In the first of a pair of Fun Sized episodes this month, we sit down in the studio with Roslyn Townsend to get extra meta-topical. We talk about the phenomenon of “misdirected fandom.” Why do some fans not seem to understand or even deny that characters like Breaking Bad‘s Walter White or Watchmen‘s Rorschach have ever crossed any ethical lines?
Are all interpretations of fiction and art valid? Can a property’s fans’ behavior make it hard to enjoy? Can an artist’s views or behavior overshadow their work?
We also dig into the world of 1970s science fiction where everyone wears a cape, all hair is big, and everything is brown.
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This is very similar to what you had in the 70’s, with characters like Harry Callahan, Popeye Doyle, Don Corleone, Butch and Sundance or The Man With No Name. Being a hero wasn’t so much about being virtuous as it was being charismatic, cool, or just good at what you did.
If you were a cool, tough badass, and your opponents were weenies, degenerates and nebbishes, then that alone justified your actions.
Being likable, charismatic and competent has a lot more to do with whether a character is ‘the hero’ than any kind of philosophical or moral stance. Often, you can only tell the good guy from the bad guy by who’s standing at the end – the ‘Might makes Right’ philosophy.
Gods, I could go on about this forever.
Anyway. One area where this is especially pronounced is professional wrestling, which is kind of weird, because the whole thing is a kind of theatrical shorthand – there are good guys (babyfaces) and bad guys (heels) and the good guys fight the bad guys, with the bad guys getting the upper hand with dastardly tactics, until the good guys finally overcome them with strength of character and the support of the crowd.
That’s kind of the archetypal pro-wrestling narrative.
Oddly enough, probably the most well-known wrestler in history, Hulk Hogan, while talking up the benefits of “saying your prayers and eating your vitamins”, always wrestled like a heel and would use foreign objects, ambush his opponent, scratch, gouge and bite… but because he was doing it to “bad guys”, it was seen as somehow okay?
As the 90’s and early 2000’s wore on, it became even more pronounced and the ‘cool heel’ began to rule the scene. Essentially, matches became feuds between rival arseholes, with the coolest of the two being declared the ‘good guy’ or as close as you’re going to get. It even became fashionable for overtly moral characters like Owen Hart as The Blue Blazer or Steven Richard’s ‘Right to Censor’ be introduced as moralistic killjoys, which is worse than being a ‘bad guy’.
Hogan didn’t so much use the “heel” tactics in his WWF run, in the 80s (depending on the opponent). That was a bit more prominent in the 90s, in WCW, though he worked as a heel in his original WWF run, before doing Rocky 3 and wrestling in the AWA, in Minnesota.
There were actually a few “tweeners” in wrestling, before the 90s era of the “cool heel.” Guys like Dutch Mantell and Dick Murdoch would play it both ways and people like Jerry Lawler and Ric Flair would be babyfaces in their home territory and heels everywhere else. In fact, in the territorial days, the touring NWA World Champion would usually wrestle as either a “subtle heel,” who might get a bit rough, but, generally wrestled a technical style; or, they would be an out an out despicable heel. That was more true in the late 70s and 80s, when Ric Flair was champion, than in the earlier era of people like Dory and Terry Funk, Jack Brisco, and Harley Race.
You know, I want to participate in your non-test, but I’m just not a good enough artist, and there’s no way I could do some mocking version of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns style. But if I could, my entry would be a grim ‘n’ gritty Our Gang/Little Rascals, as young adults, all members of one of those post-WW2 biker gangs…
Quick point on the original Battlestar Galactica: the Cylons weren’t created by man. In that version, the Cylons were a reptilian race that evolved into a cybernetic society. It’s covered more in the novels and in the series bible; but not explored much in the series. At its heart, the original BSG was old fashioned space opera, mixed with biblical and Mormon mythology. It started well, then degenerated into doing homages to various films, like Guns of Navarone and the Dirty Dozen, Patton, The Towering Inferno, Shane, and The Magnificent Seven. It was fun when I was a teenager, though. We were starved for watchable sci-fi, in the 70s. It was the closest to capturing Star Wars, of the imitations that popped up in its wake.
The 70s ushered in a great amounts of anti-heroes, as the country dealt with the aftermath of Vietnam and the corruption of the Nixon administration on display. Things were a mess, so people were drawn to dark heroes who stood on their own, exacting justice. Really, it wasn’t much different from the pulp heroes and comic book characters that emerged during the Depression. It seems to run in cycles. When society seems to be on a downward trend, we get anti-heroes, and when it’s on an ascendancy (perceived), we get more noble ones.
One of the reason I pretty much drifted away from mainstream comics was the evolution of characters into dark, violent vigilantes. It’s one thing to have a somewhat darker hero, in a Batman, who uses fear and terror as a weapon, but has lines he wont cross vs characters who are gutting their enemies. Even the brighter heroes have descended into this. The DC movies wallow in it. I started out liking the Nolan Batman, until Dark Knight took it completely dark. This idea that everything has to be dark and have “realistic” motivations is ridiculous, since its still about a guy who puts on a cape to fight street crime. Bruce Wayne could do more to improve Gotham with his money than Batman ever could by attacking street crime and fighting colorful psychos. Come on Hollywood, its a guy parading around in his underwear, punching out thugs and wild villains. Embrace it and make it entertaining. It can still be serious, without being dire.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to draw it and upload; but, here’s my idea for a Dark Knight redo of beloved children’s characters: Curious George, wearing the wrap around punk sunglasses of the Mutants. He has on a black vest and spiked wristbands. He has a spiked mohawk. In one hand is a big knife, with a jagged edge; in the other, a shredded yellow hat. The caption: “George got VERY curious!” In fact, picture a whole comic. A storm is building, George is on a rampage, finally, in a crash of thunder the lost hero reappears: Pooh, the Dark Bear (of little brain). He is massive, after a retirement filled with honey. He trades the red shirt for a grey one, with a bat-winged honey pot in the center and a black cape and cowl (with bear ears). He acquires a sidekick, a plucky young female, in a yellow hat; Madeline. Together, they fight to take down George and the other marauding characters, only to find the real villain at the center: Christopher Robin! He has grown old and cynical, in a harsh adult world, and is out to show the world what it has done to youthful innocence! Eeyore is his reluctant henchman. Even if Pooh survives this madman, he still has to face the ultimate corporate symbol, in a final showdown: Mickey Mouse! Oh, and Eloise appears as an old hooker.
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In regards to wanting a darker edgier Captain Planet, it already exists as Werewolf the Apocalypse (WtA). WtA was created by White Wolf studios as part of their original World of Darkness role playing game line in the 90’s. In the game you are basically a planeteer, with some differences. Instead of magic rings, you have magic powers given to you by spirits. Instead of summoning Captain Planet you become a 9 foot rage monster. The main antagonist is a mega corporation that secretly worships the embodiment of corruption, and often behave like the villains on Captain Planet.
WtA can be a little cheesy, but in the hands of a good Game Master can be a lot of fun. If you want to know more about the game look up the current publisher Onyx Path. They have worked to update the game and include the werewolves reaction to events like the gulf oil spill.
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