Monday, September 18, 2006

American Politics, Mythology, and Comic Books

Suddenly a Southern General: Wes Clark Is The Last Best Hope .... WesPac Securing America Community

So, I'd like to start this post off with a big "Howdy!" to all the Clarkies who have been blowing up my counter lately. I hope y'all will hang out a spell, and enjoy the quirky 21st century Americana that is Honky-Tonk Dragon. And I hope you won't think me too forward, if I ask of you a little open-mindedness. Poke around abit. Try and see past my thick scaly hide, and see that beneath is a big ole heart that wishes the best for America and the world.
I'm not a political beast, by nature. I'm more interested in ideas, and geeky things like comic books, motor-scooters, and computers. But Wes has lit a fire under my butt, as they say down south. So you will be seeing more serious content on here in the future, as well as rants and raves about viral internet videos, and the latest scooters to roll out of Italy. Until recently, I saw promoting fuel efficient two-wheeled vehicles, and electric vehicles as the best thing I could do for the world.
Ok, self-indulgence aside, if you haven't checked out this essay on WesPAC, you should. Because it touches on a psychological truth which the Republicans have been expertly exploiting for the last six years. It's not quite "history is written by the victors," though that is a facet of it. This nation is so big, so mind bogglingly huge, that the only way to really think about it, is to think in terms of symbols, icons, MYTHS. (For you lapsed Bill Moyersesque intellectuals, feel free to brush up on your Joseph Campbell, now.) And it seems that for most of my lifetime, this is a mode of thought, a type of public language that the Republicans have been getting better and better at speaking. And many people, who should really know better, rather than learning how to speak this language, have refused to, have taken what they take to be the moral high ground, and spoken only in FACTs. We have debated them, but we have let them define the terms used in the debate. And Wes Clark, who I'm sure studied his Sun Tzu at Westpoint, I think could tell you, this is the rhetorical equivilant of letting your enemy choose the battlefield. Not a strong strategic position.
Now, you might ask, what does this have to do with comicbooks? Well, I'm certainly not the first to propose that those spandex-clad weirdos fulfill many of the functions of mythology in our society. It used to be Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, Johnny Appleseed, and Davy Crockett. Now it's Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Wolverine, and Capt. America. Indeed, comicbook geeks will frequently refer to the overarching world story of a publisher as a mythos, as in the "DC Mythos" or the "Marvel Mythos." They are a kind of sandbox, or shorthand for exploring moral questions, like "What if I had near infinite strength and power? How could I remain ethical, under those circumstances?" Questions very similar to what we face, right now, as people and as a nation.
And for this discussion, I think there is no better Super-hero to examine than Captain America. Cap' is seriously "old school," as the kids say. First appearing in 1941, battling Nazis, towards the end of the war, he falls into the North Atlantic and is frozen, held in a state of suspended animation. He is revived in 1964, a strange super-powered Rip Van Winkle, and some of the best of his contemporary stories deal with his struggle between his ideals and political realities. Recently, Marvel Comics has been doing a storyline in which the federal government want Superheroes to be registered with them, basically govertment employees. Those that don't will be considered outlaws. Cap's conscience, and old school adherence to what he sees as constitutional law, force him to be the first to go renegade, and buck the system. Which is interesting, because of all heroes in the Marvel Mythos, he has always been the one with the deepest government ties, gaining his powers through the US Army.
Sure, since the sixties, there have been "underground" comics, which question the status quo, and engage in more indepth studies of civil liberties. And even since Watergate high level government corruption has been an occasional plot point in mainstream comics. But for Capt. America to rebel against the government that made and defined him, well the only equivilent I can think of is goody-goody Superman taking the Lord's name in vain. This isn't R. Crumb folks. This is on the level of bearded Uncle Sam appearing on a poster saying, "Don't join the Army, they'll promise you the moon, and you'll end up emotionally and physically scarred and living on the streets."
So, to tie this back to Gen. Clark... my intuition is, (and intuition is your best guide to the world of the mythic) that he's a man who does his best to marry the mythic, the ideal with the factual. I even think he has an understanding of how that translation process works. Unlike Bush, who can speak some homegrown "good ole boy" in order to sell you a used truck, even though his thought processes are in Yale preppie businessman who's really thinking about how much oil and gas he's gonna be able to sell you down the road. I think Clark is a leader who is just as at ease talking to an E-2 high school dropout from Tennessee, as a Sergeant Major from Massachusetts with a Masters in Business Management. Or even a Prime Minister. And he'll boil the facts down into quicker to grasp symbolic language, not in order to pull something over on you, but because it speeds up the process of communicating with large numbers of people. I also think he understands this process, this tactic of distilling facts into symbols enough to hopefully beat the Republicans at their own game. I don't think he is going to let them choose the battlefield. Heck, that's part of what is really growing my respect for the man. He is already defining the battlefield, for whoever the Dems run in 2008.
Check out this video. It's long and the first 10 minutes or so will be meaningless to you, unless you live in Texas (It's from a recent Texas Democrat convention.) But listen to the man speak, in the language of American Myth, about the Facts of what is going on in this country today. And ask yourself... for every bill of goods the Republicans have sold us in the name of Safety and Freedom, do you feel any safer? Do you feel any more Freedom?
Listen to Clark, and then read the essay that started this rant.

General Clark encouraged us to go out and work for Kerry and Edwards in this most critical election.
And this is what he said to us: “The Bush administration does not really represent the will of the American people. But if he is reelected, in five years it will.”
It was a chilling thought and a lucid observation of cultural passages as they trail through political opinion and processes.
It came to mind yesterday morning reading about President Bush’s attempt to “redefine” treatment of prisoners and pass legislation that would create special military tribunals to try terrorist suspects and continue secret interrogations in clandestine prisons abroad.

No comments: