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Human X
© 2018 Daniel Hodge

© 2018 Daniel Hodge

by Daniel Hodge

This is a bizarre moment in the human experience. 

For what reasons haven't we bred out the ingroup behavioral tendency? Is it still evolutionarily advantageous? Is it compatible with our globalized society? Is all the virtue signaling necessary? Is not the greatest information war yet experienced (though largely unnoticed) by humanity on the greatest scale of all time being waged right now? Is this the ebb and flow of Yugas? Is this the simulacra or the simulation? Is this chaos theory expressing itself as an information free for all considering the subjectivity of human experience, the indefinite future, and the impending death of our selves and our deep concern with the meaning of existence? 

Are we to choose sides at all or sit back and watch as us apes do our ape thang? 

No. The herd is too comfortably ignorant and lulled into the hypnotic dream state of the modern consumer to ask these questions. They'd rather bitch at each other, march, tear shit down, blow shit up, take artificially constructed sides, and eventually destroy one another for good. And for what? 

The inability to communicate, seek understanding, seek peace, seek growth, seek life. The blinding cognitive dissonance of a desire to be right, and on the right side of history for that matter. When we're too narcissistic to be able to understand that we're humans, each with hopes, fears, and dreams. That our lives, beliefs, experiences, thoughts, and opinions could all be drastically different if we had been born at any other time, to any other family (or not), in any other place. 

And the fact that there are very, very bad people in this world who understand these intricate yet basic facets of humankind and wield them in malicious and self-serving ways; often to make money and/or satisfy their sick perversions and sate their god complexes. Looking at you, Soros. Koch bros.

These are the slave masters who move entire populations to devastation. These are the merchants of death that send men and women to fight and die over intangible squabbles between this special class of untouchables. You know, the ones your politicians serve. And here we thought it was the constituents. Smh. 

And yet we fight our neighbors, employ senseless and nonproductive name calling, blame one another, and lose touch with our humanity. Meaningless spectres are conjured and pounced on by the starving masses. Makes you wonder if it's all intentional. 

This is not thriving. Come back to reality.

Ye gets it. Now we wait on the people. 

Pursuit of the Hyper Real Hero: America's Love of the MCU
© 2018 Chad McNabb

© 2018 Chad McNabb

a collaborative article by Chad McNabb + Daniel Hodge
Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is a generation by models of a real without origin or reality
— Jean Baudrillard

This May will mark the 10th anniversary of the release of the original Iron Man film, and the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) box office domination. It’s hard to overstate the success of these films.  Over the last ten years, the 18 films of the MCU have generated just shy of 15 billion dollars in revenue. This is not including the merchandise deals also valued at billions of dollars. Recent films in the MCU franchise such as Black Panther are continuing to break box office records. With more and more of these films being turnt out every year it’s safe to say the MCU isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  The time has come to question this.

This wasn’t always the case. Before Stan Lee achieved holy GOAT status, the history of the MCU pre-2008 is largely one of failure. In the late 80s onwards, Marvel housed more bombs than Ted Kaczynski’s cabin.  Howard the Duck, Elektra, and Punisher films all lost money.  The 1990 Captain America film which had a 10 million dollar budget, had box office receipts of just over $10,000.00, dying a straight-to-video death. The outlook of the fully produced 1994 Fantastic Four film was so bad, it remains unreleased! 

But something happened in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. The movies got better sure, but that’s not it.  The plots of these films are very similar to their failed predecessors. The special effects of these turds were largely on par (or better) than those of their time.  What changed, was America.  

To understand 2008, we must first look at the year before it. What happened in 2007?  A lot to make the world retreat to their polarized corners.  In 2007 alone, the iPhone is released. Twitter and Facebook become global platforms; Amazon unveils the Kindle. YouTube is purchased by Google. This life-altering year is profiled with considerable stank and gusto by Thomas L. Friedman in his book Thank You for Being Late.  So let’s move forward to 2008.  On September 15, 2008, about 4 months after Iron Man is released, Lehman Brothers collapses, triggering the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Which means that while many Americans were getting their Iron Man on, they were living in houses they were about to lose, that they could never afford in the first place. 

