I am quite certain not everyone watches for superhero movies like I do. They are a life long passion for me. So when new trailers for superhero movies are released, I look. With the release of the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron less than two weeks away, the trailers, teasers, inside looks, and interviews are coming hot and heavy. Worry not, I will not make you suffer through the diatribe on the potential pitfalls this movie faces to which my Facebook friends were treated.
Amongst fandom, perhaps as strongly anticipated as the Avengers movie is Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice set for release next year. Last week the first teaser trailer dropped. It is a very dark and brooding thing. This is something very different from the colorful and truly heroic characters of my youth. In this most modern of takes, colors are muted, the world is dark and heroes are questioned.
This was made most apparent as almost immediately a spoof trailer dropped featuring the soundtrack of the new movie trailer and scenes from the Adam West Batman material and the Christopher Reeve Superman stuff. It was meant, I think, to show how silly those old versions were, but it also showed something missing from the newer version. In the new view our heroes have power, but we need more to worry about what could go wrong than how they have helped us. We are more in fear of what bad might happen instead of grasping at the good that could happen. Those with power are immediately under suspicion.
That is not surprising really. Obama is the first presidential candidate in a very long time whose life the press did not obsessively comb though looking for the third grade girl he teased but never kissed as a sign of character weakness. He was proclaimed a hero before he ever did anything. (Can anybody say “Nobel Peace Prize”?) And yet he has been such an utter disappointment. Even those that support him know things are in the dumper. When our “real life” heroes are so hollow, is it any wonder our fictional ones are as well?
Yet I cannot help but think that the reason for our national epics (surely Superman and Captain America play the same role in our society that Odysseus and Aeneas did for Greece and Rome) turning so dark has to do with something even deeper in our national character. Our politicians tend more to be mirrors than trendsetters.
Surely stuff like this contributes. Peter Singer and his abhorrent views are not news to anyone that follows issues of life, but the fact that he gets attention is problematic. It used to be no one ever heard of people like Singer. Nowadays, because everybody wants some hits, somebody is going to report on the latest idiot thing he said. Outrageous is one thing – evil is another. Singer’s views are evil and while he has a “right” to his views, transmitting them is contributing to that evil. We have lost something of our moral compass in pursuit of something vaguely resembling fame.
There has been a lot of examination of Marco Rubio’s patchwork religious history. At the Daily Beast,
Today, while Americans are more likely than ever to hold supernatural beliefs and have religious experiences, they are also less likely than ever to go to church, particularly an institutional church. They are increasingly likely to believe that they can formulate their own beliefs, and that institutional churches have no particular authority to teach them one way or another, and that religious dogma is something on which one can simply agree to disagree, and where every view is equivalent.
The decline of institutional religion is mostly self-caused. Mainline Protestantism transformed itself into a religion of social activism, jettisoning the focus on Christ and creed that has made the Christian church so successful over the millennia. The Catholic Church, beyond its litany of scandals, has only ever so rarely succeeded in (or even tried) communicating the depth of its doctrine, the beauty of its rites, and the mystical uplift that its spiritual traditions can provide.
This explains, I think, part of the reason for our increasingly dark views of the world. Our view of what religion can do for ourselves and the world has become quite limited. Without the institutional power provided by denomination (as opposed to congregation) personal redemption becomes at best a form of halting self-improvement.
One of the artistically most interesting comics out there right now is called “Suicide Squad.” So successful is this book that a movie is slated for 2016. It is the story of a group of really murderous nasty villains forged by an unnamed government entity into a team to do the missions too “dirty” for the super heroes. You get hooked into the story by the promise of redemption of these most heinous of characters. But after a while you need to take a shower when you read the book. The characters over and over reach the edge of real, serious redemption only to find their old murderous habits reasserting themselves. The message seems to be that fundamentally, no matter how hard we try, we can never really be redeemed. This seems right in line with Gobry’s observations.
David French noted over the weekend a rise in “negative partisanship.” This is a bad development. Where it can lead should be obvious to the world at the current moment. This too comes when we reduce the religious institutions as Gobry observes we have. Faith no longer serves to build a better world, it serves only for our own self-gratification. Frankly, we can agree to disagree on doctrinal issues, so long as we agree that our doctrine is intended to make a a better world by making a better us. Nowadays we expect nothing more of our doctrine than to make us “feel good about ourselves.”
Government cannot make the world better. The best it can do is enable us to make a better world, mostly be getting out of the way. Religion on the other hand is supposed to make a better world. No matter who prevails in the next election, or any elections that follow – no matter what policies they enact after those elections – this dark, unhealthy view of the world will not improve until religion improves, and we allow it to improve us.