Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Capt. America Has a Burrito in His Pants

Capt AmericaDrudge linked to a story about a man (a doctor, no less) dressed as Captain America, with a burrito in his pants, being arrested for sexually harassing women at a costume party in Florida (the story was brought to my attention by Dan Raspler, the man who edited the three Justice League stories I wrote for DC Comics years ago — which in turn recently inspired this piece about audio technology by Mike Kobrin, one of the writers I met on a recent junket to Scotland).

I bring up the burrito in Captain America’s pants, though, because it strikes me as a sort of cultural crossroads that touches on many of the topics recently covered in this blog. Even as DC Comics has recently depicted World War III, Marvel has recently depicted a Civil War among its superheroes, followed closely by World War Hulk, and in between, tragically, Captain America was shot and killed. It’s bad enough he died mere weeks ago, but the burrito incident makes it difficult to think of him having died with dignity. (And as it happens, a reproductive burrito figures prominently in the plot of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie.)

But what is more important is that the burrito in Captain America’s pants is a reminder that responses to my most recent post, criticizing feminism, boil down in the end to the complaint that women get a lot of nasty comments from anonymous online commentators or encounter lewd behavior by men and thus feel intimidated a lot (this strikes me as either a pre-feminist or post-feminist complaint — at least in so far as feminism proper was an apparently temporary pretense of equality, versus the current frank recognition that women scare more easily or are intimidated by different things than men are). And I am not defending Captain America (or any of those louts) now, merely noting that I am unaware of any pre-feminist philosophy that committed one to supporting his behavior. People have been saying we must protect the womenfolk against boorish men since the Victorian era or perhaps the dawn of time, so it’s not clear to me how one needs feminism for that — and despite several people accusing me of having an unrealistic view of feminism, no one really did (as of this writing) spell out what we do need it for — but let’s leave the rest of the feminism discussion for bar conversation on May 2, at Lolita Bar (when one of our debaters will herself be someone known to have a thing for superhero costumes but perhaps not burrito-crimes).

In the meantime, I find that the Captain America incident also turns my mind to national electoral politics, since America, mostly for ill, increasingly defines itself through elections. I recently concluded that in the next year’s primaries it would be foolish of me not to seize a rare opportunity to vote for a full-fledged libertarian who is also a major-party candidate — Republican Ron Paul — thus sending a clearer signal than ever to the GOP that it should be moving in a libertarian, fusionist direction. In the general election, by which time Paul will probably have been defeated, I can always do the sensible thing and vote for Giuliani or McCain or whoever survives the whole ugly process — unless McCain gets still more “maverick” left-leaning ideas instead of sticking to budget cuts, or Giuliani loses his newfound interest in federalism and just starts acting upon his authoritarian impulses, in which case I may end up voting for a libertarian in the GOP primary and then a Libertarian in the general election, which will really mean losing with my purity intact, by my political standards.

On another libertarian-conservative fusionist note, I see that the site MainstreamLibertarian.com recently reported the apparent defection of New Hampshire state representative Bea Franceoeur from the Republican to the Libertarian Party to run for governor of that state, which happens to be the one targeted for political takeover by a group of libertarians calling themselves the Free State Project. A couple (center-left) friends of mine at Dartmouth tell me most of the state’s existing populace pretty much reacted by worrying about this influx of hippie weirdoes coming in from out of state, perhaps worried the state will get transformed into Vermont.

And speaking of Ivy League campuses and politics, I was lucky enough to see a screening of the funny and infuriating Evan Coyne Maloney documentary Indoctrinate U. last night, about campus political correctness. I walked about 200 blocks to see it, in fact, counting both the walk home and the earlier walk down to Tribeca from the office, during which I saw pop culture essayist Chuck Klosterman on the street, clinching proof my brain only spots famous pedestrians I actually care about, since I never seem to notice major movie stars such as Harvey Keitel or Robert Redford on the streets of Manhattan the way my parents have when they’ve visited, whereas in addition to Klosterman I’ve spotted the nerdy likes of Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Bill Clinton, Madeline Kahn, Rick Moranis, and Joe Franklin (or back in Providence, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth) — and I bet I’d spot, say, Leonard Nimoy in an instant. By contrast, though, I overlooked my own ex-boss, John Stossel, once while he was walking along with his neighbor John McEnroe (I don’t follow sports at all), and I once pointed out a beautiful woman on the street while completely failing to notice that her companion, every bit as visible and nearby, was the lady-pleasing John Cusack. The brain sees what it wants and needs to see, I guess.

And speaking of cherry-picking (no pun intended), I mentioned in a couple recent posts the tendency of people to believe what they want to believe, and that I think thorough examination of empirical evidence is the antidote. Context-dropping can make even the most accurate data worse than useless, though, so it’s important to keep in mind points like one made recently by Dawn Eden, hardly an arch-materialist but in this case doing empiricists a favor, when she notes that in the rush by many critics to point out the failure of abstinence-only sex education to keep kids from losing their virginity at a young age or to get them to practice safe sex with greater frequency (something the website I edit at work has itself repeatedly noted), often omitted is the fact that all forms of sex education seem to be pretty ineffectual at altering the rates of these phenomena. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of abstinence-only classes but reason to wonder how much difference sex ed makes in general. (Of course, if you took the time to listen to both traditional and abstinence-only classes, you might discover a vas deferens — thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week. For similarly sophisticated laughs, by the way, I recommend the Wikipedia entry on flatulence.)

