Search and Destroy

This week, discussions I was a part of collided. Over in political land, it was a discussion about the Website Jezebel.  In case you were unaware, after Obama was re-elected, Twitter and Facebook lit up with dis-satisfied voters who thought the best response to the news was racism and hate.  Some of these people were teenagers doing that thing teens do so well…say stupid things.  Jezebel was understandably put off by these comments.  Their response was to compile a list of these folks…their names, their schools, their extra-curricular activities, what sports they play, etc.  The idea is, apparently, to really hit these kids by ruining their chances at college and so on.

In comic world, the other day, someone found a website post Director James Gunn did two years back (possibly closer to three).  It was a list of the 35 comic book characters folks want to have sex with.  So, it was a mature list.  I was actually familiar with the list…and the less controversial list (one with none of the commentary that bothered people) has comments by me.  I used to be pretty active at Gunn’s site.  He was very interactive, and in spite of random moments that made me cringe, seemed pretty open minded.  The list I commented on, Gunn and I had an exchange about our shock that the only Watchman character to make the list?  Comedian.  Seriously.  The rapist.  The list was compiled by a vote, and on one version of the list, Gunn made commentary that was a bit…uncomfortable.  Rachel Edidin addresses it nicely.

Some have stated it was satire of Misogyny.  Maybe.  But it failed because it did not lampoon the outdated attitudes…it seemed more to lampoon it’s subjects.  But the point is, people wanted to do something about it.  And this is where stuff collided.  People seemed to want to destroy Gunn.

I am not crazy at all over the idea that the right answer when someone offends us is to try and get them fired.  People have the right to express the most heinous of ideas.  I have every right to decide whether I want to give them my money.  I have every right to express how wrong I think they are.  I have every right to take to twitter and express that.  Or Facebook.  It is important to have that outlet of protest.  But when we take it the step ahead and force destruction to rain on their heads, we start to lose our righteous ground.  Especially, I am concerned because these are tactics that were used on the left for decades.  Threat to out gay people, petitions to get people with unpopular opinions fired, etc.  Look at the pro-life movement.  There were some within the movement that publicized the names and addresses of doctors who performed abortions.  As some doctors were shot and killed, they were crossed off the lists in blood.

Do we want to have a legacy like that?  Where we start keeping a list of people who “think correctly” and those who fail to meet our standards are not allowed to move on in life?  Do we really think it is different when we do it to them?  It’s somehow different to try and get someone fired because they are homophobic than to get someone fired because they are gay?  Should something you said years ago be held in higher regard than where you are now?  The person I was long ago held very different opinions on issues than the person writing this post.  There was a time in my life that I saw homosexuality as evil.  I was vehemently pro-life.  Do the views I evolved to mean less than the ones I held when I was decades younger?  I cannot comfortably agree that punishing kids as Jezebel seeks to do is wise or good.  It is not the right step forward.  Especially hurting their ability to get into schools.  Yes, lets try and keep them teens from going to the place that often results in a personal re-evaluation of one’s beliefs.

Gunn, btw, apologized. And hey, he avoids the “sorry you were offended”…he takes credit for the failure on his own.  Considering that other recent offenders took the “Stop being offended route? (including defenders of Gunn) it was kind of refreshing.

Dwight Dons Spandex

You remember that movie Kick Ass?  You know, the one where the loser kid wonders why nobody ever fights crime in a costume-so he decides to do it?  And teams up with a precocious ten year old girl who kills people and swears a lot?  And how it was all seen as good something sane people would do?

James Gunn (writer director of Slither and writer of the Dawn of the Dead remake) thought that film was full of $#!^ (to use comic book talk).  In the world of Super, in which Dwight from the Office has a mental breakdown and decides to fight the evil Kevin Bacon to save his elvish wife with the help of Juno, you have to be a little off to want to put on a costume and fight crime.

The story centers on Frank (Rainn Wilson).  Frank has lived a life of humiliation after humiliation.  His only two good moments were marrying his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) and the time he helped catch a criminal.  His wife falls in with a bad crowd, hooked on drugs and eventually, she leaves him.

Frank sees a cheesy Christian Super-Hero called The Holy Avenger (played by Nathan Fillion) on TV (think Bibleman).  Later, after pouring his heart out in a prayer, Frank has avision.  This vision convinces him he has a special calling.  And so he vows to fight crime in a costume with a night stick.

Beating up criminals makes him a public phenomenon at first, until Frank overreacts to a guy who makes a slight social faux paux.  He meets Libby (Ellen Page), who discovers his identity and becomes obsessed with being his “kid” sidekick.  What soon becomes apparent is that she is not interested in doing what is right so much as the action and rush involved.

That the film can be very dark was not truly a surprise to me.  It really does present the idea of super-hero work as requiring that you be a bit disturbed.  While not a new idea in comics (Garth Ennis makes quite a living off of the notion) after several years of stable heroes in film…this rather cynical take works pretty well.  Of course, it came out the same year as the film Defendor-and even covers similar ground.  But still, Wilson makes a pretty compelling mental case, who can be endearing and yet a bit scary.  Kevin Bacon is good as a low level drug kingpin wanna be, while Page goes from a fun exhuberance to a really uncomfortable and tragic place.  Gunn really makes the story work, and finding a way to inject satire in with sincerity that is usually very hard to get right.

There is a brutal honesty when Frank is on his knees, in tears begging God for an answer as to why his life seems so stacked against him.  He pours out every bit of self resentment and begs God for an answer…why do I have to look like this?  Why couldn’t I have been smarter?  Cooler?  More loveable.

Frank is messed up, but you can understand and sympathize as to why.  He really wants life to be more simple than it is.  Underpinning the film is a rather grim and unpleasant portrayal of violence that challenges the cool action hero of something like Kick Ass.  It is disturbing and lacks the “cool one liners and puns” prevelant to other violent action heroes.

And yet, in spite of the grimness, the film finds a way to end on an upbeat and even inspirational note, without feeling false or tacked on.  It never justifies what went on before, instead suggesting some healing for Frank.

Super really caught me off guard, in spite of having heard posistive raves about it, I think I anticipated a more gritty take on Kick Ass, but I got something much better out of it.  Yes, it was violent, but it was also thoughtful, touching and inspirational.