The American appetite for cinematic adaptations of children’s stories about grown men who dress as rodents to save the world from grown men dressed as reptiles is bottomless. The Avengers is already the sixth highest grossing film in North American history, and is all-but-guaranteed to claim the number one box office prize for 2012. Its only potential competition comes from The Amazing Spiderman – the fourth film in the Spiderman series – and The Dark Knight Rises, which if one goes back to Tim Burton’s Batman, released in 1989, is the seventh adult costume party movie in 25 years in which the belle of the ball is a bat. 

If one would like to track the simultaneous declines of adult culture and mainstream American film, one can follow these reports and see that, while serious, well-crafted adult dramas such as Rampart and Take Shelter can barely find an open screen, stories of men in face paint attract sizable followings year after year, seemingly with no end in sight. Even the critical sensibilities of Americans who care enough to have them are polluted by the cultural craze of superhero worship. Heath Ledger is remembered for his delightfully campy portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight, rather than for his Brandoesque performance in the vastly superior Brokeback Mountain.

At some point, perhaps after Spiderman 14 smashes the box office record set by X-Men 9 or after Hugh Jackman receives an Oscar nomination for his tearful performance as Wolverine in The Claw: Wolverine 4, people may begin to wonder why so many adult Americans are mesmerized by the struggles of people in capes and tights, and why popular American film has changed so dramatically. In the 1970s, the top ten grossing film list included Love StoryMASHPatton, Ryan’s Daughter, Catch 22, and Five Easy Pieces. Roger Ebert has lamented the state of Hollywood and blamed the shift from the adult to adolescent market, along with the increasing popularity of home entertainment, for what he called “sequel madness and unoriginality in Hollywood.” 

The surge in the power of the teenager and the mind-numbing worship of the teenager in American life is surely to blame. Ebert is correct, but only in part. If only pre-teens and adolescents flocked to comic book films, the story would end with Ebert’s interpretation. The grim reality of adults loving superhero movies complicates the narrative. For the answer to this complication, one must turn to one of the greatest living American authors, Gore Vidal. In 1963, Vidal wrote an essay for Esquire Magazine, “Tarzan Revisited.” Vidal writes about the Edgar Rice Burroughs books he loved as a child after rereading them as an adult, and in the process of his contemplative review, he offers some conclusions about adult interest in children’s stories that, sadly, gain relevance with each passing year.

Vidal begins by wondering, “How many adults have an adventure serial running in their heads?” He goes on to elaborate in his characteristic brilliance and acerbic wit: 

How many consciously daydream, turning on a story in which the dreamer ceases to be an employee of IBM and becomes a handsome demigod moving through splendid places, saving maidens from monsters (or monsters from maidens: this is a jaded time). Most children tell themselves stories in which they figure as powerful figures, enjoying the pleasures not only of the adult world as they conceive it but of a world of wonders unlike dull reality. Although this sort of Mittyesque daydreaming is supposed to cease in maturity, I suggest that more adults than we suspect are dazedly wandering about with a full Technicolor extravaganza going on in their heads.

Vidal considers the enduring popularity of Tarzan, the emergence of James Bond, and what he perceived as the childlike fascinations of American adults (little did he know what would capture the collective imagination in 2012).  He reflects upon what he witnesses in his culture:  

Until recently I assumed that most people were like myself: daydreaming ceases when the real world becomes interesting and reasonably manageable. Now I am not so certain. The life and success of Burroughs lead one to believe that a good many people find their lives so unsatisfactory that they go right on year after year telling themselves stories in which they are able to dominate their environment in a way that is not possible in the overorganized society.

As an adult and author, Vidal was able to evaluate Burroughs with a new degree of sophistication. He determines that Burroughs “cannot reproduce human speech” and is “often redundant,” but that he did have a rare gift – “he can describe action vividly.” To those who have not read any Tarzan stories, the essay is most insightful at the conclusion. 

