Sunday, February 19, 2017

Arrow: Or, Virtue Rewarded

In the early 1700s, as printing technology expanded and became more affordable, books were no longer strictly available to the aristocratic classes. The great unwashed gained access and, as you might expect, this caused considerable consternation among the cultural elites. They could handle the subtleties and complexities of fiction. But moral ambiguity would be lost on the working class. Therefore, it became important for the enlightened upper class elites to impart their wisdom through their art. It couldn’t just entertain— it needed to instruct the hoi polloi as to how best to conduct themselves.

As a result there was a rise in moralizing works along the lines of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded. This book is, I’m not joking, about a servant called Pamela Andrews who resists her employer’s repeated attempts to rape her. Finally, for her virtuous ability to fight off his attacks, she’s “rewarded” with a marriage proposal. Check out the cover for the 1741 edition, which it’s asserted the book was published “to cultivate the Principles of VIRTUE and RELIGION in the Minds of the YOUTH of BOTH SEXES.”

Sorry if you're triggered by seeing something that asserts there are only two sexes.

Throughout history there’s always been a tendency for humans—mostly of the upper classes, the wealthy, the elites—to assume they know what’s best for everyone else. And to attempt to impose that morality on others. Or at least instruct them on what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s the impulse that motivated Meryl Streep’s embarrassing hectoring diatribe at this year’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony (ah, the irony of holding oneself up as a moral arbiter at a ceremony created by a group that formed to scam movie studios out of free bottles of wine and promotional swag!). And it’s the impulse that motivates Marc Guggenheim’s assertion that he’s going to use his comic book-based TV shows to promote his own specific worldview. First up, "Arrow."

“I’m an unapologetic progressive,” he said. “But the thing that I’ve noticed is that not talking about issues serves a conservative agenda, not a liberal agenda.”

Green Arrow, the featured Intellectual Property in the “Arrow” TV show, is generally portrayed as an “unapologetic progressive” in the comics. Up to this point the Oliver Queen of the TV show has been largely apolitical (despite his being the mayor of Star City now).* The show has been rewarded with decent ratings, especially for CW shows. But that might be changing:

“We went into Season 5 wanting to do an episode about an issue,” executive producer Marc Guggenheim told reporters earlier this week following a screening of the episode, lamenting that current broadcast dramas don’t often tackle topical issues the way shows like “LA Law” and “Picket Fences” did. “Gun violence felt like the right topic, because of its topicality and because of the level of gun violence is on ‘Arrow.’ We could have done an episode on abortion, but that’s not really where the show lives. So gun violence really felt like the right thing to tackle.”

I’m old enough to remember “Picket Fences” and “L.A. Law,” but are you? How often are those shows aired in re-runs? How popular are they on streaming sites? And he wants to turn “Arrow” into them? Even as Marvel's comics division, in response to dwindling sales, has decided to cut out the leftist bluenosing hectoring and get back to "meat and potatoes" storytelling.

A big problem with introducing topical discussions of political issues in art about supernatural/superscience characters is that they feature supernatural and superscience characters. The presence of "metas," who can punch buildings down or vibrate their hands into your chest to stop your beating heart or cause your innards to explode with a thought kinda changes the dynamics of the gun control debate, doesn't it? In a world like that, if you don't have an arsenal you're a fool, full stop, end of discussion.

And by the way, "metas" also change the abortion debate. "I'm against abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, and meta."

Wait a second--with all those superheroes running and flying around, why wasn't one of them around to protect Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy?

I suppose it could be worse. Guggenheim could be saying that he’s going to physically assault people whose ideas he doesn’t like. So it’s all relative.

This comes not long after the great George Perez, one of the maybe twenty best comics illustrators of all time, announced that he would honor prior commitments to appear at conventions in states carried by President of the United States Donald Trump, but would be donating proceeds from these events to progressive and leftist causes. The writer Mark Waid announced that he wouldn’t be boycotting any Trump states, but would be using his straight white male privilege to intimidate people:

I’m not hard to find at shows. If you’re a fan or creator and are ever, ever made to feel uncomfortable on a convention floor, come find me. If it’s a fleeting thing, just come hang out. If, on the other hand, you can point out the aggressors, I will rain HELLFIRE on your behalf, I PROMISE you. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you that I’ll flip tables on bullies and creeps, and I’ll have your back. And while I’ve never had to use it, I’ve got enough clout to have hatemongers flat-out thrown out of shows, and I am not above those sorts of nuclear options.

Trump didn’t carry every state in the presidential election, and he apparently lost the popular vote by a wide margin. But take a look at the election results broken down by county:


The country is a sea of red. Clinton only carried about 100 counties, meaning her appeal, and the appeal of the Democrat party, was limited and provincial. It was concentrated in a few urban areas, and even in the states that Clinton carried, which are a-okay with Perez and Waid, Trump carried most of the counties.

The entire country is an unsafe space! But don’t worry—“Arrow” is going to make you a better person. Mark Waid is going to protect the oppressed. At comic book conventions.

People opposed to Trump have taken to calling themselves a “resistance,” but the resistance has already risen up. It elected Donald Trump. Those who are trying to impose their morality on the red counties that sweep across the country—who are trying to show us how to be virtuous—have concentrated themselves in a few areas. Geographically they’re a small minority. They need to stop thinking regionally and start thinking nationally. They need to engage. They need to listen, and stop with the moralizing and the hectoring, or they’re going to further marginalize themselves.

*Full disclosure: I haven't watched "Arrow" in a few weeks. I got fed up with the Olicity thing; their breakup was pretty lame.

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