Friday, April 4, 2014

Present Tense

So I saw the new Captain America movie today with my 12 yr old, Nick. It was a fun ride. But I kept thinking about all these mythic tropes that keep presenting themselves in our modern comic book movies...starting with the previews.

Coming Soon! The movie about a terrible menace that is brought up from the deep earth by the machinations of hubristic humans who think they can control nature. There will be wreckage, there will be chaos, and there will be conspiracy: what is the secret the government is keeping from us? Why are they lying to us? What is about to happen? We are about to be destroyed all the way back to the stone age! [We've heard that before, right? Bomb them back to he stone age!]

Who will win?

Next up: the forthcoming Great War of the X-Men Mutants and...? Some mysterious, all-powerful enemy that can out-blast all our heroes. Former enemies must form an alliance to confront the even greater evil. It is so bad, we must go back in time to stop this thing from even starting! [Check that out: go back in time. An idea that comes up again in our feature film.] Who will win? Good? Formerly Bad, but now Good? Weird, unnamed menace that is threatening everything?

Who will win?

Next up: the war among the races from other planets over the hidden queen of the good people. The bad guy on the throne tries cruelly, and impulsively to hold on to power. All of this has something to do with the planet Jupiter! At the center of this story is the heroine - the lost queen of the great empire, but she does not know her true identity. The hero will try to convince her of her true nature, while saving her from the danger that surrounds. The heroine is a house-cleaner, but the hero tells her: it is not what you do, but who you are that matters! Cinderella in space!

Again the lingering question: Who will win?

And now for our Feature! Captain America is honest and pure, but doubts are creeping in: can he trust that he is doing the right thing? What are these missions for, anyway? Something is happening here and what it is is not very clear, there's a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.... And who is the Big Bad Wolf? The guy we most trust and rely on, and the institution he represents. Turns out it is all a deep undercover operation to rule the world by ridding it of free-thinking trouble-makers and controlling all the rest of us, so we will be happy. The fascists from WWII have been in stealth-mode engineering a world of order over chaos. Their well-meaning desire to combat chaos requires a solution justified by the ends: kill the several million would-be troublesome [read: disobedient, sincere, creative, self-determining, true American types]  Our heroes: the great ragtags, brought together by our indomitable Achilles: the Captain. Yet, even as the Big Bad Guy is a sly, deceiving two-face, his muscle is a brain-washed former good guy, turned into an evil hammer until he confronts the hero and memory stirs. [Reminiscent of the meeting between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.]

What must they do against the vast, impenetrable fortress of power? Against all odds? Destroy the destruction capability. Train the weapons on the weapons. Unmake the ring of power. Plenty of fun destroying in the name of ending destruction!

Here is a basket full of modern mythic tropes: the real enemy is in our most trusted institutions and our most trusted leaders. The real heroes are rogue outsiders. The real solution is to expose and destroy corruption. [There is a great Wiki Leaks style moment when all the secrets are sent out to the internet and there are no longer any rocks for the vermin to hide beneath!]

And in the heroic journey, our main man must come face to face with his past! He must revisit his old training grounds, his old friendships, his old nemesis. Only by confronting the past can he overcome the present.

Okay, so these are narrative turns we see in many of the heroic stories around us: the enemy is the institution; the hero is the free-wheeler; the solution to the corrupting influence of power is to destroy power; the jaded cynic becomes the believing companion, the lost soul finds his heart, the lies are exposed, and a new age of true liberty and freedom from fear, oppression, and injustice begins.

This is what many of us are dreaming of . This is what gives me the sense that our unease with the Present Tense is pushing through in our stories.