Americans in 2008 were yearning for hope.  After being exposed to new technology that only further alienated and polarized them, Americans wanted to feel like Americans again.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is emblematic of this nihilism.  In an attempt to recreate misguided 60’s nostalgia, Americans took to the streets in a synthetic attempt to protest a complex financial system so disconnected few of them understood it. What exactly were they protesting? The election of Barack Obama in November 2008 is further direct evidence of this.   His platform was literally “hope” and “change”. However, many more Americans placed their hope that year in Tony Stark and the MCU. Sho Nuff.

The MCU never succeeded pre-2008, because there was no need for it.  There was a sense of collective identity that outweighed the voice of the individual. Granted, America has always been a country of divisions, but these were largely a battle of ideas.  Not narcissistic alienation or outright exile. Even the philosophy of the vile 60s is telling.  Protestor’s goals were quite utilitarian in retrospect. “Leave us be, we don’t expect you to understand us. Just move out of the way.” Society today blames the other side for their problems and shortcomings.  In the 1960’s, counter-culture chose the middle finger, today it’s always the index.  The MCU allows us to use the index finger not to point straight out to an enemy, but up to a greater good.

There are no longer bonds that make us all Americans.  The American idea has failed. We can longer get behind someone as a “hero”.  We no longer see greatness in our leaders.  There are no more Roosevelt’s, Kennedy’s, or Patton’s.  But we can all agree on the fantastical “extra” that is Captain America or Iron Man.  Americans still have hope for an external communal existence bigger than the individual, a collective hero. We have often gone to the movies to escape. The question should be, what are we escaping to? The MCU allows you to escape into a collective world of duty, hope, and honor. We are grasping on to a thread of hope, even if we have to make it up. It’s not just a distraction; it’s something to believe in. 

Enter, the sidekick with some additional albeit different perspective.

An interesting facet of the escapism delivered by the MCU is that it offers us a compartmentalized, identifiable force that is easily discernable as the bad, in stark contrast with the easily identifiable force that is the good. Never mind that the spawn of the MCU’s “enemy” was ostensibly conjured by the negligence of the superheroes in the first place, what’s important is that the enemy, from the lay-perspective, is distilled enough into the bad guy/group who is villainous chiefly because the aims are against humanity, thereby unjust prima facie.

And theirs is a cause of justice and cosmic balance, after all.

Swooping in to save humanity from the ails of utter extinction, slavery, or worse, subordination to otherworldly beings with questionable fashion sense, are these superheroes:  humanoid beings with powers and personal affectations of altruism so great that power or wealth have no primacy over the pursuit of justice and the provision of humanitarian aid. This is a hyperreal aim, as it has no basis as a positive characteristic in human nature. It is aspirational.

In the objective sense, there would be no humanity or civilization if there were superheroes from the outset. Yet, as the saying goes, faith is the essence of things hoped for – and when nothing seems to mean anything, perhaps the victory over otherworldly injustice (over which normal humans have no intrinsic power) behooves our collective faith. Mr. Joseph Campbell has much to say on this topic, especially our propensity for latching onto origin stories and subsequent identification with the hero’s trials. It’s likely not a stretch that the recent uptick in superhero fandom has increased in lockstep with the inclusion of these superhero’s trials and the human-like problems they encounter along the way. 

The contrast between the Iron Man and Thor origin stories is a particularly striking quirk in the MCU. Tony Stark is a human genius channeling his vast wealth and knowledge while Thor is more of a mythical god, tasked with protecting and serving humanity. One broadcasts his identity while the other chooses to downplay. Interestingly, their common denominator is a collective pursuit of justice characterized by a hyperreal conviction:  that humanity is worth saving.

And perhaps we need to be reminded of this basic tenet of existence as Dawkins’ attempts to do with The Selfish Gene. Perhaps the emphasis on the hero’s journey and the less-than-super inner conflicts and tribulations experienced by the MCU superheroes affords us a chance to see the value of working together to achieve common aims. Even if the ultimate reason is a zero-sum game, when presented from the perspective of extra-human beings, the beauty of existence is confirmed as worth preserving.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.
— Joseph Campbell