Professor Geek Previews

I have some exciting content planned for my Professor Geek YouTube channel in the coming weeks. If you haven’t subscribed to my channel with your google account yet, what are you waiting for? Just sign in and click subscribe here. 

First up is a new series of three videos that will examine the character of Wonder Woman. I can’t think of another character so popular and yet so misunderstood and argued about. Part one of the series (in the video below) reveals the significance of her status as an Amazon. Part two, coming in just a couple of days, will examine the Freudian and Jungian psychoanalytic principles Marsten imbued the character with, and part three, coming next week, will trace her history to see that the tensions we see surrounding her character today have cropped up cyclically since her creation.

 

The next series is 6 shorts I recorded for the now defunct Saturday Morning Network of podcasters. The series examined key animated incarnations of Superman. I explored works from the Fleischer series down to the Bruce Timm-verse and beyond. Along the way I featured interviews with greats from the business, such as animator and director Rob Pratt and voice director and actor Ginny McSwain. Not all of these shorts aired before the Saturday Morning Network ended, so I’m going to revise them each and start posting them to my YouTube channel for six consecutive weekends. It’s great stuff, so subscribe to the channel, and even enable notifications, so you don’t miss it!

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Still Zack Snyder’s Wonder Woman

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Strung along for so long by Warner Bros, fans are desperate for a Wonder Woman movie. They are inclined to hope against hope that this upcoming movie will be a good one. I understand that. But we must maintain standards for such an important character to our cultural mythos. She is, after all, the quintessential female superhero, and it should take more than a couple lines of feminist speak and scenes of prowess on a man’s battlefield to convince us she’s being faithfully portrayed. True, the movie has not been released yet. I’ve not seen it and neither have you. By exerting just a little critical thinking, though, it’s clear that this movie has already failed the Wonder Woman mythos. I say this because of two reasons that play into each other.

The first reason is the DC cinematic universe has already introduced Wonder Woman as the wrong category of hero. All superheroes fit into one of two categories, the aspirational or the more ubiquitous cathartic/motivational. The cathartic/motivational, like Spider-Man or Green Arrow, fail—a lot. They make mistakes, act out in emotion, and reap the consequences of their rash actions. But they have good hearts, and they show us how to pick ourselves up after failures to try again. The cathartic/motivational characters are important to culture, but they only work if we have the aspirational heroes setting the standard for which the cathartic/motivational ones strive.

The aspirational heroes are simply good. They don’t need to fail first or overcome some emotional trauma. Heroism is simply in their nature. As psychologist Robin Rosenberg puts it, it’s the destiny in their origin. Precious few aspirational heroes remain. And their numbers dwindle with every continuity reboot. Shortsighted storytellers and fans believe that the aspirational heroes are too difficult to relate to, so they systematically try to rewrite them as cathartic/motivational ones (see the New 52 in comics or the DC films made so far). The problem with this rewriting is that once you’ve changed all the aspirational heroes in your universe into cathartic/motivational ones, you have no believable standards for your so-called heroes to strive for. They lose the audience’s investment, and the stories ultimately fail.

In the DC Universe, Superman and Wonder Woman have been the first and most important aspirational heroes. But Zack Snyder doesn’t believe in the aspirational hero. This isn’t an attack. It’s simply a fact. Look at the things he’s said about heroes in interviews, and look at the themes common to his films. He has torn Superman, and now Wonder Woman as explored below, ruthlessly from the aspirational pedestal and rebuilt them slap-shod as cathartic/motivational heroes. Though the characters are apparently just taking their time until the Justice League film, in which we’re told they’ll finally embrace a standard of heroism, how will they know what this standard of heroism is? They have no point of reference. You can’t develop into an aspirational hero. As already stated, the defining aspirational trait is in a heroes origin. Superman has allowed people to die and has, himself, killed. Batman has resorted to torture and killing, and as this second Wonder Woman trailer shows us, she decided after World War One (a pointless change from WWII, better suited to her origin story), that the darkness in the world is too great to bother making a difference in. “I used to want to save the world,” she says, presumably before she changes her mind around the events of BvS. Aspirational heroes might have moments of weakness or doubt, but those moments do not last a century.

This leads us to the second reason the Wonder Woman film, and ultimately the entire DC Cinematic universe, will not be remembered as a success: It’s lazy writing. Let’s look at Snyder’s “fresh” take on Superman. Clark wants to do good but grows discouraged by the public’s reception. He fails to save some people, kills a villain, and considers quitting. Then a grave new threat to the world causes him to reconsider his purpose and methods.

Now let’s look at Batman. He’s an established hero wanting to do good but grows discouraged by the existence of super-powered aliens in the world. He fails to protect people and instead begins torturing and killing on a crazed mission to execute Superman. Then a grave new threat enters the world and makes him decide to change his ways and put together the Justice League.

And finally, let’s examine Wonder Woman. She reveals herself to the world of man to fight for hope and try to do good. Then something happens to discourage her during WWI, causing her to give up. Then a grave new threat convinces her to reconsider her place in the world and her willingness to save it again.

Each member of the DC trinity, the characters who are supposed to represent the wide spectrum of the Justice League’s heroism, have the exact same backstories! And from the looks of it, Cyborg and Aqua Man are set to follow the same path There’s nothing more realistic or believable about this approach. You can’t write multiple characters in the same story to share the same beat-for-beat psychological growth. It impedes character and theme development. It’s bad writing! Storytelling is not Zack Snyder’s strong suit. As his fans often point out, he’s a visual director. It takes more than visuals, though, to make a good film.

