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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 10/06/2003
Volume 2, #97

So I'm sitting there in the Sixth Avenue Cafeteria with Clark, expecting him to describe how I changed Superman to suit the changes in the post war ethos when he says unexpectedly: "In the early years of the new century, up to around 2004, people got trapped into a narrow version of reality so that, except for the really small kids, they didn't take Superman very seriously, although with George Bush and his corrupt presidency and the mess of the Iraq War and Al Qeda, you'd think..."

"Wait, I interrupted. "You're talking about my time. But you're not explaining why Superheroes are suddenly less important. I would think they'd be even more important..."

"Trouble is that ideas of reality get pretty well fixed by the new century. You see, large segments of science have achieved a kind of orthodoxy, thanks to grants, publishing privileges, university chairs, so that a single notion of reality has taken over. What I call, ‘out there' reality.

"The work of other scientists such as Bohm and Everett, the multi-dimensional universe guy, well, a few anyway, is largely ignored. Reality is what you can locate in your experiments. As observers. So, of course, superheroes are just fairy tales. Unfortunate, but science today, for the most part, doesn't understand different kinds of reality."

"Now wait," I said. "Different kinds of reality? Is there more than one kind?"

"I'll put it to you this way," Clark said. "Lately there have been new manifestations of the Virgin Mary. Whole crowds of people claim to have seen her. Not the first time, of course. Now, are these people sharing a delusion? Or are they seeing something real? Most science calls it delusion -- in one way or another.

"But when I pose the question that way, I'm misleading you to start with. I'll put it this way, Yes, The Virgin's real. But--without the people, she wouldn't be there. They created her by their joined beliefs. BUT SHE"S STILL REAL. Even more extreme example-- Hitler--this half baked non-entity from Austria--how did he achieve all that power? How did he ever take over the minds and hearts of a civilized, intelligent people like the Germans? Very simply-- he became the embodiment of German resentment--of something in the German spirit of the time--Nietzsche warned that it was there and was coming, maybe seventy years ago. So how do these non-entities like Hitler, or in your time, Bin Laden, grow to become so important?

"The ground is ready, prepared for them by a thousand things that spread through the human imagination. The injustice of the Versailles Treaty after World War I, for example, sudden German impoverishment, mass resentment, such that any one of these half-baked malcontents can stumble into the role because the role is there, ready to grab the first prospective candidate. And that's why, in America, you now see George Bush--another non-entity, elevated by a tide in the American psyche--emerging out of the battle of fundamentalisms.

"Counter ideas will destroy this overblown midget--but in the meantime--great damage is occurring. In fact, the American psyche is at a turning point. The reality of everything America was believed to be about is being challenged. The beacon of hope for the world is being transformed into the world's imperial bully. No, it's not George Bush's fault. There are thousands like him that could have been swept into the role he's playing, and which he couldn't play unless the whole notion of value came to be based on financial power instead of human value. So you get the rich against the poor. You get a war within the nation, and a lot of believers who think the market and things like the World Trade Organization which battens on the weakness and poverty of smaller nations, have taken the place of the beacon that the US once was, welcoming the poor and the dispossessed to a land of freedom. Now, they've become victims, instead of being welcomed as they once were. Imagine it--the immigrants--forced to march for their rights! And the same thing is happening in the Muslim world where a great scientific and artistic and tolerant tradition has suddenly fallen into the hands of the literalists and the jihadists, perverting the Quran and its teachings.

"In any case," Clark went on, growing more eloquent by the minute, "you have to understand that reality isn't a just ‘out there' thing. It draws its sustenance from mass beliefs and shapes the world into a masque of hideous faces and forces. Smudging out any possibility of strong Superman and superhero images. No, today, we need something else. We need strong minds, strong voices." Suddenly, he broke off and shook his head. "Reality," he said after a while, has many faces and many dimensions. You may not like the one you're seeing now, but you're going to have to work to change it. It's not a job for Superman anymore."

He looked hard at me. "It's up to you now. And your friends. The ones who remember the real America and what it stood for before it was kidnapped by the Enrons and Halliburtons and worshippers of the financial markets, with the help especially of those literal minded, well intentioned, super-moralist prigs who are trying to mold all the rest of the nation into their rigid, literalist puritanical standards, who will kill just to prove that "thou shalt not kill"

is only meant to apply to those other guys." He broke off suddenly. "So, where does that leave you," he asked in a lowered voice.

"Up to me. Where it always really has been, hasn't it?"

"Absolutely," Clark said. "Eternal vigilance...."

<< 09/29/2003 | 10/06/2003 | 10/13/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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