BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
We saw the second “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie last weekend. It provided another opportunity for my GirlFriend to criticize my love for just about all things Marvel Comics. Guilty! Since my teen years I’ve loved Avengers, Conan, Daredevil, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, New Mutants, Thor, X-men, and oh-so-many others.
The critique was not just about my taste in “literature” but also conveyed concern and disapproval of what impact these movies have on people and society. Here, my girlfriend agrees with Bill Maher when the latter criticizes these movies (and not just Marvel, but DC Comics based ones, too) for being repetitive and distracting viewers from the knowledge that they can address societal problems.
I suppose in some way, the argument is that these movies are not only “opiates of the masses” or “bread and circuses,” but also that they debilitate us because they create an expectation that (a) SuperHero(es) will appear to improve our lot and save us from the ills our societies confront. I don’t hear the same critiques of the massive sports-industrial complex that sucks up huge sums of money, time, and attention from millions of people in the U.S. and billions worldwide. Why?
They are just plain wrong! Along with many others who criticize these movies, they just don’t get it. Plus, they are missing what is, at least, the other side of the story if not the whole reality.
First, let’s get one thing straight. We’re discussing movies, entertainment. Though they can also serve other, higher (or more debased, even debauched) purposes. Expending this much effort addressing them is itself ridiculous. Here, it’s worth noting that those in the Armenian community who have been critical of “The Promise” fall into the same trap. This might be more of an LA area phenomenon given the huge role the movie industry plays in the region, I’m not sure. But so many people seem to think themselves experts on the acting, screenplay, special effects, and a host of other movie-making arcana that make my eyes glaze over. Based on these, they come to conclusions about how “good” a movie is instead of just enjoying the story being told.
What I see in Marvel Comics’ characters, and even DC Comics’, is inspirational. All those superheroes have dark, enlightened, frail, powerful, and other very human traits. They are us. The same applies to the villains who populate these comic books’ worlds. Quite contrary to the criticism that watching these movies can create an expectation of/desire for a “savior” to come along, I think they trigger something in people which makes them realize that they CAN indeed BE the “superheroes” of their societies. Look at the “alter-egos” and origins of an overwhelming majority of the comic book characters. They are frail humans (Thor- Don Blake the lame doctor; Iron Man- the guy kept alive by a machine because of heart damage; Superman, Batman, many of the X-men, and lots of others are effectively or really, orphans; many have suffered great losses). What better way of saying to everyone? “These heroes are YOU.”
Let me present this in another way. Why is it acceptable for the human condition, fantasy, titillation, mystery, or adventure to be experienced through William Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Harlequin Romance books, Agatha Christie, or Herman Melville, but not through comic book superheroes?
In fairness, the criticism about people seeking a messiah is not wholly misplaced. But it is not a problem rooted in comic book movies, rather a much more generalized phenomenon. The idea that top-down solutions exist is far too prevalent for my taste in Armenian circles. The expectation that the Republic of Armenia’s governance can be fixed without incessant pressure from the people is utterly ridiculous and should be countered at every turn. But that’s what movies like these do, to the extent that they have any socio-political impact. They inspire people to pick up their Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) or open their eyes to shoot out red force beams (like X-man Scott Summer/Cyclops) or use their magic (like Dr. Strange) or … etc. etc. to stop their tormentors and make things one step better.
We should be contacting Stan Lee, the main driving force behind Marvel, to integrate Sassoontzee Tavit, Koorkeeg Jelalee, and Toorn Gedzagee into the Marvel Multiverse. (Hercules and many other myths and legends have already found their way there!)