Don’t think all this means I’m for having fundamentalists run all the schools now or anything, though — indeed, I was pleased to hear that the brilliant atheist Richard Dawkins was scheduled to face Christmas-loving dunderhead Bill O’Reilly last night, and though I haven’t seen it yet, I trust some serious floor was mopped.   [UPDATE: Here's the interview, less than five minutes, and a reminder that Stephen Colbert is almost redundant, since O'Reilly is so self-parodic.]  (It crosses my mind, by the way, that popular television shows would be great fodder as recorded discussion topics on outgoing voicemail messages that, combined with voice-recognition software, gave unwanted callers the false impression that you were in fact talking to them on the phone: “Hello…I’m sorry, I’m a bit distracted — could you say who’s calling again? Have you called to discuss a television show? What show have you called to talk about? Could you say that again? Is the show…The O’Reilly Factor? No? Is it…Lost? Why don’t you tell me in detail what happened on the most recent episode? All right, let’s begin…”)

In other British-rationalist TV news, by the way, I am pleased to see that in an interview with my friends at Spiked-Online, the documentarian Adam Curtis, who has examined the influence of propaganda (including what he sees as neocon and hyper-individualist propaganda) on twentieth-century politics, says that the fascism-satirizing sci-fi movie Starship Troopers was one of his biggest influences, and I’m just glad someone else noticed how strange that film was, since even the people who produced the sequels didn’t seem to understand the dark humor in having Doogie Howser’s Neil Patrick Harris play, in essence, a heroic outer-space S.S. captain or having characters deliver lines like (approximately) “You take that walk down Washout Lane, Johnny Rico, and you’ll be letting down the whole squadron!” (Curtis also praises the new Battlestar Galactica, as does about every other person I talk to in the past year or so, including Bill Frist’s speech writer and a deputy assistant attorney general who expressed regret about not working a Galactica reference into her recent Senate testimony.)

I may not agree with Curtis on everything, but I suspect he, like Starship Troopers director Paul Verhoeven, would appreciate the burrito in Captain America’s pants, which is my real point.


Joseph Brennan said...

I forgot where I put the adress for yor site, until last night. I was wondering how you took the demise of Captain America. Comic books transformed into live action movies seem to be continuing thier industry impact. “Spiderman 3″ has opened, with a “Fantastic Four” sequel on the way, along with “The Transformers” movie.

As a long -time Heinlien fan, I didn’t like the film redetion of “Starship Troopers.”

Did you see my review of “Curse of the Golden Flower,” on my blog? Do you wathc the TV series, “Heros?” Still no link to my blog, I see.

Jacob T. Levy said...

There were sequels?

Todd Seavey said...

A CGI TV series without much political content and a direct-to-video, low-budget _Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation_, which at least ended on a note of warning about propaganda, apparently, though I haven’t actually seen them. A third film, featuring more of the original cast than 2 did, has been discussed as an imminent possibility. That’s all I know.

Brain said...

Starship Troopers was an entertaining, well done movie which accurately reflected the spirit of the original novel. I’ll leave it at that. And it had boobies, which is always a plus.

Wonder if they’ll ever make a movie based on Haldeman’s “The Forever War”? While it was a response to Heinlein’s book, it was at least its equal.

Todd Seavey said...

Yup, both _Forever War_ and (“Mormon extremist”!) Orson Scott Card’s _Ender’s Game_ were responses to Troopers, depicting protracted wars against bug-like enemies that wrought disturbing changes in Earth’s militarized society.

The politics of both Heinlein’s novel and Verhoeven’s movie are strange and multilayered, but not in the same way: Heinlein was a libertarian (and in later novels sounded pacifistic as a result) but seemed to be trying to construct the best Platonic defense of militarism he could in this novel, while Verhoeven seemed to take the militarism alone as the jumping-off point (which is fair) and then use it to do a parody of fascism that arguably wasn’t quite parodic enough to keep the audience from “rooting” for the fascists — which was disturbing in much the same way that rooting for the terrorist hero in _V for Vendetta_ was.

Verhoeven witnessed his native Holland invaded by Nazis when he was a child, and I suspect it left him with a strange mixture of hatred and awe toward them reflected in the movie’s weird mixed messages.

Its propaganda-film sequences were the best part, and I said a decade ago when I saw it that the narrator of those bits should get a Best Supporting Actor nomination (“The Klendathu threat _must_ be eliminated!” “They’ll keep fighting — and they’ll win!” “Do you want to know more…?”).

radosh said...

Eden is leaping to conclusions to say the least. Yes, intellectual honesty demands recognizing that the new study contradicts previous ones regarding whether abstinence-only students were less likely than sex-ed students to use contraception on first intercourse. But that’s not even remotely the same as saying that sex ed doesn’t work. That you mention this pronouncement in the context of chiding people for cherry picking is ironic.

If Eden really wants to know if sex-ed works, she should look at studies that actually attempted to determine that. Other people already have. Here is a metastudy showing that several sex ed curricula “have been shown to delay sex or increase condom or other contraceptive use and thereby to decrease unprotected sex substantially.”


Chris said...


Who did you have to perform sexual favors on to write comic books?

No judgements, just curiosity.

Todd Seavey said...

A long-overdue reply on the comics-writing question: as with so many other print gigs, I met some comics editors and just kept e-mailing very brief ideas until one editor got sick of hearing my ideas but assigned me to write something similar that he actually needed done — so it often is with magazine article assignments, I’ve found. I haven’t done any comics writing since those three stories several years ago, though.