From Plato’s Republic to Opar to Bondland, at every level, the human imagination has tried to imagine something better for itself than the existing society. Man left Eden when he got up off all fours, endowing his descendants with nostalgia as well as chronic backache. Since the individual’s desire to dominate his environment is not a desirable trait in a society that every day grows more and more confining, the average man must take to daydreaming. James Bond and Tarzan are dream selves, and the aim of each is to establish personal primacy in a world that, more and more, diminishes the individual. Among adults, the current popularity of these lively fictions strikes me as a most significant and unbearably sad phenomenon.

The unbearable sadness of the phenomenon that Vidal accurately delineated as daydreaming grows in intensity when one considers not only the popularity of comic book movies, but also of video games. Video games are the ultimate day dreaming medium, because the dreamer is an active participant rather than a passive observer. With the manic pushing of buttons, the IBM employee that Vidal imagined is no longer the occupant of a cubicle for eight hours a day, but a medieval assassin, legendary NFL quarterback, or Herculean dragon slayer. The exact nature of the fantasy is less important than the existence of the fantasy itself. The fantasies increase, and Hollywood and video game creators become more adept at facilitating those lucrative fantasies, as personal boredom and societal confinement increase. 

Rapid advancements in technology and the uncontested dominance of liberal democracy in Western culture supposedly create conditions for the enjoyment of unprecedented freedom. It is still fair to ask, however, how much of that “freedom” is limited by the very same order that creates it? To paraphrase songwriter John Mellencamp, “what ugly truths does freedom bring?”

The late Jacques Derrida, in his books, The Gift of Death and Literature In Secret, wrote that “the individualism of technological civilization relies precisely on a misunderstanding of the unique self. It is the individualism of a role and not a person. In other words, it might be called the individualism of a masque or persona, a character and not a person.” 

Derrida’s contention was that people have the freedom to choose their role, but lack an authentic freedom to forge their own identity. Writing 32 years after the publication of Vidal’s essay, “Tarzan Revisited”, Derrida brilliantly defines Vidal’s useful phrase, “overorganized society.”

In an “overorganized society”, people are free to choose the role they fill in a prescribed life. Social forces of conformity, economic demands – enhanced during our Little Depression – and the limited path to career availability, lead people through a process they can predict from the early years of childhood. Most middle-class Americans now study a trade in college, and following graduation, work in that trade for the rest of their lives. Technology makes life more convenient, and it does allow a form of control over a person’s environment. That control, however, is detached from the emotional intensity of living that is available and possible. The “persona” and “character” that Derrida identifies as replacing the “person” becomes even more important and inevitable to people when they manage their lives through social networks, and now the social network character has become increasingly confined by the pressures of employment and higher education. More and more employers and universities are monitoring the Facebook pages of their workers and students. 

The result becomes a life in which time is overly managed – time divided between work and non-work responsibilities and leisure under the threat of the cell phone; the cell phone can always hold the user hostage with the reemergence of responsibilities, and a life in which one has to constantly calculate, what sociologist Erving Goffman called, “the presentation of self in everyday life.”

The escape from an overorganized society and an overly managed life could and should be the pursuit of creative activities that provide autonomy and individuality. The arts, crafts, and even some trades, such as cooking, allow people to claim a small piece of territory for self-ownership. Time spent creating, rather than consuming, is time spent controlling, rather than being controlled.

The problem with music, literature, scholarship, comedy, craftsmanship, cooking, etc., is that they require time, effort, and energy. To put it simply, they require work. Learning to play an instrument is difficult. It’s much easier to master Guitar Hero. Writing a good book is a challenge – much easier to just start a blog. Studying a topic of interest takes a lot of time. It’s easier to just watch a couple of YouTube videos. 

Creativity is the escape hatch that the soul demands from societal confinement, but American culture discourages creativity. Instead it offers consumption. Consumption can be fun, and it is always easy. Technology continually makes it easier – click a button for a song, type in a web address for a movie, and so on and so forth until you get your fix.

The ideology of consumer capitalism preaches instant gratification, reward without work, and effortless pleasure as ultimate virtues, and it seems that most people bow at the altar and accept the doctrine. Unwilling to put in the work that adult culture and creativity require, people are then left with the frivolous consolations of consumption, and they are left to daydream. The daydreams become more far-fetched, extravagant, and fantastical as the daydreamers feel more tightly trapped. 

