Saturday, October 19, 2019

Masculinity and the Marvel movies


Some time back, John Haldane gave a Thomistic Institute talk here in Los Angeles on the theme of evil in the movies and in the movie industry.  During the Q and A (at about the 40 minute mark, and again after the 1:16 mark) the subject of superhero movies came up, and Haldane was critical of their current prevalence.  In developing this criticism, he draws a useful distinction between fantasy and imagination.
 
Imagination, as Haldane uses the term, is a way of exploring aspects of reality and possibilities that are grounded in reality, even though it makes use of scenarios that are fictional or even impossible.  Imagination is healthy and can increase our understanding of the moral and social worlds.  Fantasy, by contrast, is unanchored in reality, and indeed it reflects a flight from reality and the discipline it imposes and responsibility that it entails.  Haldane gives as an example the movie Pretty Woman, an absurdly unrealistic portrayal of prostitution and human relationships.

Fantasy can be harmless in small doses, Haldane allows, but when a culture becomes dominated by it, that is a sign that it has become decadent and unwilling to face reality.  And the prevalence of superhero movies, Haldane says, is an indication that American society is increasingly retreating into fantasy and away from reality.  He rejects the suggestion that such movies can be compared to the myths of the gods in ancient cultures.  Such myths, he says, are essentially exercises in imagination, whereas superhero movies are sheer fantasy.

I think there is some truth to this analysis, but only some.  Some superhero movies are indeed exercises in fantasy, but some are, in my view, clearly exercises in imagination. 

Not long after hearing Haldane’s talk, I happened to come across a 1978 television interview with the late Harlan Ellison during which (beginning just before the 5 minute mark) Ellison criticizes the movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, and modern American society in general, on exactly the same grounds raised by Haldane.  He doesn’t use Haldane’s terminology, and in fact partially inverts it.  Ellison uses “fantasy” to mean what Haldane means by “imagination,” and he uses the expression “space opera” to refer to one type of what Haldane calls “fantasy.”  But in substance, the distinction and the sort of points Haldane and Ellison are making are identical.

(Side note: Remember when you could find extended intelligent discussion like this on television?  Remember when you could casually smoke on television, as Ellison does during the interview?  Remember Laraine Newman, another guest on the show who also contributes to the discussion?)

Interestingly, though, Ellison was also well-known to be an enthusiast for comics, including superhero comics, and even wrote them from time to time (though this doesn’t come up in the interview).  I don’t think there is any inconsistency there.

Suppose that, like me and like Haldane (though unlike Ellison) you are a conservative Catholic.  Then, I would suggest, it is easy to see that there are themes in many superhero movies, and especially in the Avengers series that is currently the most popular of all, that are clearly reflections of imagination rather than fantasy.

Take the characters who, in the Avengers movies as in the comics, have been regarded as “the Big Three”: Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man.  Captain America represents patriotism, the military virtues, the earnest decency of the common man, and in general a Norman Rockwell style nostalgia for a simpler time.  Thor – as part of the Asgardian pantheon ruled by stern Odin, to whom he must prove his worthiness – represents the higher realm spoken of by religion, and our obligations to the divine patriarchal authority who governs it.  Iron Man is a business magnate who represents confident masculinity, superior ability and great wealth, and the noblesse oblige and rebuke to egalitarianism implied by them.  These are deeply conservative themes, and it is astounding that these characters are as popular as they are in a society increasingly suffocated by political correctness.

Or maybe not.  For such themes have appeal because they reflect human nature, and human nature does not change however much we try to paper over it with ideology and propaganda, and however corrupt human behavior and human societies become as a result.  People will yearn in at least an inchoate way for the traditional institutions and ideals without which they cannot fulfill their nature, even when they are told they ought not to and have halfway convinced themselves that they ought not to.

I would suggest that the Marvel movies have the appeal they do at least in part precisely because they both convey these traditional ideals, but do so in a way that is fantastic enough that the offense to political correctness is not blatant.  A film series whose heroes are a square patriotic soldier, the son of a heavenly Father come to earth, and a strutting capitalist alpha male sounds like something tailor-made for a Red State audience, and the last thing that would attract A-list actors and billions in investment from a major studio.  Put these characters in colorful costumes, scenarios drawn from science fiction, and a little PC window dressing (such as portraying their girlfriends as a soldier, a scientist, and a businesswoman, respectively), and suddenly even a Blue State crowd can get on board.

Now, there are no traditional ideals more battered in contemporary Western society than masculinity, and the paternal role that is the fulfilment of masculinity.  But these are precisely the key themes of many of the Marvel movies.  The longing for a lost father or father figure is the core of all of the Spider-Man movies, as I noted in a post from a few years back.  (In the Spider-Man movies that have appeared since that post was written, Tony Stark has become the father figure whose instruction and example Peter Parker strives to live up to.)  The theme is also central to the Guardians of the Galaxy series, to Black Panther, to the Daredevil movie and Netflix series, and to the Luke Cage and Iron Fist Netflix series.  The Thor movies are largely about the conflicted relationships Thor and Loki have with their father Odin, whose approval each of them nevertheless seeks.  The bad consequences of rebellion against a father or father figure is the theme of the original Spider-Man series (wherein Peter initially refuses to heed his Uncle Ben’s admonitions), of the first Thor movie, and of Avengers: Age of Ultron (whose wayward son is the robotic Ultron, at odds with his “father” Stark).

The Hulk movies are largely about the consequences of failure as a father (whether Bruce Banner’s father in the original Hulk movie, or Betty Ross’s father in The Incredible Hulk).  Ant-Man is essentially about two men (Scott Lang and Hank Pym) who have partially failed as fathers and are trying to make up for it.  The Punisher Netflix series is essentially about a husband and father seeking vengeance for the family that was taken from him.

But it is the two stars of the Marvel movies – Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America – who are the most obvious examples of idealized masculinity.  And their character arcs through the series are about realizing that ideal.  Each of them starts out as an imperfect specimen of the masculine ideal, albeit in very different ways.  With Stark it is a vice of deficiency and with Rogers it is a vice of excess.  But by the end of their arcs, in Avengers: Endgame, each achieves the right balance.  (It might seem odd to think of Rogers rather than Stark as the one prone to a kind of excess.  Bear with me and you’ll see what I mean.)

