offbeat06 March 2015
Superman isn’t what he used to be. In fact, he comes across as a bit of a boring buffoon, with his squeaky clean act. There is never anything degenerate or contentious about him, just an endless round of pummeling baddies, wrapping them in streetlights or knocking them so hard that they fly off into space. I’m not sure if that is what he is right now, but that’s how I remember him. I haven’t read any of the comics about for ages. Right now, the action seems to be with antiheroes.
They are ‘morally complex’ according to Wikipedia. Personally, I think the recipe for a good antihero is a bit of damaged goods, probably with so little left to live for that having a death wish is a legitimate qualification for the job. I have seen just about every antihero I can imagine. I can’t imagine much worse than Hannibal Lecter thumbing his nose at authority over a ghastly entree. Oh wait. I can. I read Poppy Z. Brite’s ‘Exquisite Corpse’. So much for peace of mind, until I can blank that one out of my mind again. Heroes mirror us. They wouldn’t hold our short attention spans if there wasn’t something of ourselves we could recognise, even if it is just Lancelot’s commonplace desire for the Lady Guinevere. Antiheroes mirror us even more. We wouldn’t put up with them if they didn’t. Where does this lead us? Probably to the point where we can say that people who have rich enough imaginations and enough wits to follow a story and identify with characters have a repressed loathing of the world and all the things in it, or perhaps a secret desire to drink blood and live forever if they are Anne Rice fans. That’s quite an accusation, but it can’t be entirely groundless, except possibly the bit about drinking blood. The world holds pleasures and its special moments, but these have become few and far between. There is a huge amount of complexity and very little is predictable. Almost everyone has developed some form of cynicism to deal with hallenges.Many are rapacious, capable of completely ignoring the needs of others in order to achieve what they want, be it ego stroking or material gain. There are fools out there who believe that superficial charm can help them through life, and even bigger fools who blindly accept the charm without reaching to check their wallets after the exchange of pleasantries. And so, antiheroes with grudges and guns become more and more acceptable. What does this do to us? For one, the depiction of the antihero’s discontent gives shape to our anger. In that uniquely human way, we validate our own emotions based on the idea that if someone else feels the same way, it has to be alright. If someone else feels homicidal, there is nothing wrong with feeling homicidal ourselves. Amazingly this doesn’t extend to other feelings, such as physical nausea or a sudden upwelling of inexplicable altruism, not that the two are related. It also validates our suspicion that taking up arms and solving problems may just be the best way to go, if not for the social sanction of laws. Ninja Turtle scenarios of good guys beating on bad guys as the instant solution become more attractive. As I write this I feel a sudden surge of pity for law enforcement, who must feel as if they are ‘little fishes, swimming in a rising tide’, to steal a line from punk poet Patrik Fitgerald. The antihero has one other aspect that is worth considering: the sense of being alone, not being able to turn to others for help. That if anything characterises desperation. And so the antihero mirrors and reinforces the most negative impulses: anger, aggression and desperation. Bad stuff. There is no way to turn back from this archetype. It has become ingrained, and is becoming more and more acceptable. Lancelot’s desire for Guinevere’s love is par for the course now. What has become remarkable is his restraint. Batman’s violent neurosis and the Joker’s narcissism and hedonism are the current memes. Every one of us is a potential antihero. Personal restraint is the dividing line.