Saturday, August 21, 2010

Empires, Spiritual and Science-Fictional

By now, everybody and his uncle have probably used this JibJab animation to put their faces into a short version of The Empire Strikes Back, but I dare say I make a natural Luke Skywalker in this version, with photos entered by co-worker Austin Petersen. Of course, I’m not saying it’s as funny as Chewbacca singing “Silent Night” (nor as slickly produced as the frenetic and funny Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, about which the lukewarm critics and uninterested masses are all wrong, by the way — go see it even if, say, you only have one evil ex instead of seven).

The Empire is a fitting topic for this blog’s “Month of Imperialism,” and I’m reminded that about seven years ago, the fictional empire and the real one blended for me briefly when The Weekly Standard posted an article, around the time it was one of the chief proponents of attacking Iraq, half-jokingly arguing that the Empire was superior to the Rebels in the Star Wars series. I good-naturedly e-mailed to say that if the Standard built a Death Star, they might find there are Rebels willing to assault it. Little did I realize the jittery Standard had received some death threats over their pro-war position, and a flurry of carefully-worded e-mails was exchanged in which it was clarified that I was not planning to kill anyone. (I think I likened myself to Andrew Sullivan jokingly challenging someone to a lightsaber battle at one point, which sounds kind of gay in retrospect but was reassuring.)

But despite some reservations about U.S. military policy, I won’t claim we have an empire in the sense that the British had one — and it was a bad thing in some ways, but it’s hard, as someone for whom all that is now history, to regret that the strange blend of West and East in India has helped bring about things like this strange video of a breakdancing dwarf (pointed out to me by Gena Binkley — and speaking of psychedelic experiences and John Stossel staffers, note that this weekend’s Freedom Watch features a Stossel cameo, with him sparring against conservative biped S.E. Cupp over pot legalization, airing four times on FBN).


The dwarf video in turn reminds me of perhaps my favorite mistranscribed interview quote of all time. Avant-garde comics writer Grant Morrison (whose Final Crisis I now have in hardcover thanks to a generous Scott Nybakken, raising the possibility that it will cohere if read as a single work) was asked what things on the Web interested him lately, and he was quoted as saying he loved “the site American Dwarf,” but it turned out that excellent as that title is, there was no such site, and what he really said was “the South American dwarf,” referring to a mysterious and creepy dwarf with a sack over his head who had been appearing to startled people and gamboling about before disappearing into the woods. It’s a weird world.

Morrison is making it weirder this month. I see no evidence that his planned non-fiction book Supergods from Random House on superheroes as gods has yet come to pass, but he is releasing this collection of his ideas for an animated series that never happened, with the Hindu gods depicted as superheroes. You just know that the psychedelically-minded, Scottish, and more or less left-anarchist Morrison loves the fact that absorbing a land as weird as India into the British Empire was a bit like inadvertently taking a tab of LSD.

If Morrison’s planned Multiversity maxiseries, meant to start in one year, doesn’t climax with (a) the complete transformation of DC reality again, (b) an unofficial cameo by his mystical-anarchist characters the Invisibles (or at least some Morrison-looking bald guy implied to be an amalgam of King Mob, Lex Luthor, the Time Tailor, the Writer, Robotman, and Professor X), and (c) an issue that comes out close to the mystically-ballyhooed date Dec. 22, 2012, I for one will be disappointed in Morrison, even if I’m not reading the stuff anymore.

I also get the impression he’s subtly resurrecting something akin to Hypertime, DC’s model of timelines as fluid and overlapping, in the current Return of Bruce Wayne series, perhaps in rebellion against the rigid yet sloppily-enforced idea that there are exactly fifty-two DC universes. The corporate hierarchy is a tad muddled at DC these days, so it may not be a bad time for an ambitious writer to remold reality without editors noticing. Since Morrison likes variant, alternate-reality Batmen so much, perhaps he should use the unauthorized 1973 Filipino film version in one of his stories (note: Fight, Batman, Fight! was not directed by Chris Nolan).


If you get tired of mystically- and spiritually-significant superheroes, though, there is an atheist superhero film on the way, which sounds promising and a tad anarchic (pointed out to me by the aforementioned Austin, who also forwarded this amusing/creepy photo of a warlike child, whose attitude reminds me of Churchill…or someone).

On another atheistic note with political implications: Nybakken looks like the world’s one real prophet, for saying back when we were in college that he had a one-word retort to Francis Fukuyama’s then-popular thesis that we’d reached the “end of history” and all would be liberal democracy henceforth, and that one-word retort was ISLAM. Nearly two decades later, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the same thing in the Wall Street Journal, but Nybakken still wins by the standard of brevity.

If I were an atheist superhero — and aren’t I, in some sense? — yesterday would have to be regarded as the day I made it into the enemy lair, since I paid a (perfectly pleasant, actually) visit to the national headquarters of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei. Nice place, no evidence of a sinister plot to kill Tom Hanks, though I couldn’t help but be reminded of a vexing religious-convert ex or two. Or three. Patterns can be broken, though. (Indeed, at the same time I was visiting Opus Dei, yet another ex of mine, I was somewhat disappointed to learn, was in the midst of Landmark Forum classes, that being the cultish self-help group that basically charges you money to remind you that you can do whatever you want and chart your own destiny. Some of us know that already.)

Back at the office after my Opus Dei visit (and a few hours before dinner with Michael Malice to balance things out), on my last day at work before starting a much-needed one-week vacation, religion correspondent Lauren Green, herself an iteration of the “woman who loves music-and-religion” archetype, revealed she once existed on the fringes of a cult-like organization that dabbles in religion, self-discipline, and sexual self-discovery with arguably greater panache than any of the aforementioned groups, though: She knew Prince in high school and as a result appeared in her capacity as an early-90s Minneapolis reporter in one version of the Artist’s “My Name Is Prince” video. As she was also Miss Minnesota 1984, not to mention a classical pianist, this seems like a typically smart move on Prince’s part. There is much wisdom to be gleaned from Prince’s life.

P.S. On an unrelated musical note, Richard Cheese claims that unless he sells 2,500 more copies of his album OK Bartender of comedy-lounge-music covers of rock and hiphop classics, he could go out of business and face “the End of Cheese,” so buy that to have something to listen to after Prince.

1 comment:

Meredith said...

The athiest superhero film – Franklyn – actually came out a while back and is available on netflix instant-watch. The idea of a religious society/athiest superhero could have been much cooler. I won’t spoil the film, but I found it very disappointing, mainly because they keep flipping back and forth between the religious-dystopia and modern day london. The majority of the movie takes place in london and is painfully dull. If they’d just jettison that (and the main plotline), it would’ve been a much more watchable movie.