It’s true that after BvS didn’t achieve the numbers they wanted, Warner Bros took back the God-like control of their cinematic universe they’d given Snyder. But they’ve elected to continue building on his foundation. I’ve heard people claim that we need not worry, since he’s not directing this one or is only nominally involved. But be realistic! It’s a film shot in his cinematic universe, no matter who it’s shot by. Though they’ve apparently struck his name from the credits, it has to follow the template he laid out for the universe since he’s still in control of the Justice League. I know Warner Bros is trying it’s best to bend away from his influence, but how far away can they bend while standing on it? Not far at all, it turns out. Wonder Woman is finally receiving her own film. I wish it was a cause for celebration, but unfortunately it’s a film that feels the need to change her character to appeal to a culture she’s been captivating since 1941.

X-Appeal: We’re All Mutants

The X-Men seem to only be gaining in popularity, despite fan divisions over various incarnations. I try to delve into why they strike such a chord in so many individuals. What do you think?

Suddenly I understand other people’s deep grieving over the likes of Prince and David Bowie. While I enjoyed the music of both, I didn’t have a deep personal connection to either man’s work. Darwyn Cooke, however, is another matter. His art embodied everything a hero should be and always instilled me with hope. In honor of a truly great artist and storyteller, I posted a brief analysis on what made his work such a treasure and why he left us too soon.

Positive Force

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The recent release of The Force Awakens has split my Star Wars friends down the middle. Those who were disappointed are understandably downtrodden, given their previous excitement, but many who loved the film are annoyed by the sudden break in fan solidarity. I don’t understand why. Over and over again in my news feed I see laments by Awakens enthusiasts that some people just want to be “negative.” I see questions like, “why can’t we all just appreciate different takes on entertainment?” While I enjoy the Star Wars franchise, it isn’t my fandom like superheroes are. The debate resonates with me, though, because I see these critique-silencing tactics used regarding my superhero films as well. They betray a bizarre insecurity, display basic logical fallacies, and can hide behind a self-righteous pseudo claim to positivity.

Anger at someone for not agreeing with you on a film’s value, especially when the studio is moving ahead with sequels, is really rather silly. After the ticket sales of The Force Awakens, not even the threat of a Death Star attack would stop Disney from continuing the story. So why can’t people who have genuine critiques of the film voice them? Is your own fandom so fragile that you can no longer enjoy a film if people say mean things about it? If anyone has a right to be upset at critics, it’s the fans of aborted franchises like Superman Returns or The Lone Ranger. But you don’t hear us crying out for more “positivity” in the comments of every poor review. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe you’re actually afraid that such voiced evaluations will cause your film’s sequels to be abandoned. That’s the case I suspect with the indignant fans of movies like Man of Steel and Ninja Turtles, though it would take a special kind of insecurity indeed to fear such a fate for Star Wars.

Fear and logic don’t mix, which explains why fear perpetuates logical fallacies in a debate, specifically the ad hominem and straw man fallacies. The ad hominem fallacy attacks the one making the argument instead of the argument itself. It betrays one’s inability to refute a statement or stance. They instead resort to personal attacks. Irate genre film fans LOVE using the ad hominem fallacy. They say things like, “You just can’t accept change. You can’t let go of George Lucas, Christopher Reeve, Tobey Maguire” or whoever. These attacks not only betray an inability to refute a criticism, but they also reveal a child-like exasperation with opposition in their emotional lashing out. Isn’t learning to coexist with different opinions an elementary milestone?

The straw man fallacy often goes hand in hand with these attacks, as it involves falsely representing the opposition to be easily knocked down, like a man made out of straw. This one takes the same type of comments to an even more schoolyard- like mentality with comments like, “Wah! Wah! Wah! The movie isn’t like the original!” Even more insidious, though, is the combination of the two fallacies that crops up in phrases like, “You just want to complain. I’m so tired of all of this negativity! Stop trying to see the bad in everything.” Now suddenly any honest criticism is “negativity.” This ploy should come off as absurd (do the ones leveling it, then, also shake their pom poms for the Star Wars prequels, Superman IV, or Spider-Man 3?), but the words negativity and positivity have such weight today that we often respect them even in their misuse.

The desire to remain positive is admirable. With the amount of malicious intent on the internet today, we should strive to be more positive toward one another. Here’s the key, though: Being positive doesn’t mean abandoning our opinions or refraining from the use of our analytic skills. It means expressing our opinions and arguments respectfully. Avoiding any and all critique of a film is easy. It’s also lazy. Discernment in art appreciation requires energy for analysis and some debate, but it pays off! Learning how a film operates, understanding the choices made in its creation, and knowing specifically why you support or dislike the effect it has on you, enhances the enjoyment film as an art form.

Another thing that requires energy is the ability to agree to disagree. It’s practically nonexistent in online forums today. Respecting someone’s viewpoint doesn’t mean you share it or admit less of a hold on your own. When you agree to disagree, you simply respect another’s right to decide on their own viewpoint. Lashing out and attacking is intellectually and emotionally adolescent. And responding in kind makes you appear just as inept at understanding and expressing an argument. The oft chosen solution of carefully avoiding statements or views that might trigger such conflicts isn’t remaining positive. It’s intellectually sterile. Embrace your right to voice your taste and opinion, but embrace other’s right to do the same. Critique, analyze and debate! And take hold of true positivity by respectfully expressing yourself in the process.