On the traditional understanding of masculinity, a man’s life’s work has a twofold purpose.  First, it is ordered toward providing for his wife and children.  Second, it contributes something distinctive and necessary to the larger social order of which he and his family are parts.  Society needs farmers, butchers, tailors, manual laborers, soldiers, scholars, doctors, lawyers, etc. and a man finds purpose both by being a husband and father and by filling one of these social roles.  Though the traditional view regards women as “the weaker sex” and as less assertive than men, it understands a man’s worth and nobility in terms of the extent to which his strength and assertiveness are directed toward the service of others.

Liberal individualism, both in its libertarian form and its egalitarian form, replaced this social and other-directed model of a man’s life’s work with an individualist and careerist model, on which work is essentially about self-expression and self-fulfillment – making one’s mark in the world, gaining its attention and adulation, attaining fame, power and influence, and so forth.  Nor is it even about providing for wife and children, since sex and romance too came to be regarded as a means of self-fulfillment rather than the creation of the fundamental social unit, the family.  (Feminism took this corrupted individualist understanding of the meaning of a man’s work and relationships and, rather than critiquing it, urged women to ape it as well.)

In the first two Iron Man movies, Stark is initially a specimen of this individualist mentality.  His work is oriented toward attaining wealth, fame, and power.  He uses women as playthings.  He has a conflicted relationship with his late father, and is contemptuous of authority in general.  He is judged by SHIELD to be “volatile, self-obsessed, and [unable to] play well with others.”  But he is gradually chastened by the consequences of his hubris – by being captured and injured in the first Iron Man movie; by being forced to face up to the limitations on his power to stop an alien invasion like the one that occurred in Avengers; and by the miscalculation that led to Ultron’s rebellion and the many deaths it caused.  By Captain America: Civil War, Stark is humbled enough to accept government oversight, and being left defeated and near-dead by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War completes his chastening. 

By Avengers: Endgame Stark has become a family man.   By way of time travel, he makes peace of a sort with his father.  In the first Avengers movie, he had casually dismissed Rogers’ talk of the need for self-sacrifice with the confidence that an alternative solution would always be possible for a clever person like himself.  By contrast, in Endgame, he sees that he needs to lay down his life in order to save his wife and daughter and the world in general, and he willingly does it.  To be sure, he is in no way neutered.  He retains his masculine assertiveness, strength, and self-confidence.  But they are now directed toward the service of something larger than himself.

Rogers, by contrast, is from the first Captain America movie onward driven by a sense of duty to his country and to the social order more generally, and is willing to sacrifice everything for it, including even his own happiness and indeed his own life.  He is also a perfect gentleman, and his only interest where women are concerned is with the one he would like to marry and settle down with if only he had the chance.  Like Stark, he is relentlessly assertive, confident, and competent, but unlike Stark these traits are from the start directed toward the service of a larger good. 

Rogers’ flaw is that he is if anything a bit too absorbed in this larger good.  At least initially, he is too much the man of action and the good soldier, with all the virtues but also with the flaws that that entails.  He is a little too deferential to authority.  In the first Avengers movie he glibly asserts: “We have orders.  We should follow them” – only to find out that perhaps he should have questioned them.  The way institutions and authorities can become corrupted is impressed upon him far more dramatically in Captain America: Winder Soldier, to the point that in Civil War it is Rogers who is urging Stark to be more skeptical of authority. 

In general, Rogers’ optimistic “can do” spirit sometimes borders on naïveté, and it takes the catastrophe of Infinity War to teach him that the good guys don’t always win and that some problems can only be managed or mitigated rather than solved.  For much of the series, Rogers also has little life outside some military or quasi-military organization – the army, SHIELD, the Avengers.  Without a war to fight, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.  He is square, prone to speechifying, and awkward with women – in Winter Soldier proclaiming himself “too busy” for romance, preferring to lose himself in one mission after the other.  Only after near-death and victory in a “mother of all battles” in Endgame does he become convinced that he has the right to retire and “try some of that life Tony was telling me to get” – traveling back in time to marry the woman he thought he’d lost forever. 

The theme of the parallels and differences between the two characters provides a backbone to the Marvel movies.  Both Stark and Rogers are supremely confident and competent.  They are both natural leaders.  Each stubbornly insists on pursuing the course he is convinced is the correct one.  They are too similar in these respects – though also too different in the other ways just described – to like each other much at first.  The world is not big enough for both egos.  They learn to like and respect each other only gradually, through many ups and downs.

Hence, in the first Avengers movie, Stark is jealous of the admiration that his father had had for Rogers, and Rogers is amazed that Howard Stark could have had a son as frivolous and unworthy as Tony.  By Civil War, Rogers ends up having to defend the man who had (under mind control) murdered Howard – defending him from Tony, who seeks to avenge his father and now (temporarily) judges Rogers unworthy of his father’s admiration.  Stark starts out arrogantly rejecting any government control over his activity as Iron Man, only to insist on government control in Civil War.  Rogers starts out dutifully following orders in the first Captain America and Avengers movies, only stubbornly to reject government control over the team in Civil War.  In Age of Ultron, Rogers criticizes Stark for acting independently of the team, and in Civil War, Stark criticizes Rogers for acting independently of the team.  Rogers feels guilt for failing to prevent the death of Bucky, his comrade-in-arms.  Stark feels guilt for failing to prevent the death of Peter Parker, to whom he has become a father figure.  Rogers lays down his life in the first Captain America movie, only to get it back.  Stark preserves his life against all odds throughout the whole series, only to lay it down in the last Avengers movie. 

I submit that its complex portrayal of these competing models of masculinity is part of what makes the Marvel series of movies a genuine exercise in imagination rather than fantasy, in Haldane’s sense of the terms. 

One wonders, however, whether this will last.  A few years ago, Marvel’s comics division notoriously reoriented their titles to reflect greater “diversity” and political correctness – an experiment that critics labeled “SJW Marvel” and that resulted in a dramatic decline in sales.  The trend has been partially reversed and did not at the time affect the movies, where much more money is at stake.  But there are signs that a milder form of the “SJW Marvel” approach will make its way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the next phase of movies. 

For example, the title character of Captain Marvel is portrayed with little emotion, no love interest, and lacking any of the femininity, vulnerability, and complexity of characters like Scarlett Johannsen’s Black Widow or Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.  As Kyle Smith noted in National Review, Brie Larson portrays her instead as “fiercer than fierce, braver than brave… insouciant, kicking butt, delivering her lines in an I-got-this monotone… amazingly strong and resilient at the beginning, middle, and end.  This isn’t an arc, it’s a straight line.”  Into the bargain, this C-list character, dropped into the Marvel Cinematic Universe out of nowhere, is suddenly proclaimed “the most powerful character” in that universe.