It is a phenomenon just as “unbearably sad” as when Gore Vidal first diagnosed it 49 years ago.

David Masciotra is the author of Working On a Dream: The Progressive Political Vision of Bruce Springsteen (Continuum Books). For more information visit

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  1. Our consumption is actually the result of creativity. Think about it for a moment. It is the triumph of creativity. How much work do you think goes into creating video games, movies, web technologies, etc? Mass culture though subsidizes creativity by making works mass reproducible – which while by in large has led to probably a larger number of people becoming creative, it has on the other hand made mass success an expected part of the creative path.

    The persona problem is not unique to modernity, but the ‘heinous facade’ has been a problem since the very beginning. I think the superhero genre is a finger on the pulse of a people’s spiritual life – and no more to be lamented than dime store novellas, bad plays and traveling carnival shows. The existence of these heinous facades is itself lamentable, but methinks that the prevalence of comic book culture is not uniquely indicative of this false persona (Derrida is unreliable.) It certainly indicates immaturity, but we already know that based on the way children are raised they are going to be infantilized – particularly men .

    Video games of the best sort are a chance to be rightly humiliated – the worst kind are self-esteem enablers like Farmville. The best crush you like a grape until you step it up a notch. We could not ask for a better answer to Fight Club.

  2. I just like the movies.

    Funny, the top grossing movies in the 70s noted are mostly self-indulgent nonsense (Catch 22 and Patton would be the exceptions here).

    Maybe it is just Gore Vidal who is “unbearably sad”.

  3. Truly first-rate article. One’s time spent creating must indeed overtake one’s time spent consuming as life goes on. And so many of us are stuck in arrested development. It’s quite a struggle, especially in today’s world of fantasy-promoting technology, but it’s a noble struggle.

    However, you seem to unfairly saddle comic books and superheroes within the domain of ‘daydream’ rather than the creative realm. The assumption that superheroes’ symbolic quality extends solely in gaining the visceral sensation of ‘dominating their environment’ misses the point of just about every relevant superhero story told since 1980. If this were true, then the most dominant and fantastical character of them all: Superman would still be the most popular/relevant character and he has been stuck in irrelevance for many decades, due precisely to his unchallenged dominance over his environment. In Vidal’s day, the stories did not reach very far beyond the escapist. But now they have become bold-lined story exercises (nowhere near the rich quality of classic novels) which can actually bolster one’s creativity if one only has the eyes to see through them. Men and women with large emblems on their chest are big, bold-lined symbols that the semiotically inclined human mind easily identifies with. They are the sorts of characters that show up in fables and satires: easily identifiable symbolic characters thrown into an arena in order to reflect something true about life. Do not mistake simplicity with vapidity, and do not mistake commercial success with the decline of society. Who knows what will get the Hollywood glitz treatment next? Should we attempt a parallelism between the decline of society and Hollywood’s new obsession with early 20th Century literature? (see Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby)

    I will make no apology for video games (I believe that there have only been maybe 3 made which encourage the creative spark, a judgment, unfortunately one can only make after spending far too many hours with the medium) But comics, though they are often not, can be something profoundly inspiring and creative. Many of the writers of those superhero books have worked incredibly hard to tell the stories they want to tell (read Jonathan Hickman’s introduction to his graphic novel ‘The Nightly News’). The superhero film industry may be overladen with half-assery, but the books I will testify, are not. A good comic teaches a child or pre-teen the very basics of drama and character, outlined in bold strokes. It helps an adult tell stories of his own in much the same way a metronome reminds adult musicians to keep on rhythm. A few of us feel it valuable to return to those stories, if not for ourselves then to provide new stories for the next generation. But is it a sin to remember what one enjoyed about them? To explore that drama? To revisit and recreate it? To recapture what one felt in one’s youth and channel it into something new? Perhaps the problem does indeed lie in an overabundance of visitation rather than creation. But if your article does succeed in spawning a wave of creativity across the United States, do not be dismayed when the product of that creativity involves bold-lined, brightly-colored symbols.

