go when he feels like it. For his climatic battle against Abomination, he chooses to stand up to him, however it is not a perfect fight, seeing as the Hulk does almost as much damage as Abomination and comes very close to killing him savagely in front of witnesses. He admits he’s not controlling the Hulk, just aiming him in the right direction. The end of the movie shows Banner in a secluded cabin somewhere in the Canadian wilderness, “hulking out” at will, controlling the transformation.

Needless to say that cure thing didn’t work nearly as well as they all thought it would. Banner couldn’t just medicate the beast or chemically suppress it, just like none of us truly can, despite all societal attempts to the contrary. Actually, the attempt to create a cure for the Hulk caused more trouble than it solved and the blood samples used created Abomination. It created a monster, much like over-medicating, self-indulging and cultural-numbing has created a monster out of society. There is no shortcut for Banner- he has to control himself or face devastating consequences, which is the truth for all of us.

The Hulk is a strong counterpoint to the usual media message of “if it feels good, do it.” I work in customer service and not a day goes by that there isn’t at least one person I want to “hulk out” on. It would feel beyond awesome to unleash the beast and hurl some of the abuse I take as part of day to day interactions with people back at them. Unfortunately, there are real-world consequences to that, starting with the loss of my job and going from there. The average person may not turn into a giant green rage monster, but they hurt people around them, they hurt themselves and damage their chances to contribute meaningfully to society when they choose to overindulge their emotional and selfish desires to the detriment of reason and self-control. We see the consequences of it daily: an obesity epidemic, high rates of STD’s and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a high divorce rate, a prevalent drug culture and an increasing preference that government somehow subsidize and/or fix these bad habits, depending on the habit. The notion that a person should restrain himself in his passions, whatever they be, has become downright old-fashioned. That has grave consequences for civilization and more specifically, the American way of life.

Many of the Founding Fathers, as they began to shape the government of the fledgling United States, commented that the American way was a way for a moral and responsible people, for only moral and responsible people could be counted on to decide the fate of their country, either as voters or as leaders. It is rapidly becoming that our lack of discipline will result in the total loss of our freedom, as morality and responsibility require discipline and self-control. Our politicians are easily corrupted by power and we the people, too interested in food, sex, drugs and other people’s money (Panem et Circenses, anyone?) let them erode our liberty and our power. It has become that “liberty” is mistaken for “license” and we assume that the world is suddenly without consequences simply because we cry freedom. The consequences haven’t gone away, just our courage to accept them.

Now, some of you may ask: isn’t the Hulk a hero? Isn’t the point of Bruce Banner to unleash the Hulk to fight the bad guys? The answer is more nuanced than just yes or no, since while the Hulk is the brute strength, Banner is the heart and mind; both of them together are what make the hero. The Hulk, uncontrolled, is without conscience and no more a hero than a wild animal. It is Banner who chooses to fight Abomination: he consciously decides to use the Hulk to stop Abomination, knowing and accepting the consequences, which ultimately send him on the run again. This is a defining moment, since up until then, his episodes were largely out of his control and he a victim of his own emotions. The beauty of heroes is they are truly ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and those extraordinary circumstances are merely the expansion of the ordinary. Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk when he gets angry, something from which he will never be free. The average Joe doesn’t turn into a literal beast, but he still faces the same choices and challenges as Bruce Banner: controlling the beast and using it for the good of his fellows. There is a difference between wanton destruction, lust or greed and the rational choice to release the more primal parts of our natures and accept the consequences to come. Ideally, when the moment of choice arrives, we will choose to exercise those parts of us for the betterment of others, to let our passions fuel our convictions to create and protect, rather than destroy.