In short, Captain Marvel is transparently an exercise in feminist wish fulfilment.  More to the present point, it is sheer fantasy in Haldane’s sense, rather than imagination – a portrayal of the way a certain mindset wishes the world to be, rather than a fanciful representation of the way it really is.  And, as Smith points out, its title character is for that reason completely boring.  (Contrast this with Marvel’s Netflix series Jessica Jones, which – despite its own feminist undercurrents – is not boring, and whose female characters are well-rounded and interesting.) 

If future Marvel movies follow in this identity politics oriented direction, they will in fact become what Haldane (in my view mistakenly) thinks they already are.

Further reading:

50 comments:

  1. Boy that was enjoyable to read!

    Now I know you've said before you aren't a star wars fan and so I'm banking on you not having seen the sequels. However, on the off chance, I wonder how you would see the change made by Disney?

    I bring it up because bishop Barron has a video explaining how George Lucas would try to base his story on the recurring myth, the archetypal story that rubs through all religions and cultures. That seems to be a similar sort of imagination. The new sequels Have, in a much more vocal way, clearly reacted against that perspective and rejected it. Fantasy indeed!

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    1. the current Star Wars wants to be a feminist fairy tale that corrects all the sexism of previous fairy tales. The Disney movies are doing this also with their princesses as modern feminists. Star Wars now has the female characters trying to take over the masculine roles that the men seem to be failing at.

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  2. Loved this insightful post! But I was just wondering, what does it mean to say women are the weaker sex?

    Do you simply mean physically weaker?

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    1. I think that tradition would say they are "weaker" in two respects.

      First, they would be weak in their physical strength. This is an obvious biological fact about women, and only radical egalitarians deny this.

      Second, they could be said to be weaker in will. This comes from the belief that women are more likely to act on emotion than reason. The stereotype of the hysterical, easily-swayed women comes to mind. I know of many political commentators that argue this is true based on how single women in America overwhelmingly support Leftist policies. I don't know whether this is true or not, as I have yet to come to conclusive evidence on this, but such sentiments about women were common in pre-modern times.

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    2. "First, they would be weak in their physical strength. This is an obvious biological fact about women, and only radical egalitarians deny this."

      What do you mean? Surely some women are stronger than some men. But if the traditional claim is not saying all men are stronger than all women, what is it claiming?

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    3. It's a generic, unquantified claim, so no, it's not a universal generalization claiming that all men are stronger than all women. Dogs have four legs. (No, that doesn't mean all dogs have four legs.) Humans have two legs. (That doesn't mean all humans have two legs.) Dogs have more legs than humans. (That doesn't mean that there are no one-legged dogs.)

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    4. It's more an observation of tendencies than a statement about individuals. Line up the weakest man to the strongest man, and do the same with women. Find where strength level tend to cluster for each to get a sense of typical strengths for men and women, and you find that the "typical" man is significantly physically stronger than the "typical" woman.

      This should be really uncontroversial.

      I'm more skeptical about weakness of will claims, at least in the way they tend to be applied to women, particularly in the way women are seen as primarily emotional creatures.

      I think it is true as a statement that women generally tend to be more amenable in their wills. They also tend towards more situationalist approaches to ethics. There is some evidence of this that goes beyond mere stereotypes. This of course has advantages if one is trying to conciliatory or maintain social peace, or when trying to ascertain the nuances of some situation, but is a flaw when trying to ascertain the truth of a matter in the midst of flawed opinions or when you need to defend some moral principle.

      Women also tend to be more "neurotic" as understood in the Big Five personality test used by psychologists. That just means they tend to experience negative emotions/ anxiety more strongly than men do. There are actually advantages to this (if you are a mom watching your kids in the wilderness while the men are out hunting, it's probably a good idea to be alert/ sensitive to potential dangers, for example)as well as disadvantages. This may actually be part of why you have the stereotype, but these don't correlate to weakness of will either, especially when you consider how one can be swayed not just by negative emotions, but also lack thereof or apathy, or by desires like lust, which is thought to be more common to men.


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    5. Greg -

      If it's a generic, unquantified claim, what does it mean? Is it saying something about the nature of manhood - i.e. men are by nature physically stronger than women? If so, then this entails the universal generalization all men are physically stronger than all women, just as the claim that triangles are by nature three-sided entails that all triangles are three-sided.

      So if it doesn't refer to the nature of manhood, and if it's not a universal generalization, I'm not sure what "Men are physically stronger than women" is supposed to mean.

      Maybe it's a statistical claim? More than 50% of men are physically stronger than all women?

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    6. Mary Angelica -

      Thank you, that is helpful. Would you have references for your claims that women tend toward situationist ethics and that women tend to be more neurotic than men?

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    7. It's not enough to adduce one mathematical case to show that where a generic is true and meaningful, the corresponding universal generalization must be too. There are no exceptions in mathematics. But our descriptions of living things are rife with generics which overwhelmingly have exceptions, e.g., 'Dogs have four legs'.

      If your question what a generic means is a request for a reduction to other forms of judgment, then I'm not sure any such thing is available. I don't think it's a statistical claim, as its truth would not be altered if, e.g., one killed all the dogs with four legs or all the men who are stronger than women. Michael Thompson argues that such claims are descriptions of the form of life of some living thing, something like what it is to grasp the Aristotelian form of a thing.

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    8. @Mary Angelica,


      I would add that it's just as possible to be alert and quick-acting when danger strikes if one is relaxed and peaceful. All that's necessary for enviromental-awareness is good intuition.

      Cause neuroticism seems more like an effect of the Fall than what a natural and good trait is like, or anything directly intended by God.

      Evo-psycho yarns to include it notwithstanding.

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    9. "If so, then this entails the universal generalization all men are physically stronger than all women"

      No it doesnt.

      Do dogs have more legs than humans? Yes they do, and that is saying something about the nature of dogs and humans. But it doesn't follow from that that every dog has more legs than every human.

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    10. The average man has fully half again as much muscle overall as the average woman, and twice as much upper-body muscle. There is a very small overlap of the very bottom of the male scale and the very top of the female one. World-class female athletes have records on par with high-school boys' national records—high school being before men get their final growth of muscle.

      Like, it's not even close. "Men are stronger than women" is like "Chinese people are shorter than Dutch people"—which is also overwhelmingly true, Yao Ming notwithstanding.

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    11. It can also be put in other words: it can be said that men are stronger than women because �������������� �������������� they are stronger. I mean, if we had a man and a woman who had the exact same genotype ������������, naturally, for the chromosome Y, the man would be stronger than the woman (and taller, and more of all the masculine characteristics).

