There’s a short piece on BigHollywood.com about why studios keep on making superhero movies. And remaking them. Yeah, there’s money in them. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a business wanting and attempting to make money. If you believe different, you’re probably a communist.
Anyway, the other reason pointed out in the article (which is actually pulling from a Washington Times piece) is that people crave unambiguous stories about good vs evil. Heck, yeah. There’s a lot to unpack in that one brief statement. I’m not going to jump into it now because I only have about one free minute available. However, the good vs evil mythos (and I mean mythos in the sociological sense, not the legend sense) provides a framework for our lives. It makes sense of things.
Without it, what do you have? You have V is for Vendetta and a lot of the post-modern anti-superheroes who I wouldn’t trust to guard my lunch money, let alone divert me in a story.
Hmm. My brain is starting to tick over. I need to write more about this topic. George R. R. Martin and his Electric Modern Company (all inked in bright, fluorescent, raging color) vs Superman & Tolkien (inked in fading sepias).
But I have no time. Until tomorrow or next year. Whichever is more valuable.
7 thoughts on “Those who can be trusted with lunch money, and those who cannot”
Audiences also want boy-meets-girl-and-falls-passionately-in-love stories, in various permutations. The two archetypes of Story, wouldn’t you say? Bruno Bettelheim to the fore.
Oh, actually, it was Joseph Campbell I meant, not Bettelheim (“Hero of a Thousand Faces”).
You’re right. Those are the two main ones. Good vs Evil and Boy-meets-Girl. If done well, I never tire of those stories. However, it’s interesting that if a writer seriously rearranges one of those archetypes and comes up with a story (for example) that is Evil vs Evil, it usually doesn’t attract as much of an audience. The whole post-modern anti-hero movement falls into that category. Perhaps the size of audience for that sort of thing correlates to the moral health of a culture?
V for Vendetta is possibly my all-time favorite movie. But that may be in large part due to the fact that all V’s overly alliterative dialog makes me giggle. The original comic did nothing for me.
I think there’s room for both. Simplified, archetypal stories and more complex morally grey stuff. I need a mix or I’ll get bored with either, but there something special which I can’t completely identify, a sort of wholesome naivete often associated with good-vs-evil though I think not always (is there good-vs-evil in Winnie-The-Pooh?) and more often found in children’s books than adult fare, which, when encountered, refreshes the soul in a way nothing else seems to manage.
Superhero movies probably aren’t ever going to pull that off, but they’re light relaxing entertainment which is what a lot of people need now and then. People often talk as if they’re oblivious to the relaxation factor of entertainment, the fact that passive mindlessness is a virtue, perhaps even the point of certain forms of entertainment and not a deficiency.
As I’ve grown older, I find I can appreciate the complex grey, but I always need that mix. The thing that’s important for me, though, is the overarching philosophy the writer is using. For me, there has to be a certain amount of moral precision in that. It doesn’t necessarily need to show up in the characters per se, but if it’s completely lacking from the larger perspective of the story, then it tends to fall flat for me.
There’s room for both, true, but I’d challenge you on the “simplified, archetypal” slant. Some of the archetypal stories seem to be some of the most complex ever written: Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, Tale of Two Cities. None of those stories would work if rewritten from a morally gray perspective. At least, I honestly can’t imagine how they would work. The real ponderous themes of literature (redemption: Les Mis & Tale, the destruction of the soul: Karenina, sacrifice: Tale) are dead in the water as soon as the grey takes over. At least, I think so…
Hmm. I need to think about that some more.
Batman. Christopher Nolan, imo, does a great job of balancing moral ambiguity and good vs evil. For superhero movies, he’s got the passive entertainment down, but he somehow manages to sneak a lot of intelligence into ’em. I’m looking forward to seeing the new one.
Hah, yes. True about the simplified/archetypal thing. I had superhero and children’s stories in mind when I wrote that. It’s more of a multi-axis spectrum, of course.
I’m always leery of moralizing or message fiction and to me the sort of “authorial responsibility” position smacks of wanting to turn everything P.C. or into a lesson or exercise of some kind and I’m a big believer that escapism is necessary and it functions better when it’s not used as a preaching/teaching medium.
That said, I do believe that if the writer is endowed with a functional moral compass then that is going to show in the work. Personally, I’m convinced most of my own ideals were developed through the stories I consumed growing up, but also that most of those stories weren’t setting out to teach, but simply reflected the ideas and ideals of their creators.
Yeah, I’m with you on moralizing/message fiction. That’s some of the worst stuff out there. However, I’m slightly bipolar on this issue. On one hand, I think fiction should never be deliberately written to preach (whatever message: christianity, socialism, environmentalism–some of the lamest kids books these days are thinly guised environmental diatribes). Yet, on the other hand, I believe authors have some kind of moral responsibility to their audiences.
Though I believe in the idea, I’m not sure how to articulate it. I don’t mean cramming morals down their throats. At the very least, I think I mean do no harm. Don’t write garbage. Don’t drown your reader in despair. Despair and fear and hopelessness and all their other dark brothers and sisters are vital for a lot of really good literature (Count of Monte Cristo, Les Mis, all the Russians, plenty of Dickens, etc etc etc), but give ’em a ray of light alongside as well. Be faithful to truth and Truth.
Something like that. Evolving thought.
Actually, come to think of it, there’s a fair amount of fiction that is overtly message driven and yet still seems to stand the test of time via consistent new readers: Narnia (and, even in those books, Lewis seemed to be only occasionally message-driven), Dante’s Inferno, Brave New World, 1984, Pilgrim’s Progress. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. I guess you could include all of Dickens in there as well. But, even though you could come up with a fairly long list of these, it’s a minuscule list in comparison to the body of fiction at large. At any rate, writing that kind of stuff properly is beyond difficult.