A Punch Assault

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Observations on superheros.

“Post coitum omne animal triste”

According to my understanding that means, “Every creature is sad after coitus.” I suppose the suggestion is that after sex, we have nothing grander to aspire to, which causes us sadness. Or perhaps it is but the sadness of another superior moment relegated to the dustbin of memory. In a current context one could suggest men are sad because we are again expected to speak in something other than grunts, and women, well, come on, we all know why they are sad. Men and all. Grunting through our exertions or grunting our sundry disapprovals.

Or approval. Enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s swan song to the Batman franchise – his grand final shot if you will. Or so he has stated. It was a hell of a thing. And long – but one could count on length to enter into the ultimate dick swinging contest between good evil and evil evil. There was much grunting, usually exertion based, though more than a little disapproval was grunted as well. Which is to be expected in any film with an animal in its title – or as its protagonist.

It is perhaps prudent to define my terms and Batman is a serviceable example of good evil vs evil evil. We culturally accept his torturing suspects to save the girl or Gotham, because even though such torture is most assuredly prominent in the evil evil category, it is done to prevent greater evil still. As when he blasts through police cruisers like broken toys in his numerous high speed pursuit/evasions – if he is able to save one life, then the 15 he killed or maimed in the process were a small price to pay.

The media of the USA is full of people engaged in some torture or another to prevent the unspeakable from occurring, usually with a digital timer counting down, tense musical stings and some dirty little brown bastard holding out for Allah. In this, we are trained in the distinctions: good evil is when we do it to them/evil evil is when they do it to us.

The Batman’s primary antagonists in this outing are Bane, a giant of a man, an animal himself, who can bend steel in his bear hands and crush a man’s skull with a well-placed boot or bomb or brutal bludgeoning with a side of Darth Vaderesque asthmatic philosophizing; and Selina Kyle, the Catbabe, always appointed stunningly in black leather stripper gear and heels to die for, or from, depending upon her mercurial affections. Of course there are many other bad guys too numerous to mention, all wretched and horrific underworld overachievers and very proud we are of them.

Of course, the title of this essay comes from another bad guy, portrayed by Al Pacino in Donny Brasco, another film of good evil going head to head with evil evil. Pacino played a loser of a mobster named Lefty who befriended Donny Brasco (played by Johnny Depp), an undercover Fed who ultimately gets a lot of other wretched assholes killed – protecting and serving and all. Lefty was seasoning some food he had cooking and applied a punch a salt which led Donny to correct him. And hilarity ensued.

Anyway…

Bane is portrayed as a huge, bear of a man. The cartoon character dressed kinda gay, like a Mexican wrestler, so they gritted his costume up and covered his face with a mask feeding him his precious gas of choice, defining his menace sufficient to make Gotham tremble. Interestingly, the actor who plays the giant Bane is young Tom Hardy (well, younger than me) who stands 5’10”. I think of all the giants put out of work by this average Joe. Or Tom.

Bane mashes a lot of people in the face. I note that behavior in a lot of movies, especially the ones which promote violence as an unfortunate, but necessary, good evil. James Bond, Jason Bourne, all the heroes in all these comic book franchises, films like Fight Club and the Matrix series, every cop movie or western, all got the goodish guys and badass guys kicking and punching and mashing and smashing each other right in the face. A lot.

Seems to me, other than the fact they would all be babbling wrecks trying to put more than two syllables together owing to the repeated head trauma, none of these guys would have any teeth. I mean were you to hit someone in the mouth hard enough to smash their head through a brick wall, their teeth would likely be everywhere not in their mouth. The ground around these fight scenes would look like a ChicletTM orgy gone horribly awry.

But at the end, all these hyper-violent men and women (for Catbabe took more than a couple to her puss as well), smile the smiles of well-funded orthodontistry. Sure, one would expect a multi-billionaire like Bruce Wayne to have all manner of new choppers available as needed, but most of the headbangers in these movies maintain their Hollywood pearly-whites on the budget of thugs and mobsters. The majority of street crime vocational opportunities don’t offer dental plans.

Which, of course, is fine from an audience perspective. We all have those nasty dreams of finding a prominent tooth missing or loose. Or worse. It is hard to look at mangled dentistry, regardless how heroic the actions which led to it were. It’s like visual bad breath: avoid the offending cake-hole at all costs.

But in a realistic sense, and these films go out of their way to make the fantastic look realistic, none of these heroes would make it through a film with more than a couple of teeth in their mouths. How could they? Generally, once the blows to the face kick off, these characters don’t have time to get their teeth worked on. And few would stop at the end of a fight and crawl about on the sullied floor and try to gather only their own teeth from the many which most assuredly would be littered there.

I consider this through the lens of 2/3 corpse Ron Kovic. Ron, you may recall, was a young aspiring jock, suckled on Audie Murphy and John Wayne films, who joined the Marines at 18 and lost his body from his chest down by 21, the age he could legally drink in America. Where he lost his America First war fervor was where he lost his manhood: Vietnam. A place he shouldn’t have been because we shouldn’t have been there, denied him and hundreds of thousands of others their ability to walk, talk, see, hear, feel, fuck. Their ability to live.

Kovic says in his book Born on the Fourth of July that had he seen the real cost of war to the people who are engaged in it, not the sanitized, heroic Hollywood propaganda, it would have likely colored his choices differently.  