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  3. Haldane takes his definitions of fantasy and imagination from Coleridge, and his valuation of them from the Modernist school of 20th-century literature. For a sound and cogent corrective, I strongly recommend ‘On Fairy-Stories’, by the then Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford – chap by the name of Tolkien.

    Tolkien, of course, doesn’t have much time either for Haldane’s type of sharp verbal distinction between imagination and fantasy, or for the dismissive Modernist attitude towards fantasy in stories. Note that Haldane repeats the old canard that fantasy is ‘escapist’ and that this is a bad thing. Tolkien’s quite sensible response is that the people chiefly concerned to prevent others from escaping are jailers. The analytical rigour of this essay is frequently under-appreciated even by Tolkien’s admirers; it is a foundational text of its field, and it is rather disturbing that Haldane adopts the verbal habits of one who has never heard of it. —Oh, and for what it’s worth, Tolkien was Catholic to the bone.

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    1. Let us assume for the sake of argument that Haldane did get his definitions of fantasy and imagination from the Modernist school. So what? Is everything a modernist says wrong? Is everything that Tolkien says right? While I commend you for recommending Tolkien's essay as a counterpoint to Haldane's distinctions, I fail to see how Tolkien's point about how "those trying to prevent others from escaping are jailers" is anything more than a clever rhetorical trick. Think about what Haldane is saying these people are escaping from - reality.

      A charitable interpretation of Haldane position on fantasy would be something like "we ought to conform our desires to what is realistic as opposed to having social and technological engineers change reality so that it conforms to our desires."

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    2. To go further, the context of Tolkien's comment about escape can be read as agreeing with Haldane, since the prison one is escaping from is an oppressive nightmare. In other words, we are escaping *into* reality, not from it. Or to quote Ed, "People will yearn in at least an inchoate way for the traditional institutions and ideals without which they cannot fulfill their nature, even when they are told they ought not to and have halfway convinced themselves that they ought not to."

      The reason why works like "The Lord of the Rings" endure is that they strike our soul like a bell, which rings with the truth of what we find there.

      Puddleglum puts it plain in "The Silver Chair," as the Queen of Underland attempts to hypnotize them into believing the world above doesn't exist. "Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it."

      If there is a fatal flaw in Haldane's distinction, it is two-fold. The first is that he forgets his mythology, whether Classical, Norse, Celtic, or the mythology of any other culture, which contains its share of the erotic, grotesque, and the decadent—not without reason did Plato contemplate excluding the poets from his Republic. But what has most endured of mythology is what is best in it, tales which are like breath to the soul.

      The second failing is that the distinction doesn't sufficiently appreciate that men are subcreators, where the line between "fantasy" and "imagination" is not so distinct, since we contemplate making the "impossible" possible, whether they be wonders or horrors. Our powers of reason, imagination, and will equip us to elevate or distort Nature. We are participants in reality, not just witnesses to it.

      If it's the job of the poets to "name the nameless," the philosophers need them to be reminded of mystery, where the poets need the philosophers to remind them of reason. And so Haldane's distinction is useful, and Ed's more useful still, but as we make our inquiries and distinctions, there is always a danger of forgetting that what lies at the back of reality is wondrous and beyond all imagination.

      I'm reminded of how Augustine, in "The Confessions," talks of being more concerned with the plight of characters in stage plays than the real travails of his own friends. The best literature should send us back into reality, with renewed courage and hope. The Horns of Elfland should refrain with Gabriel's Horn, reminding us that at the end of all things is the happiest of all ends.

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    3. I cant think of an exact arguement for this point, but another aspect of the imagination and fantasy distinction, is that one is a commentary on the human condition and virtue, so that even if there is dragons and fairies the virtues of the heroes in that tale are similiar to real heroes, and vice versa. The moral law stays broadly the same.

      I would say this story about virtue is really the reason for stories, and without it, a story has no purpose.

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    4. We should notice that many kinds of movie are fantasy because so many spy movies have characters doing impossible things, adventure movies have all sorts of improbable events, and even romances are filled with impossible characters

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  4. You're talking about refined Globohomo propaganda made for redditors, aspiring catladies, cuckservatives, and other foot soldiers of Globohomo.

    If you must talk about cape films then at at least stick to either Man of Steel, Nolan's work, or Joker.

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  5. Ed, have you seen Joker? Incredibly disturbing. Apparently DC is going to start releasing R rated movies part of a series called DC Black. The Batman will be the next grounded and gritty DC movie to grace the screen. What do you think about comics taking on a more darker, violent, and sometimes nihilistic tone? Amazon's The Boys is another good example of this trend.

    Also, grammar Nazi note, you spell "Winter Soldier" as "Winder Soldier" halfway through.

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  6. I don't much like the fantasy/imagination distinction. It's presented as a distinction between degrees of "groundedness in reality" but ultimately it just comes down to whether it is realistic in the right sort of ways, namely ethically relevant ways--or does it not? It just seems misleading to me.

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  7. Ed, What did you think of Thors execution of Thanos? Would you consider Jessica Jones take on Capitol Punishment a form of SJW fantasy? Wouldn't Gotham be better off if Batman killed the Joker rather than just repeatedly capturing him over and over again?

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  8. Ed, what's your opinion on the old Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies? Goofy as they are, I feel like they captured a sort of sincerity that the newer Marvel movies lack... But could just be my nostalgia

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  9. Feser writes: "Take the characters who, in the Avengers movies as in the comics, have been regarded as “the Big Three”: Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man....These are deeply conservative themes."

    Not so sure. Captain America emerged out of WWII--with a democratic republic, civil rights, and Lady Liberty behind those expressions of patriotism. Captain America battles the agents of fascist, reactionary nations, and these nations have a visceral hatred of Lockean and liberal democratic values.

    The most recent Wonder Woman, with the Israeli actress, inhabits such liberal democratic values.

    Put another way, there's a difference between patriotism qua patriotism ("our land is best") and American patriotism (calling the country to its best self; its liberal democratic self).

    As for Thor and Iron Man, aren't these a better fit with Nietzschean/Homeric values--as opposed to Christian values? Or are aristocratic/Nietzschean/Homeric values what it means to be an American "Christian" and "conservative" in 2019?

    In other words, isn't Nietzsche's critique of Christianity as "slave morality" grounded in Christianity's ambivalence about war (no war romanticism); its concern for the weak, the outsider, the refugee, and the marginalized; and its rejection of aristocratic/Homeric values (masculine warrior violence performed before the audience of the gods)?

