PART I: THANOS WAS RIGHT!
I’m probably not alone in my approach to this topic, but I don’t get uplifted, enlightened, overjoyed, overwhelmed, enamored, enraptured or otherwise gratified by superhero epic films anymore. I’ve long since left the mentality of the child-in-awe of these types of films and I sometimes wish I had never started down the dark path of cynicism. But I made my choice and the mentality of escapist entertainment has lost much of its luster for this hard-boiled nihilist. I realize that a lot of people would want to shame me for my dark perception of a thing so frivolous as entertainment, but I have reasons for my point of view. This does not mean that I am not capable of being entertained by such wide-screen epics; muscle bound, physically idealized men and women or even non-humans doing battle to assert the more powerful moral and physical will over a threatened planet/race of innocent mere mortals. It makes for some great CGI effects and awesome mind-bending scenes of destruction and power. But at the end of the film when the occupants walk out of the theater, they walk back into a reality that isn’t populated by heroes, villains or super-humans. It’s just the same reality full of humans that they went to the theater to escape from in the first place. And therein lies the root of my depleted experience: unfortunate reality.
I’ve tried to emulate Peter Pan and the Lost Boys most of my life (Never grow up!), and succeeded. I’ve avoided marriage, a mortgage payment, child support, hell, I don’t even pay rent! This means I’m doing some of this thing we call life, right. And I don’t care if society considers me a “loser” because I have never taken on or embraced the responsibilities that would make me a “real adult” by most definitions. But even despite these efforts, somewhere in my 45 short years of life, I managed to let reality creep in. A person can run as far and as fast as they can for as long as they want, but there are certain things that no one can outrun: Life, Death, Taxes. More like the reality of human beings and the weight of human history. When I was in my 20’s I began exploring literature and accounts that were more biographical in nature. Ditching the comic books, action films and TV shows of my youth, I began to take in the world in a slightly wider perspective. All of a sudden the lessons of history that I absorbed in the public school system sounded more like fairytales and lies compared to books written by or about Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Howard Zinn and even Carl Sagan. Intellectual awakening happens at a different time for everyone, while for some, it never does. I began to question authority, question reality and challenge my belief systems. I allowed at least a small part of myself to become an adult. And that’s when the trouble started.
Probably one of my first experiences with challenging what society was telling everyone to think was the reality of the Gulf Wars. Most of my friends and I were relatively fresh out of high school, going to college, and caught up in the emotional and moral debate over the new battlefield in the Middle East. Many of my generation either knew those who enlisted in the armed forces, or signed up and went there themselves. Those who came back were changed forever. War is one of those things that you cannot remove from your human experience. Those who have been there won’t forget, while those who have never gone will never truly know. I’m one of those who will never know. Nonetheless I was raised in a liberal household with two educated college professors who had the experience of living through two previous wars, the civil rights movement and bore witness to some of the most momentous and controversial social upheavals that the United States of America has ever seen. This type of environment primed my views to be decidedly anti-war, anti-violence and dubious of the conservative political status quo. An orphan of the Vietnam war, I scarcely even knew what that war had done to American society, much less the lasting scar it had left. All I did believe in was, war was wrong, history was more often than not dark, and human nature had a side that often wasn’t addressed through the myriad forms of media that permeated our world. In particular, mainstream news outlets had began to move away from the images that haunted the Vietnam War era to those that chose to gloss over or sugarcoat the realities of combat and the political machinations behind conflict. This doesn’t even take into consideration the historic and continuing effects of PTSD and the impact it has on veterans and society as a whole. Over time, I came to my own conclusions that humans were indeed their own worst enemies and the most dangerous of our species were the ones in power.
History is nothing but an account of the rise and fall of civilization. One after another, including the current story as it unfolds. Regardless of moral right and wrong, it seems as if the human condition cannot support its institutions for prolonged periods of time without collapsing under its own weight. Although he was not the first to make such an observation, Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “If you want to reveal the true character of a man, give him power.” If history is any litmus test, this is a trial that humans have failed time and time again. Some believe that these flaws, vulnerabilities and their results are what make humans so unique and precious. But if we are to believe that we are living miracles, gifted from the Gods and destined for greatness, how can our legacy of immorality and destruction be explained? Progress, evolution, or the inseparable fact that imperfection will never lead to its opposite. My perspective definitively embraces the evidence that seems to support the latter of that conclusion.
Even if you look at the recent history of my short lifetime there is ample evidence that human nature remains the same. Some would make the argument that we must be evolving to better ends as the downward trend in societal violence seems to indicate. This, as well as reduced mortality rates, longer life expectations and the technological revolution which has the potential to “level the playing field” of opportunity for all. That is truly an optimist’s view, and not without merit. But examining the results of the past four decades might reveal a more sobering reality that doesn’t jog as harmoniously with this rose-colored view of human progress. If they are any indication, then they should help us recognize what has lead up to the present and the diaspora of unity that exists in the U.S. and much of the world around us. Most troubling is the acceleration of the environmental decay that is occurring. Regardless if whether or not our leaders will acknowledge or act on the warnings of scientists and those monitoring the changes directly, the results will differ little between the hierarchies society has created. Endgame: No one escapes mortality.
In part two of my essay/analysis, I will distinguish some of the factors I believe that harken the decay of humanity and provide evidence that the demons that haunt our past have never truly been vanquished. To address the initial topic of my diatribe, there are no heroes to swoop down from the sky to save us. All of human “progress” has come at the cost of blood and plenty of it. If you would like to take the optimists view, the true heroes of humanity wee mortal, just like you and I, and they paid for their efforts with death. Often in contrived, violent and malevolent means. While it is human nature to seek escapism and retreat from the sometimes harsh realities around us, it usually doesn’t improve the human condition other than that 2-3 hour rush of endorphins and the subsequent reflections on how much better the world would be if immortals with higher moral purpose walked among us. The reality is that global leaders are more often than not corrupted with wealth and power and pursue short-term gains for themselves and the circles of elites who have bestowed them the authority to manage the well being of millions of lives. Point and case: Donald Trump. If you want to make comparisons to comic strip avatars, he is more like society’s Lex Luthor. Dividing to conquer with fear, paranoia and a dystopian element of misanthropy that personifies the failure of humanity to evolve from its own reptilian urges of raw survival and violence. And unfortunately, Kal-El is not going to be delivered in the form of a meteor to deliver humankind from its sins. It is far more likely that we will see more Luthors in our lifetime than any MLKs, Ghandis or Mother Teresas.