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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
Saving Baseball (and America?)
© 2018 Chad McNabb

© 2018 Chad McNabb

by Chad McNabb

Baseball is no longer synonymous with America.  The two have grown apart. America has changed, but baseball is still partying like it’s 1839.  Americans have too many other forms of entertainment at their fingertips now. In 1839, entertainment consisted largely of labor strike participation and not contracting influenza. The trends are startling but hardly surprising. According to an article by Marc Fisher in the Washington Post, Major League Baseball has the oldest viewership among any professional sport, with 50% of fans being 55 or older.  The number of kids playing little league has also continued its two-decade-long decline. There were no Major League Baseball Players on a recent ESPN sports survey of Young American’s 30 favorite sports figures. While revenues and stadium attendance are still performing well, within two decades Baseball will come to a tipping point. What is the problem? It’s killing its prospective audience with boredom. There are too many games that take way too long to play. I am proposing 10 new rules to save the game. These rules will make the game more recognizable to our troubled society. Don’t worry girl. We got this.

Rule One:  Shorten the season from 162 games to 16.

College football is the model here.  In a college football season, every game matters.  A two-loss team has little to no chance of competing for a championship.  Does baseball even matter until after the all-star break? Not really. You don’t hear many people worried about how their team is doing in April or May.  No more. Every game matters.

Rule Two:  Shorten the innings from 9 to 7.

The custom of the “seventh inning stretch” is quite telling.  If you have to sit in a position so long, watching other people play a sport, you have probably been sitting too long.  The seventh inning stretch should be done at home. Why haven’t we questioned this?! It’s an insane custom that we have ignored for too long.  No more. We speeding shit up.

Rule Three:  Install a 20-second pitch clock.

Basketball has a 24-second clock that requires players to run the length of a court, usually passing to multiple teammates before a shot is launched.  The pitcher is stationary. There is no running. Why does he need an offensive amount of time to make a decision? The first two violations in a single game result in “balls” being called.  A third violation in a single game will result in the pitcher being ejected from the game and fined. There will also be a pitch count clock that monitors the number of pitches thrown in a game.  Each team will be allowed 80 pitches per game. That should be more than enough time to get the job done.  Exceeding that number will result in a forfeit.

Rule Four:  Catcher's Stool.

Stop reading this article and attempt to squat down “catcher style” for one minute.  Now imagine doing it through the entire Return of the King length of a MLB baseball game.  It’s cruel, inhumane and nearly as damaging as NFL concussions.  We might as well be waterboarding the poor bastards. It’s not only hard on the Catchers; it’s hard on the audience to watch such smut! Catchers will rest comfortably on stools from now on.  No more.

Embed from Getty Images

Rule Five:  No Instant Replay on Television Broadcasts.

In the age of DVR, there is simply no need to show the same play 5-7 times right after it occurred.  If someone wishes to rewatch a play, that’s their business. They certainly have the technology to do it.  We no longer will collectively sit through this nonsense. Fuck it, we’ll do it live.

Rule Six:  Color Commentators:  The Straight Man & the Wild Man.

Major League Baseball is willfully ignoring the Tango & Cash dynamite pair of commentators that America has long celebrated.  The “straight” man and the “wild” man. The “straight man” is you’re no nonsense consummate insider, the stat nerd, the calm hand.  The “wild man” has little to no knowledge of the game, substance abuse problems, and is easily distracted from gameplay. We are doing this Lethal Weapon style. Imagine Bob Costas and Pete Rose.  Keith Olbermann and Sinbad! We will be bringing back the open bar to the announcer’s booth where it belongs.  

Rule Seven:  Drugs (here comes the hate).

An end to drug testing in baseball.  In an effort to recreate the magical 1998 McGuire/Sosa homerun derby season, MLB will cease drug testing immediately.  This doesn’t give a competitive edge to anyone. All players are welcome to partake, while the official league policy will remain neutral, other than to “decriminalize”. However, if a player hits a pitch completely out of the confines of the park and into the street it will count as two runs.  Think of this as baseball’s three point shot. The current MLB policy is nothing more than residual cold war paranoia of Soviet dominance in the Olympics due to performance enhancing drug use. This misguided Soviet fear has demonized the entire concept of performance enhancing drugs. As a side note, drug testing for all substances is hereby banned.  On June 12, 1970, Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while high on LSD. Fly your freak flag.

Rule Eight:  Brotherhood. 

In the spirit of baseball representing the “common man,” on the Sunday night primetime game, attendees will be encouraged to bring rotting fruit from home.  The commissioner of baseball will be contractually obligated to appear on the pitcher's mound and be pummeled with fruit from the stands for the length of AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck which will be played at maximum volume over the speakers.  Any salvageable fruit found on the field will be donated to local food banks.

Rule Nine:  Economic fairness.

The average MLB player salary is four million dollars.  Any player making less than this amount will be allowed to wager on games.  Sportsbooks will be allowed to open in the stadiums where state law is applicable.  On a related note, pitchers, the laziest breed of MLB player, will be required to work on the days they are not on the mound.  They can usher fans to the restroom, work as team mascots or get their custodian on.  The days of them chewing tobacco in the dugout are over.  Full time work for full time pay.

Rule Ten:  The Postseason.

MLB will model the college football playoff formula.  Four teams will be determined by a committee made up of former players, celebrities, politicians, and scientists to determine playoff eligibility.  Fans will also be able to vote for their choice for playoff eligibility via an official app. The top vote receiver will be guaranteed a playoff appearance.  

Share this with your friends and family.

Share this with your friends and family.

This won’t be easy.  But, think of your children.  If you love the game you must admit there is a problem on the horizon, unless drastic measures are taken.  Everything changes, often for the better. Goodbye old ass men. Go back to your ham radios and Lionel train sets.  Baseball will become watchable again for our troubled times.