    Jesus in every sense runs counter to these types. Jesus is not a conservative?

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    1. In the US, "conservative" means "liberal democrat". "Liberal" and "democrat" mean "social democrat"—increasingly, "Marxian socialist" or "fascist".

      So you are committing the etymological fallacy, at the very least.

      Also Marvel's Thor is as Judaeo-Christian as Santa Claus (who also has some superficial Germanic pagan elements); he was created, albeit wrapped in the trappings of Wagner's version of Norse myth, by two dudes named Jacob Kurtzberg and Stanley Leibowitz.

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    2. I understand--as does Adam Gopnik--"left" in two senses--the reformist left and the utopian left. The reformist left has a proud intellectual and pragmatic tradition (women's right to vote; the civil rights movement, gay equality, etc.). The utopian left has gone off the rails on numerous occasions, historically. I'm a proud member of the reformist left--i.e., a liberal. I don't think Sweden is in danger of fascism anytime soon.

      As to Thor, not sure why you're bringing up ethnicity. The thing of operational importance with Thor and Iron Man is not the ethnicity of the writers (if they are indeed not Christians, as you imply), but the Homeric, Aristocratic, Nietzschean values conveyed--which Feser appears to equate in some manner with being "conservative"--and which I question.

      Another issue is whether the comic book hero is more akin to Virgil's Roman ideal or Homer's Greek ideal. Fantasizing being Homer's ancient Greek warrior Achilles--acquiring honor for oneself, taking women as sex slaves in war, etc.--implies a different set of values from fantasizing oneself being Aenaes (Virgil's depiction of the Trojan warrior who carried his father out of Troy on his back and denied himself Dido as a lifelong mate for a higher goal). Aenaes has an acute sense of duty. This duty can be read straight (that he's a good man) or psychologically and tragically. (What was the point of all that self sacrifice and self denial if one comes out warped or dead emotionally in the end, etc.?)

      So in light of Achilles, Aenaes, and Jesus, is Wilfred Owen's poem, "Dulce et decorum est" a conservative or liberal way of processing the world? And where would the comic hero of your choice then stand in relation to it?

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    3. Santi,

      A lot of the labels you're using ("conservative," "liberal," "reactionary," "fascist," "democratic") are defined one way from within one framework, and a very different way within another framework. (I remember a time just after the fall of the Soviet Union when the term "conservative hardliners" in Russia meant communists. But of course one doesn't think that "conservative hardliners" in the U.S. means the same thing!)

      You say, "Captain America emerged out of WWII--with a democratic republic, civil rights, and Lady Liberty behind those expressions of patriotism." I respond, "That's classic American conservatism."

      You say, "Captain America battles the agents of fascist, reactionary nations...," and I reply, "Exactly: Just like any American conservative would." ...and you add, "...and these nations have a visceral hatred of Lockean and liberal democratic values." In reply to that, my first thought is, "Sure, because those nations' ideologies occupy a space which, in the American framework, we'd call leftist but not liberal."

      You add, "The most recent Wonder Woman, with the Israeli actress, inhabits such liberal democratic values." ...and I'd reply, "Exactly, just like any American conservative would. (Provided, of course, that one used the term 'liberal' to mean what conservatives call 'classical liberals,' and the word 'democratic' to mean, as it usually means in America, a form of Constitutionally-limited Federalist Democratic Republicanism. What Wonder Woman inhabits is not very close to what the word 'liberal' came to mean in America any time after 1970; and the American Democratic Party often acts as a sworn enemy of those values, equally in the 1950's and now.)"

      I often identify myself as "conservative," at the risk of some initial misunderstanding. I try to quickly follow-up by stating that conservatives, in America, are mostly trying to conserve liberalism...a unique position in American politics, now that liberals have sworn their emnity to liberalism. This phrasing usually pulls my interlocutor up short, and that's a good thing, because it forces us all to define terms and really communicate fruitfully.

      So it seems to me that most of your objection to Ed's usage is merely an equivocation caused by operating from a different and incompatible framework of terminology. Are you familiar with the "Nolan Chart" and the so-called "World's Smallest Political Quiz?" It's very imperfect, but for folk unused to different political terminological frameworks it has the benefit of helping them break out of their home framework and construct more-thoughtful analyses. (By "more-thoughtful" I mean: More thoughtful than their own home framework and more-thoughtful than the "World's Smallest Political Quiz.")

      Your other post, in reply to Sophia's Favorite, raises some additional wrinkles; e.g. in that part of the agenda being pushed in pursuit of "gay equality" represents, if anything, a totalitarian revolt against classical-liberal values.

      As for Jesus, the statement that He "in every sense runs counter to these types" is ambiguous to me; I'm not sure which types you mean. I disagree that he "runs counter" to the whole idea of "civil rights," full stop, if that's one of the "types" you are referencing...or did you only mean "types" in the sense of archetypical heroic figures? Naturally it's wrong to suggest that Jesus is "a conservative," just as it's wrong to suggest that Evel Knievel is "a toddler cyclist still using training-wheels."

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    4. RC:

      Jesus is not like the superheroes in the sense that he's not a nationalist, a bearer of weapons, or a pursuer of wealth accumulation.

      As for conservatism, if you asked me a decade ago what a conservative was, I'd probably say something quite similar to what you say.

      But 2016 rattled me--as it did many others.

      Autocratic, religious nationalism has suddenly become the rage--in Russia, Hungary, Turkey, and now here.

      Is this "conservatism"?

      I thought of Feser, until a few months ago, as a conservative of the sort you describe, but recently he has explicitly self identified as "post-liberal," meaning (if I understand the term) that Locke should basically never have happened.

      And in this post, Feser promotes classical and aristocratic virtues that Nietzsche was, and Steve Bannon is, keen on reviving as well.

      So how did American conservatism come to cross paths with Nietzsche--and part ways with Locke?

      There are good aspects to Homeric virtues, obviously, and everything in measure, but they also track with pre-Christian, pre-Socratic, anti-democratic sensibilities that are ill-suited to a nuclear age. They bear contempt for equality, are committed to war romanticism, etc.

      Better to filter these aggressive virtues through rock concerts, sports, entertainment, and business, not politics and religion.

      I simply can't imagine Eisenhower, let alone Jesus, approving all this jut-jawing in politics and religion, which is what led me to ask what sort of values are to be found in Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et decorum est." Do the values implicit in the poem express conservatism in the 21st century or not?

      Would the conservative superheroes Feser mentions be in solidarity with Wilfred Owen?

      I recommend Adam Gopnik's book on liberalism to you. It's very good.