 

Bread and Circuses: The Stark Truth

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So, in honor of Iron Man 3 coming out in a week, I have been completely geeking out after work and rewatching the entire Phase I: Avengers Assemble saga in chronological order. Let me warn you now, I’m like a little kid with a sugar rush in my enthusiasm for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. These movies never get old for me, even though it’s getting to the point that I can quote them. The stories are classic stories, not just in the realm of comics, where Marvel took their granddaddy story lines and turned them into blockbusters, but classic good vs. evil showdowns with all the complexities of human nature on top to keep it interesting. In honor of the Phase II kick off, I’ll be running a series of reflections and analyses on the movies, characters and cultural impact as I go through and watch them, then start adding in the new movies as they come out (T-7.5 months until Thor: The Dark World!)

Iron Man is not my favorite Avenger (that’s Captain America), but he’s in a dead heat for second with Thor. The entirety of the Phase I saga is origin stories and the early character development of each Avenger. At the heart of their origin stories are their choices between right and wrong, how it seems easy to make those decisions until suddenly it’s not and what it is to be a hero. Tony Stark’s worst enemy is often himself: his ego and his self-destructive tendencies make it hard for him to act like a hero (something which Cap calls him on in Avengers). His hubris is his fatal flaw and something he wrestles with, first as a weapons dealer and head of Stark Industries, then as Iron Man. He has a sharp learning curve in going from being an almost amoral individual to a superhero. In Iron Man, that learning curve includes terrorists, double dealing and betrayal and one shining example: Yinsen. Yinsen is the one who helps construct the first Arc Reactor, and the Mark I armor and then sacrifices himself so Tony can escape and to keep powerful weapons technology out of the hands of the Ten Rings terrorist organization. He’s an ordinary guy, not a superhero, and he makes an extraordinary choice. From him, Tony gets the inspiration to perfect the Iron Man technology and use it for good. I also give a nod to Pepper Potts, since she routinely gets drawn into Iron Man conflicts and stands up to do her part as well (she gets a bigger part in Iron Man 2 so I’ll revisit her when I get to that one).

I get snickered at when I mention how much I like superhero movies, but for once the box office is on my side. These movies routinely earn top dollar their opening weekends, sometimes for longer. For one thing, right off the top, these movies are entertaining. I don’t have to explain that. On top of entertainment, I think it also comes down that these stories appeal to our better natures, the heroes we all admire and want to be. We crave heroes today, in spite of moral relativist/multiculturalist indoctrination. Just recently, as an example of what I’m talking about when I say indoctrination, a story hit the airwaves about a text book in a Tennessee high school labeling terrorist groups like the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah as simply “political parties,” and justifying civilian deaths in suicide bombings as “wartime retaliation.” Kids aren’t being given an accurate picture of what is going in the Middle East nor of our enemies, for sake of political correctness. It implies legitimacy and even moral superiority for people who are neither. That is just one example of how we’ve been told over and over that right and wrong are relative, that it’s not that simple, and that understanding trumps conviction.

I think secretly we all want to tell the writers of that text book that they’re full of it, that they’re wrong (sympathizers certainly take every opportunity to promote themselves as righteous, so clearly we’re the only ones playing by these rules), but the waters have been muddied so badly that our instincts go to war with our intellect. So, we search for heroes. The Ten Rings is not called a political party. Yinsen and Tony don’t make any pretenses of multicultural sensitivity when they agree the Ten Rings will likely kill them, regardless of their word. Tony bypasses politics entirely when he liberates Yinsen’s village in Afghanistan, doing what the military wasn’t allowed to do. The vacuum in our society left by morality, honor and courage is not filled by our cowardly politicians, our criminal sports stars, and our hypocritical entertainment stars. Heroes make the hard choices between right and wrong and I like that for the Marvel heroes, like for everyone else, it’s not particularly easy. They sacrifice their fame, their wealth, their identities, et cetera to do the right the thing and often risk their lives. But, they do it anyway. Take away the fancy suits, the super soldier serums, the “green rage monsters” and the intergalactic Viking royalty and are the choices really all that different for the rest of us? We can’t all be Tony Stark, but maybe a few us are Yinsen.