    Comic book reading list:

    Tales from the Farm by Jeff LeMire
    All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison
    Watchmen by Alan Moore
    I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly

  4. While I don’t really disagree with much in it, this piece reads like concern trolling, bravely telling the impotent that they’re sad. You want to castigate adult fantasizing, learn from a master:

    He’s even got a solution of a sort, and it doesn’t involve that loathsome and overused F-word. The real problem is that you can’t have it all, and modern man chooses his own fate repeatedly, though his ability to convince himself that the problem is external is being slowly whittled away.

  5. Well I am glad to see I am not in the minority with a mixed reaction to this article. I really think your points are valid in regards to people creating nothing and consuming everything. However, correct me if I am wrong, this article seems to be very dismissive of daydreaming, saying that daydreaming is a child’s thing a adult outgrows. Tell that to Tolkien, Lewis, Carroll etc. I found that a little ridiculous, daydreaming is childlike and ridiculous, only if you don’t do something with it. Most of our great works of literature were formed that way in the first place, daydreaming can lead to brainstorming. Even the more serious works were developed this way. Daydreaming and creating a work of art out of it that people can learn from and even gain enjoyment from is good thing. Some kid who lives in his parents basement and plays video games all day? Well that is a wasteful thing.

  6. At the risk of sounding flippant, would the author suggest we spend our time with quality literature like Beowulf or Mallory’s Morte d’Artur, quality music like Wagner’s Ring Cycle and quality art like classic Greek statues of Heracles? Mankind has always loved myths, achetypical tales and larger than life characters, many of which express large truths like “good should triumph over evil” through characters with perhaps less psychological depth that some might prefer. Much tempest in a teapot.

  7. Those who hold to vision of small-scale communities (e.g. Leopold Kohr) would hold that size destroys creativity. Also a distinction needs to be made between imagining that is the prelude to creating and fantasizing that is based on consumption.

  8. Steve Billingsley wrote…
    ” Funny, the top grossing movies in the 70s noted are mostly self-indulgent nonsense (Catch 22 and Patton would be the exceptions here). ”

    Funny that someone would call the popular movies in the 70s “self-indulgent nonsense” in comparison to the truly self-indulgent nonsense that permeates the movie industry today. David was spot on. I’ll take MASH over Battleship a thousand times over.

  9. MarkC

    I would take MASH over Battleship, too…but Battleship was a flop (and a well-deserved one). I wouldn’t take MASH over The Dark Knight or the The Avengers, however.

    Self-indulgent nonsense is available from any era. But to somehow hold up the 1970s as an example of when “movies were better” and to use a few cherry-picked top grossing movies with the Roger Ebert stamp of approval as proof is a bit thin, particularly if the line from MASH and Love Story to The Avengers is somehow a clear demonstration of the deterioration of adult culture. I think our culture has deteriorated in many ways, but to use these example as proof of that is a bit much.

  10. I think RiverC is right to a certain extent, but I think it’s more accurate to say that more people than in the past are _capable_ of being creative due to the greater material affluence of US society.

    That said, _are_ more people actually more creative? I’m not so sure about that. And I’d wager that the democratization of creativity has led to a mediocrity in creativity that actually doesn’t allow most people to live off their creativity. Rather, they’re just distracting themselves and growing dependent on a shrinking group of the creative class who wield economic and political power in growing concentration.

    So I’m not altogether convinced about our “advances” in creativity.

  11. Quote from the article supra:

    “Creativity is the escape hatch that the soul demands from societal confinement, but American culture discourages creativity. Instead it offers consumption. Consumption can be fun, and it is always easy. Technology continually makes it easier – click a button for a song, type in a web address for a movie, and so on and so forth until you get your fix.”

    My task as a creature in a world which denies creaturehood is to first recognize that I am a creature in a created order, also denied by Modernity. Then it is to realize that I am a fallen creature which needs to be restored to a right relationship to my Creator and to the created order of which I am a part and in which I have my being. It is learning to live within my limitations. When I learn to live creaturely and ultimately Christianly then I am being creative in a meaningful sense.