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    5. Santi,

      Re: Jesus:

      You say, "Jesus is ... not a nationalist, a bearer of weapons, or a pursuer of wealth accumulation." Of course I grant all that. But I think that using Jesus (as opposed to, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Audie Murphy) just confuses the issue. Jesus is a man, but also the Divine Logos. That makes Him largely incommensurable both with fictional mere-human figures (Tony Stark, Steve Rogers) and real ones (Bonhoeffer, Murphy, you, me).

      I mean, sure: Jesus doesn't pursue wealth accumulation. But the whole of creation, seen and unseen, is His personal property, so what's left to acquire?

      He's not "a bearer of weapons." Well, if I could carry a police officer around in my pocket, I wouldn't bother with a firearm. How much more so, if I could have thousands of angels (Matt 26:53) appear at need? It's comparing apples to supernovae if we say "Jesus doesn't need an armor-suit to defeat bad guys; so much the worse for Tony Stark," when Stark lacks the ability to cancel the existence of the Chitauri by simply ceasing to sustain them in being.

      And then there's "nationalism." Some people use the term to refer exclusively to a sinful corruption of the virtue of "patriotism"; others make them equivalent by assigning both terms to refer to that good virtue (or perhaps two slightly differing good virtues). Still others make them equivalent by assigning both terms to refer to the corrupted form of the virtue.

      Not sure where your usage falls. Rather than argue for which definition we should be using for each term, I'll confine myself to only discussing "nationalism" and stipulating that the term can refer either to something virtuous ("good nationalism") or something corrupted and vicious ("bad nationalism").

      Given that stipulation, it seems that Jesus is certainly not a "bad nationalist." But He is a "good nationalist" par excellence by means of providentially achieving ends which are the proper telos of each nation individually, and thereby producing the best of all possible histories-of-the-universe. He's the maximal "good nationalist," for every nation, all at once.

      Now, no human hero can be anything like that (apples and supernovae again). He lacks the power, he lacks the wisdom, and most of all he's a citizen of one nation rather than the owner of all of them. But, as part of one nation, he should be a "good nationalist' vis-a-vis that nation.

      Thus, when comparing the political culture of the U.S. Founding Fathers to that of the Third Reich, any citizen of any nation (including a German in the 1940's) is morally obligated to say "Yay!" for America and "Boo!" to the Nazis. But whereas a Mexican citizen can say that evenhandedly, the American should say that with a certain amount of patriotic happiness, and the German with a certain amount of patriotic sadness: The "good nationalism" at work.

      And I think Jesus approves of (indeed commands) all that "good nationalism." It's the best we non-divine persons can do. We can indeed be heroic when we do a particularly good job of being "good nationalists," like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

      Anyway, when I read/watch a story wherein Tony Stark or Steve Rogers exercises the "good nationalism" and confines "nationalism" to its proper sphere so that it doesn't unmoor itself from God's law and transmogrify into "bad nationalism," I applaud. When the character starts out with "bad nationalism" and matures towards "good nationalism," I think that makes a good story with a good moral.

      So far as I can tell from the original post, Ed would agree with all of that. But you seem to be quibbling with Ed; so does that mean you disagree with what I'm saying? I can't tell.

      In my next, I'll respond re: "conservatism."

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    6. ...continuing...

      Santi,

      In your reply, you say, "2016 rattled me--as it did many others."

      Well, and me too. But not more so than 2008 or 2012...or, 2013, 2017, 2018, or 2019. Those were all worse, for varying reasons.

      You say, "Autocratic, religious nationalism has suddenly become the rage--in Russia, Hungary, Turkey, and now here."

      Turkey seems obvious. Russia somewhat less so, but the generalization feels about right. Hungary has complexities about which you and I might either disagree or agree; but then, I'm very ignorant about Hungary.

      But with regards to "here": I agree that there are threats of autocracy, but I don't see that they're associated with anyone who is "nationalistic" (either good form or bad). To me, it looks like there are nationalists, and then there are autocrats, and they don't overlap much.

      I also agree that there's an upsurge in violent religious sentiment, but only if one's willing to define "religious" to include ideologies that aren't popularly perceived as "religions" but which function as religions do in the hearts of those embracing those ideologies.

      In that sense, I regard the various flavors of leftism currently regnant in all the non-elective high-grounds of society (the judiciary, bureaucracies, entertainment media, corporate HR, corporate hiring, financial payments-processing, news media, the sciences, the tech oligarchies, childhood education, academia, the older "mainline churches," the arts, the literary world) as varying denominations of a religion. While not an absolute majority of the population, it's the majority of the elite and the influential, and it's the largest religious group in the U.S. today, and it's rapidly becoming repressive, with occasional outbursts of violence.

      But if you believe that there's any danger of Christians -- that timid, fractured, hesitant minority-group -- acting en masse, kicking ideological dissenters out of their jobs, railroading them out of educational institutions, blacklisting them from whole industries, bullying and harassing them on social media, etc., any time in the next thirty years, then, uh, I think you're mistaken. (And may I please have a sample of whatever you're smoking?)

      If there is any danger of widespread violence, I suspect it would only occur if the regressive left regained legislative and executive power simultaneously, such that no legal protections remained for those who wished to be public Christians. If that situation obtained, and the adherents of leftism resumed their campaign of cultural aggression against dissenters, Christian dissent might reach a "when in the course of human events" point. This might have happened had the 2016 election gone the other way; but at the moment, Christians are enjoying a reprieve and stay-of-execution, however tense.

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    7. R.C. please do not feed the troll.

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    8. ...concluding...

      Santi,

      Re: "I thought of Feser, until a few months ago, as a conservative of the sort you describe, but recently he has explicitly self identified as 'post-liberal,' ...": I'll let Professor Feser speak for himself, but in my view, it's possible to get a hundred people to board the right train even when half of them are somewhat confused about the reasons why. With some calculations, a minor error in the beginning can produce a drastically wrong answer; with others (or with other errors), the final answer may only be a few percent away from perfect.

      That's how I feel about the gap between "conservatives," and the kind of "post-liberal" as described by Ed. Since politics always reduces, in the here-and-now, to the art of what policy outcomes we can realistically achieve in the next decade, the question for right-libertarians and classical-liberals and So-Cons and Neo-Cons and devotees of Tim Gordon's "Catholic Republic" thesis will always be: If Candidate X gets elected next year, will the repercussions in policy and law be beneficial or destructive? This might very well lead a right-libertarian and a So-Con to vote for the same politician, for different (if partly overlapping) reasons.