If John Wayne had had his legs blown off, or Audie Murphy had been horribly burned and lost his arms in their war movies; if the soldiers who came to indoctrinate the students at high schools all over the nation had been crippled and maimed (as so many are) and warned all the boys and girls also suckled on propaganda that they would never be able to have sexual intercourse; no families; disappearing friends; limited job opportunities; tragic futures, and a bag and diaper for relief every night for the rest of their lives, how many would have considered what would be demanded of them instead of reacting with the imprudence of patriotism?

“Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”

Bertrand Russell

In real battles, where actual people engage in life and death struggles with each other, a single bullet can kill or cripple a fully realized person. A single blow to the head or kick can end a person’s capacity to do the things most of us take for granted. When our media heroes are wounded, even grievously, they are never disfigured. Consider John McClane from Die Hard: Here is a guy who in real life would ambulate in a wheelchair and shit in a bag under the best of conditions, but just keeps getting better over the decades. Hard to kill? You bet. Money making franchises assuredly are.

That’s why they don’t show what would happen to these characters were they to actually engage in this behavior: crippling injury. Inability to support themselves or help themselves or those they love. Disfiguring wounds. Horrible burn scars. Batman got torched in the first remake Batman Begins falling from a multi-storied building, but you’d never know it after the fact. We don’t want our heroes as toothless bruise bags covered in burn scars. That’s too much like real life, the thing we watch these movies to avoid.

Batman has retired by the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises and so has Bruce Wayne, who hobbles around the newly retrofitted, stately Wayne Manor with a cane, a victim of his earlier extra-curricular nocturnal activities. Now, while Bruce does offer us consequence for his sundry amazing behaviors, he still looks whole – no overt scarring, limbs still attached, his teeth look great. Sure, when his shirt comes off, he is clearly a marked man, but only his select women, Alfred, Lucius and we, the loyal viewing audience, get to see that much of him, so his poorly maintained secret is maintained. Poorly.

Some Gothamites (and Bane) have noted that Batman would necessarily have to be mega-rich with access to some amazing stuff. A simple Google search of billionaire industrialists in Gotham in their early thirties and anyone even slightly interested knows who the Batman is. So disappearing at exactly the same time as Batman goes on the lam is one of Bruce Wayne’s many mistakes, perhaps the result of too many blows to the head.

He is confounded by Catbabe and broken in half (in one piece) by Bane and left in the hell hole of, well, some hellish place to die among the scum of the Earth. Here, with a serious untreated spinal break, as well as numerous other trauma-based wounds (teeth still accounted for), he and his fellow annoyers of authority nurse him back to top physical condition and after only 8 years of sitting around on his arthritic ass. Way to go Bruce!

Ron Kovic had the best treatment available to enlistees or inductees in the USA in the 60s and 70s and while not a hellish prison, the VA couldn’t put him or hundreds of thousands of others back together. Of course war is real and movies are fantastic, but clearly boys drawn into warlike scenarios are more inclined to such behaviors, not measuring all the degrees of life between the top of one’s form and death. And boys and girls are trained to define heroism through the lens of distraction: movies, sports, TV. The Web.

Where even the losers look good.

Everyone knows media is fiction, nobody really thinks life can function in such a manner. At least, that is what we tell ourselves. But in reality, people do believe this stuff can happen, and not just a few. Lots of them. People believe impossible stuff they see, impossible stuff they are told, that they read – out of convenience as much as anything I suspect – stuff that defies everything we have come to accept as humans. When an exceptional man is posited, we can accept that because we all know them, or at least of them. A resilient fellow with a ready supply of armaments and bottomless draw from the money spigot could be imagined to do these things, especially with the fine veneer of science and technology applied liberally. A willing suspension of disbelief.

Young minds dare to hope. Hope they’ll be heroic, hope they’ll survive, hope they’ll impress whomever it is they seek to impress. With no concept of consequences, foolish behavior becomes inconsequential, young minds make poor choices based upon earlier poor choices and young bodies suffer. Real men, even real men who play Supermen, break under diverse circumstances. Christopher Reeve became virtually 7/8 a corpse upon falling from his horse. Not long after that he went 100% corpse and another man of steel was stolen from a hero hungry public. The earlier TV incarnation, George Reeves, proved to be slower than a speeding bullet fired at close range.

Batman, over the course of the current franchise, has been shot repeatedly, stabbed, burned, punched, kicked, slammed, fallen from buildings, hit by moving vehicles, slammed into stationary objects, poisoned, pummeled nearly into Batjam and finally snapped like a twig. (We won’t even go into his being nuked.) Through all this mayhem and carnage, his teeth remain perfect, his face unscarred, all of his appendages and extremities function and on top of that, he still gets the girl. The advantages of fictional living.

Impossible heroism has its rewards (in the realm of the impossible) but it has its price as well, as generation after generation of young people perceive the human ideal against a marker of the fantastic instead of the possible. When one aspires to Batman-like heroics, the job at Mickey D’s holds a diminished appeal. When we aspire to the achievable we stand the chance of achievement – when we aspire to the impossible or even merely improbable the surety of our failure kills our will to strive. We become observers of life, no longer participants.

And as observers we all know what it takes to spice up any fare – just add a punch assault!

Bon appetite!

                                                            © 2012

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