    Our “superheroes” are comic variations of the diverse “Übermenschen” proposed by philosophers and ideologues of the 19th century. In fact, one could assert that all of Modernity is a quest to use science and technology to realize the flawed fantasy to attempt to overcome the created order or as Voegelin says, to immanentize the eschaton. Our comic heroes are merely one facet of that flawed fantasy. They are, however, not nearly as dangerous as the fantasies which fuel unreasonable expectations of longevity and “healthy” living fostered by charlatans on all sides: health food fanatics on one side, pharmaceuticals on the other; medical innovations that quickly become rights to be funded by abominations such as Obamacare; making the world safe for democracy, killing and maiming as many people as necessary to get the job done. These are the dangerous fantasies. Of course, our superhero fantasies serve their purpose: they are the modern version of the circuses to get our minds of the soullessness of the of the more dangerous ones.

  12. @Al

    A fair point! I was being slightly.. facetious. There are some further problems here, such as what do we mean by ‘creativity’? Strictly speaking it is merely creating – that is to say, when works are made through a process other than rout assembly. So when I build Ikea furniture I’m not creating, though we would certainly say no matter how rout the process is the guy who hand makes his furniture is creating. In such a scenario, is building the Ikea furniture wrong more creative than following the instructions? Much of what is vaunted as creativity is really just this – trying to oust some freedom by following the instructions wrong. For my part, I’d like to use my creative energies on something else.

    There’s an additional problem here – Fantasy, Imagination – one commenter tried to make a distinction between imagination fueled by consumption and that not fueled by consumption, by which I would suppose he means the daydream you have after a big meal versus the daydream you have when you’ve been fasting for 10 hours? I understand that there are definitely different kinds of imagination – in the Orthodox tradition phantasy is regarded as passionate and sinful. But the imagination itself is merely a power of the human soul – phantasy is not simply the use of the imagination (you cannot live a day without making use of it) but it is rather the state of the man whose actions are driven by his imaginations rather than making use and understanding what he is imagining.

    The only helpful point I can make on this is Tolkien’s idea of ‘moral imagination’ – that is, fantasy directed towards some end that is itself moral. This does not mean imagination is only proper if its being used to preach morality, hardly – but it certainly means imagination used to create obscenity for obscenity’s sake is wrong. In this framework both explicitly religious and non-religious works are appropriate, those which teach morality and those which do not, those which represent the real as well as those which ask what if, the fictional as well as the historical, that which teaches as well as that which enriches, the high form as well as the low form, the humorous and the serious, the shallow as well as the deep, as long as the imagination is being used morally.

    Consumption doesn’t really enter into the picture strictly speaking – a painting made with mass produced crayons is no less a moral work than one made with paints handmade from the raw minerals. What we’re perhaps more worried about is the brainwashing of the imaginative life of people, but that’s not so much a product of consumption itself but of mass culture, where people have what they feel is a unique perspective and experience but which turns out to be the exact same unique perspective and experience as their fellow, and only the fragmentation of modernity permits this illusion to persist.

  13. As one attempts to live creaturely in the created order one moves through it, both following and in a thirsting quest for the Creator thereof, by faith. Imagination is the pathfinder of faith. As I walk by the lantern light of faith, a light from God Himself, I must attempt to discern that which is illuminated in the outermost and dimmest ring of faith’s light. I see before me something, form or formlessness, I know not what. There, to prepare myself for the eventual encounter, I exercise my imagination. Is it merely a shadow? If so, what is it a shadow of? Is it perhaps a snake? Is it a narrow opening in the ground which might pose a danger? Is it a marker which has some meaning for me? As more illumination falls on the form, some of my imaginings are put aside; for they do not fit that which is coming into fuller view and understanding.