      You say: "And in this post, Feser promotes [the same] classical and aristocratic virtues that Nietzsche was, and [which] Steve Bannon is keen on reviving as well."

      I'm prescinding entirely from the question of what Steve Bannon is up to, since I don't know.

      But otherwise, I think this is wrong.

      Just as a Left-Libertarian and a So-Con might both want "government to get out of the marriage business," but for different reasons, so too an Aristotelian and a Nietzschean might both want a citizen to put on a uniform and shoot someone wearing a different uniform.

      But the Aristotelian (and even more, the Thomist) will overlap with the Nietzschean far less often than the Left-Libertarian will overlap with the So-Con. And when he overlaps, his reasons for advocating Policy X will be wildly different.

      Now an average voter may not, until asked to, have ever contemplated whether his support for Policy X stems from Thomism or Lockeanism or Nietzscheanism. But for Nietzsche himself, and Ed Feser? The professional philosopher certainly knows and cares about his own first principles!

      Re: "So how did American conservatism come to cross paths with Nietzsche--and part ways with Locke?": I don't think it did. It hasn't embraced Nietzsche, and it hasn't entirely discarded Locke (though it never regarded Locke as being infallible).

      To me, it sounds like you're identifying some surface resemblances between...
      1. what Feser commends in (the later, more mature) Tony Stark;
      2. what Nietzsche might have commended (not always the same things, and when the same things, commended for different reasons); and,
      3. what Homer might have commended;
      ...and saying either that Ed's gone pre-Socratic (or Nietzschean); or else, that "conservatives" have. I don't buy that.

      Now, if you left out Ed and "conservatives," and instead confined your analysis to that subset of the so-called "Alt Right" that (a.) embrace rather than reject the label "Alt Right"; and, (b.) embrace a racialist interpretation of politics, then I would be able to agree that such persons were operating in a Nietzschean paradigm, whether they were aware of it or not.

      However, I would argue that this paradigm is precisely why the "Alt Right" is properly understood as a subspecies of Leftism. They have all the same will to power, all the same unmoored justifications, all the same valuation of persons according to unchosen characteristics and collective grievances. They're basically a denomination of Leftism that didn't get the memo about which groups they were supposed to favor, and which to despise.

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    9. Tony:

      In Santi's original comment, and in his reply to me, I don't detect the casual disregard for truth that I characterize as "trolling."

      Had his reply to me failed to engage substantively, I might have interpreted that as casual disregard for the truth. But it didn't.

      I think (provided I haven't misinterpreted him) that he's wrong. But there's a difference between "wrong" and "troll." (And I guess a former troll can, through contrition and a firm purpose of amendment of life, graduate from "troll" to "wrong.")

      Maybe I've been duped, or for all I know, maybe he's just an exquisitely well-adapted Russian bot. But I'm replying on substance because he did.

      If he comes back calling me a Nietzschean or a racist, or indulging in spectacular leaps of illogic, I'll bow out and you can say "I told you so."

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    10. R.C. I agree that his first comment or two was relatively benign, but Santi has a history of this. He can start out relatively lucid, but quickly descends to his usual trolling level. I think he's always reasonably sincere. He just can't grasp that his emotivistic, impressionistic leaps and the interminable posting of them are not a worthy contribution to any discussion.

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    11. I think it's genuinely difficult to tell whether Santi is a troll or whether he just reasons very badly despite being somewhat articulate. This makes it much more tempting to engage with him than some of the other trolls who frequent this blog. In either case, he is not worth engaging with. Observe that you just posted three full comments correcting his garbage post. If Santi is sincere, then he does not care about distinctions or interpretative charity. Don't waste your time.

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    12. R.C.: I don't detect the casual disregard for truth that I characterize as "trolling.”

      Holy moley, so what?! Prof. Feser has banned him. He has repeatedly asked commenters not to post replies to troublemakers. You may have no regard for wasting your own time; you may even not care about polluting the environment for your fellow posters; but at least have the minimal decency to respect our host’s own wishes, for crying out loud.

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    13. Did Feser ban him explicitly? He banned SP and Counter-Rebel, but maybe not Santi. Of course, he did tell us not to feed logorrheic trolls generally, which definitely describes Santi.

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    14. Yes, he did. And yes, Feser expects us to act like adults and keep our contributions constructive without having to spell everything out for us.

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    15. Mr. Green,

      Your claim that "Prof. Feser has banned him" puzzles me.

      I'm not familiar with the "Blogger" software, but on most blogs, if the owner of the blog "bans" someone, that person can no longer post on that blog. Often there's also an option to hide that person's posts from anyone who doesn't opt to display them. And the blog owner can permanently delete those posts, too.

      Professor Feser clearly hasn't done any of that with Santi. I can see his posts! Ordinarily I would assume that meant Santi hadn't been banned, but given what you are saying, perhaps it only means that the Blogger software lacks this feature?

      As for, "Holy moley, so what?!" ...which was in reply to my observation that Santi's post didn't seem trollish: Again, I didn't know that he had been "banned." And while I follow this blog semi-regularly (and always enjoy it), I'm not a daily reader. So I might not have seen any/all of the previous occasions where Santi was posting so offensively. If I ever have seen one of those occasions, it doesn't stick out in my memory. (The only troll's name that sticks out in my memory is something like "PsychoStardust," I think.)

      Given that, and given the fact that there's no visible indicator next to his name indicating he's been banned, by what means am I supposed to identify him as a troll? The only means I can think of is: Does his post sounds troll-ish?

      So, though I respect your good intentions, it's not very reasonable of you to answer my observation (that his post wasn't obviously troll-ish) with a "so what?" as if it weren't a relevant observation. Given the information available to me, it was the only relevant observation, wasn't it?

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    16. Trolling is not "casual disregard for truth." At its core, it is rather intentional provocation. Some trolling is not immediately recognizable as such. In some cases, that is how it is supposed to work. You believe that the troll is writing in good faith, so you expend a substantial effort in replying. (It is important to recognize that what characterizes a troll is bad faith, not insincerity. A troll can troll by way of claims he thinks are true. I have no doubt that Santi is in fact a thoughtless lib. That doesn't mean he is not a troll.)

      I don't blame you for responding to Santi. I have responded to him many times in the past. And I grant that it is annoying to post a carefully written post only to be told to stop replying to a troll. But I do think Santi is a troll. He frames very bad, presumptuous arguments, knowing they will elicit a response.