    Fantasy, which is superstition, is imposing my interpretation on the created order without the illumination which comes by faith and revelation. On the irrational side thereof are soothsayers, palm readers and rabbits’ feet, perhaps a four-leaf clover or a horseshoe. On the rational side, the side of science in Modernity, are extrapolations based on “evidence” which lead us to conclusions that, for instance, there is no God.

    In short, imagination is the handmaiden of faith. Fantasy as a superstition is faith’s negation.

    There is nothing inherently evil about “fantasy” in fiction. One imagines or fantasizes a fictional world and writes about it. It could be mere fiction, a simple narrative; it could be an allegory; it could have some moral purpose; or it could have an immoral purpose or outcome, despite the purpose; fantasy becomes evil when it becomes the superstition by which we live our lives and by which we expect others to live.

  14. @robert

    This sets aside the problem that what comes into your imagination is not necessarily by your command; it may be involuntary memory, it may be a snare set by our spiritual enemies.

    Imagination is not the pathfinder of faith, I must disagree. Mental imaginings themselves are of limited use in perceiving or engaging the one we seek; they can talk about, but cannot illuminate the dense darkness in which he makes his hiding place. For this we have St. Dionysius:

    “But these things are not to be disclosed to the uninitiated, by whom I mean those attached to the objects of human thought, and who believe there is no superessential Reality beyond, and who imagine that by their own understanding they know it that has made Darkness Its secret place.”

    I think by ‘creaturely’ you simply mean living in humility? Why the theological lingo?

  15. All assets of the creature can become a snare of our enemy.

    I will amend “pathfinder.” Imagination is my first response to that revealed at the far edge of faith’s illumination. It is my apprehension before my eventual, hopefully, comprehension, when reason, itself a gift of grace and which is also susceptible to the snare of the enemy, is applied.

    I do not disagree in the least with your quote from St. Dionysius.

    Living creaturely indeed means living in humility, being aware of one’s ignorance in the face of the great mystery of creation and in the face of the greater mystery of the Creator. It means that we recognize that we live within limits and therein have our being. It means acknowledging that we are creatures, something quite difficult for many in the age of unbelief in which we live.

    Perhaps this example from one of my literature classes helps; perhaps not.

    Among the things which I teach, from time to time, is Middle High German. Among my favorite poets is Walter von der Vogelweide. Of his poems, my favorite is “Under der linden.”

    In attempting to assist my students in understanding the difference between imagination and fantasy, the later including the modern notion that we can make a poem say what we wish it to say, I give my students the first three lines of the poem:

    “Under der linden
    an der heide
    dâ unser zweier bette was”

    I tell them to create an image, i.e. to use their imagination, concerning the linden tree, the heather and the bed. Three lines of the poem have been revealed to them. I get them to write a description of that which they have imagined based on that which has been revealed. I have had several students, talented in drawing, draw the image. When I first encountered the poem over forty years ago, my immediate image was that of a brass bed under a green linden at the edge of a flowering meadow.

    In then ask the students to fantasize the rest of the poem in either an essay or as a poem, depending on their talents and inclinations, either in standard German or in English. (Often my students’ German cannot match the assignment.) If I have twelve students, I usually get twelve very different fantasies, from the sublime to the pornographic.

    I then reveal to them the next lines of the poem.

    “ir vinden
    schône beide
    gebrochen bluomen unde gras
    vor dem walde in einem tal!”

    Those lines usually lay waste to many of the imaginations, as reasoned and object oriented as they were – linden, heather, bed – but just as quickly deconstruct most of the fantasies. The hint is that things are neither as sublime as some had fantasied nor are they as pornographic as others had fantasized. The “bed” is merely some broken grass and flowers.

    Imagination is the process of grappling with what we have encountered in faith of that which has been providentially revealed. As we are allowed more knowledge, we correct. Fantasy is imposing on the as yet unencountered and unrevealed our own “reality,” refusing to abandon our fantasy even as revelation shows us differently.

    Science in its modern idiom and spirituality are both superstitions. They impose on the mystery of creation an unsubstantiated narrative, the narrative which they have fantasized.

    What theological lingo?