      I can't find where Ed banned Santi, if he banned him. It's not easy to find such a thing. The fact that he is still here is not proof that he wasn't banned, as it is difficult to enforce a ban on a blog which allows anonymous comments. But Ed has certainly banned other people who have returned, like Don Jindra and StardustyPsyche.

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    17. I don't think you can ban people on blogspot. All the other trolls Feser has banned have been able to continue to post here. He just has to delete their posts if he wants to. Once he had to put on comment moderation for a while to get rid of SP and Counter-Rebel.

      With Santi, he might deep down know he's a bit of a sophist, but he clearly thinks he's making important points. Whether he's classed officially as a troll though doesn't really matter. It's the same outcome.

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    18. RC:

      Sorry for the slow uptake. Just busy. You wrote: "The professional philosopher certainly knows and cares about his own first principles!"

      Agreed. I'm just speaking to the irony that Feser has a very different metaphysical starting point from Nietzsche, and yet they seem to intersect on two pivotal things: (1) Locke's value (or lack thereof); and (2) the value of aristocratic, Roman, and Homeric virtues, etc. The former seems very, very far from the Catholic JFK in 1960 and the latter seems very, very far from the historic Jesus (the Sermon on the Mount, etc.).

      As to good verses bad nationalism, again I agree with you.

      As to Catholicism and politics in relation to Locke, I would note that things have certainly changed since JFK ran for office in 1960. At that time, Kennedy spent a great deal of time assuring the largely Protestant electorate that he would be a Lockean Catholic, not attempting to orient society to the highest good as conceived by Rome. But in 2019 there are Catholic intellectuals--"post-liberals"--arguing that the apparatus of the liberal democratic state ought to be appropriated to the "highest good" as religiously conceived.

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    19. R.C.: Given that, and given the fact that there's no visible indicator next to his name indicating he's been banned, by what means am I supposed to identify him as a troll? The only means I can think of is: Does his post sounds troll-ish?

      Another means is being told, point-blank, by other posters; not only in this thread, but in others as well. As noted, Ed doesn’t really have a way to block troublemakers and still allow anonymous posting, other than by retroactively deleting comments, so it behoves us all to pay attention to the little community we find ourselves in and learn its ways.


      Greg: Trolling is not "casual disregard for truth." At its core, it is rather intentional provocation. Some trolling is not immediately recognizable as such. In some cases, that is how it is supposed to work.

      Well said. (I suppose that, in theory, a troll could troll for attention by agreeing with you — but human nature being what it is, acting like a disagreeable jackass is a more reliable way to get someone’s goat.)


      Anonymous: Whether he's classed officially as a troll though doesn't really matter. It's the same outcome.

      To classify trolls properly, one ought to know his Aristotle; but I like to classify some people as “virtual trolls”: they have the destructive effect of trolling, even if not formally possessed of a troll’s intent. Since the comments-section is a de facto mini-polis, whenever we post, we should have in mind not only the immediate good of providing a helpful and informative comment, but also the general good of the community as a whole. It’s not right to allow the classroom to be disrupted by an unruly student, even should he be genuinely interested in learning, if he cannot behave himself. Sometimes we worry too much about whether a given poster is “sincere”, and not enough whether writing a reply will make a constructive contribution to the thread.

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    1. How are you commenting here from some time before 1970? Because comics haven't been for anyone under 20 since Jack Kirby moved to DC—which move was occasioned by the fact Marvel wouldn't let him do his beat-philosopher mythopoeia epics, which would become the New Gods.

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    2. Sorry, should not have said anything, it was rude.

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  11. Brie Larson portrays her instead as “fiercer than fierce, braver than brave… insouciant, kicking butt, delivering her lines in an I-got-this monotone… amazingly strong and resilient at the beginning, middle, and end. This isn’t an arc, it’s a straight line.” Into the bargain, this C-list character, dropped into the Marvel Cinematic Universe out of nowhere, is suddenly proclaimed “the most powerful character” in that universe...

    In short, Captain Marvel is transparently an exercise in feminist wish fulfilment.


    Am I the only one to see Captain Marvel as little more than a Deus ex machina dropped into the story to save it because it had wound itself down to a self-forced defeat? She is entirely wooden (as noted) and nothing of her capabilities actually stem from anything other than the sheer need of the story to have her able to defeat the forces arrayed against them. Story-magic, in the worst sense of the term.

    Of course, Endgame suffers from the reverse story problem as well. I wonder if anyone else has seen it: In all of the fight scenes, Thanos is effectively a god to beat the other gods: there is no limit to how much physical force he can withstand, there is no limit to his ability to pre-plan for any strategem (except Marvel), etc. Even more than Thor or Hulk (for example) he can take a hit and keep on coming without any problem. There is no rationale for this, there is no basis for it in any story-line: they just need him to be "ultimate" in undefeatability (except for Marvel), and so he is. That's all the basis for it that exists - the story they wanted to write has to have an anti-hero that can't be beat, and so (godlike as are the story-writers) he is that. (I note that they only do a little bit better with the other characters in the rest of the story lines: in the case of each character, there is no rational explanation why one punch, or one fall from 100 feet, will leave them able to get up and fight with continued vigor, and another just like it will leave them with scratches and bruises and banged up (but they can get up limping), and yet another just like it will leave them with a broken X or amputated limb (or eye) and they cannot get up without a hospital stay and recuperation. It's all completely willy nilly. (Just for example, Iron Man repeatedly gets banged up when he doesn't have his suit on, or it is half open, and he walks away from it anyway; yet he is (without the suit) just a nerd with no exercise regimen.

    I enjoy the movies, but I would enjoy them better if they were more tautly developed as stories. And that, I think, partly plays into the differences that play into what Haldane (and Tolkien) are trying to say something about. If a story is so poorly developed that it doesn't matter if the hero walks away from a fall that he shouldn't have been able to walk away from, according to its own internal dynamics, then that story is missing something essential to story-telling as a human enterprise. It's one thing to have a hero who CAN fly, it's another thing entirely to have a hero who can fly and just because he can fly and for no other stated reason he flies straight through a building without harm. If you don't bother to have the critical persons have norms that apply to them, and no limits that apply to them, then there is no moral framework for such a story, and there can really be no plot because there cannot be any characters (i.e. persons who have character), all they have is traits.

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  12. Thor's whole arc was wrecked by Endgame. He spends all his movies striving to become the worthy successor to his father only to become a loser who just abandons all that, deciding to be who he is and not who he is supposed to be.

    Imagine Tony striving to become more than a selfish playboy, only to turn around and embrace it instead?

    It's a sign of the way Marvel is going, for sure.

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