  16. No, imagination is the faculty to subcreate mentally. It does not presuppose encounters of faith and/or acts of providence. They may become materials used by the imagination, but unless we are being extremely reductive, that definition conceals more than it reveals. Spirituality also is not superstition. What sort of operating definition of Spirituality are you using?

    Creaturely – this is theological lingo. It is a bald attempt to exclude those who do not believe things were created from being humble. Humility does not belong alone to the Christian or the Creationist – this I know from experience. It says, ‘You must believe you were created by the Creator to be humble’. This however, even if only implied, is not either a sufficient or necessary condition for humility. If it were, those ignorant of the means by which things have come to exist would be unable to be humble, when these often are precisely the most humble persons.

    I feel strongly there are a lot of odd linguistic structures that you use, it is perhaps a side-effect of being an academic? I would assume that you are educated enough to know you’re doing this and are doing it on purpose — but to what end? To raise the wall of the mind?

  17. RiverC,

    Beginning with your last paragraph first, every thing that I do has a purpose; so I am writing on this thread with purpose. There are a lot of side effects of having once been in the academy from which I am attempting to emancipate myself. My odd structures, that you astutely note, are likely because in matters academic I prefer German to English; the German peeps through, I suppose.

    I can avoid the “theological” word “creatures,” although I do not understand it to be a “theological” word; I can use an earthier term “critter.” We are all critters, whether we admit or acknowledge it or not. The import of my statement is in fact that we are all creatures, although “the man” of modernity in his atheism, his skepticism, his agnosticism does not want to admit it. When, however, the scales of unbelief, the modus of our age, fall, the creature becomes aware of his creaturehood and of his relation to the created order and the creator. That indeed manifests itself as humility. One does not, of course, have to be a Christian to be humble. Emperor Marcus Aurelius was certainly not a Christian; yet, he was fully aware that he was a creature and operated within the created order and showed in his writings the mark of humility.

    In the 5th chapter of Matthew, the first of the Beatitudes begins with “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” i.e. humble. It is the beginning of the Christian walk with the ultimate payoff of being persecuted for His sake, the last of the Beatitudes.

    We should probably find our way back to our comic Übermenschen.

  18. Well, I go in a different direction altogether – The movies call to my mind the likes of Arthur Machen and others, the dark shadows of Victorian society. Superficial on my part, I know. Seems to me to serve some need.

    Second, I’d go with Eric Hoffer’s whatever – Ordeal of Change or something like that rather than Derrida. Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man. That was prior to the internet. From Marcuse to Carr’s the Shallows is a single step. Or click.

  19. Your argument is missing something: many of the adults who enjoy superhero films grew up with Marvel and DC TV shows and comics. And I hope you’re not arguing that kids’ fascination with superheroes is caused by some existential crisis, though, of course, kids are increasingly pressured these days to think about their careers earlier rather than later. If anything, kids’ fascination points to something more radical, a human impulse that lies behind, say, (the success of) Bacon’s scientific project. While I do think you’re on to something, you shouldn’t simply brush aside the fact that the Hulk is entertaining because he’s spectacle–something removed from our ordinary experience in much the same way as roller coasters. Last, I’m not so sure Vidal’s “insightful” concluding paragraph is all that insightful. In fact, I question whether he has read the Republic.

  20. Something else to consider: “Couples will often insist that the man is the head of the household even when he doesn’t seem to be checking any of the traditional boxes. When I ask how it’s possible that he should retain the title without any of the attending duties, I almost always get some version of the same answer: If anyone threatened us, he would rescue us. If someone broke into the house, I would call him. If anything happened to the children, if a fire, if a tornado, etc. Papers have described what happened in the theater as ‘chivalry.’ But it’s not really that. Chivalry is a code of conduct connected to social propriety. Throwing your body in front of your girlfriend when people all around you are getting shot is an instinct that’s basic, and deeper. It’s the same reason these Batman and Spider-Man franchises endure: Because whatever else is fading away, women still seem to want their superhero, and men still seem to want to be him.”

  21. brilliant and engaging piece.

    now i may have to re-evaluate how i’m spending some of my time.

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