Monday, July 31, 2006

Le Corbusier Lives!

A rather significant event occurred in the world of architecture in the last year—at least from the point of view of this writer. In the city Firminy-Vert, a historical mining community in France, a church initially designed by Le Corbusier was completed. It is the fourth Le Corbusier structure to have been realized in this town, the result of the architect’s fruitful relationship with its post-war mayor. The Church of Saint Pierre was realized by one of Le Corbusier’s numerous acolytes, Jose Oubrerie, who collaborated with the master architect in the last years of his life during the early 1960’s. More than 40 years after his death, the church is finally complete, and in spite of Oubrerie’s own influences, the design of the church of Saint Pierre is remarkably consistent of Le Corbusier’s later works. Many details in the design were the result of stricter building codes, as well as Oubrerie’s own aesthetic predilections, but the rest of the structure combines formal elements that have become the trademarks of Le Corbusier’s most celebrated projects, such as his monastery at La Tourette, his Assembly building in Chandigar, India, as well as from his Chapel at Ronchamp du Haut.

It is not unusual for an architect to die before the completions of designs for a few years afterward. It is rare to build based on plans from several decades before, often because it requires another architect to interpret the design intentions of the original designer, divining on what he was thinking. The best way at ascertaining this kind of intangible information was to rely on an architect’s protégé. Frank Lloyd Wright, who surrounded himself by many sycophantic apprentices who lived and worked in his large private compounds in Wisconsin and in Arizona, produced dozens upon dozens of architects who mastered and internalized his style so as to be indistinguishable from Wright’s own work. Such disciples probably helped in the completion of the one project that I’ve seen which was built many decades after Wright’s death: the Monona Terrace in Madison. Although most of the details and interior spaces are contemporary, the overall lines of the structure are unmistakably Wright’s.

Le Corbusier ran his Paris studio like a monastery workshop, with young ambitious architecture students from around the world coming to work on his projects for little or no pay. They eventually left and returned to their home countries and disseminate the ideas and practices of their master. Le Corbusier’s former apprentices would thus synthesize his ideas and idiosyncratic forms with cultural influences of their native countries, creating a more localized Modernist vocabulary. Examples of this are found in Oscar Niemeyer’s work in Brazil and Balakrishna Doshi in India. Because of this desire for synthesis, it is not easy to confuse an actual Le Corbusier design with one of his acolytes’. Contrary to most people’s general view of Le Corbusier as the standard bearer of a monotonous machine aesthetic and standardization, his architecture was progressed quickly toward radically different phases. As he matured as a designer, his light and purist structures gave way to heavier, rougher, more organic buildings. His works for sacred functions expanded his expressionistic style and use of symbols that derived from his painting. The more sculptural his designs became, the more mysterious imagery, recurring formal themes and various textures would emerge. Unlike the relative consistency of his earlier villas, which followed his ‘five points’ faithfully and would not elaborate them any further than necessary, Le Corbusier’s latter works juxtapose symbols, creating tense dialogues between them. They also incorporate curves , shapes , and numerological codes that reveal deeper meanings less related to the building’s function than to the wandering mind and soul of the atheist architect.

The Church of Saint Pierre reminds those who relegate Le Corbusier as simply the inventor of the cubist architecture on stilts that there was much more going on in his mind as his career evolved. It serves as a summary of where the master was near the end of his life, and is a testament to his unceasing inventiveness. When put in the context of the architecture produced today, the church stands out in though its lyrical and sculptural complexity. Its deliberate artistic qualities distinguish it from countless other contemporary buildings, which derive their meaning from their function and from the obscurity of their fancy exterior skins. The effect of the latter is for one to say that the building’s effect registers a ‘je ne sais quoi’ response. Le Corbusiers’s late works leave so many vague formal cues and symbols that one naturally responds with “where do I begin to try to understand this?” In my experience the layers of embedded meaning are many yet accessible to all who make the effort.

Le Corbusier sought to enrich formal language of Modernism, and Jose Oubrerie should be thanked for providing us another example of the Swiss architect's achievement towards that end.

Hattip: Archinect

Monday, July 24, 2006

Coddling Jesus: He Was a Carpenter, You Know

After returning from a church mission trip to urban Milwaukee, I have a few new thoughts concerning assumptions about helping the poor. This was the first mission trip I had ever been on, and overall, I thought the experience was a good one. Working in soup kitchens, spending time with the mentally/physically disabled, and playing with children who get very little attention from home were rewarding experiences for all involved. It was good that the youth at my church got to see a different way of life, and to experience the reality that poverty, violence, and homelessness do exist. What I walk away with as much as anything else, however, is the realization of how generous Americans are. We have so many charities here, no one should ever die of starvation. In fact, I am convinced that we could probably make do without one more food pantry, soup kitchen, or government program. Seeing so many charities in action leads me to think that, if anything, we need to be personally involved with those whose life experiences have broken them as much as handing them a hot meal from time to time.

One of the popular sayings of those who favor liberation theologies (theologies that focus primarily on reversing the plight of the poor, often adopting Marxist ideas and politics) is that when you spend time with the poor, you begin to see Jesus in the their face. They make the point that Jesus had a “preferential option” for the poor, and therefore the whole mission of the church should be to care for the poor. I do not dispute that Jesus did have such a preferential option, but it was not limited to the financially poor only, but also the spiritually, mentally, or physically poor. And yes, as hard as it is, it is crucial to see Jesus in all people, as a way of protecting the sanctity of human life and seeing the value in those who are in very different situations. The problem for me is what we do with these people after we see Jesus in them, and even after we recognize that Jesus has a preference for them?

When I think about the life of Jesus, I do not see his ministry only, which was only the last three years of his life. I see a man who labored for probably close to 18 years in back-breaking work. The Greek word for Jesus occupation, “teknia” suggests that he worked with heavy materials, certainly wood, but also possibly stone or even metal. Jesus, unlike so many “holy men” of ages past, never looked for a handout, or found a way to get out of working. And from those precious 18 years that he labored we get the sanctification of work, of labor. We get holiness in the workplace not from cube-to-cube evangelism, but from the fact that Jesus himself, God made flesh, toiled with humanity.

Now, from here I will not go on to say that the poor are poor because they are lazy, although some of them certainly prefer begging to working. My point is that if we are going to say that we see the face of Jesus in everyone, and especially the poor, then why do we often coddle the poor? Why do we assume that the only way they can succeed is by taking money from rich people and giving it to them? Is that how we would treat Jesus, with pity, and not mercy, with a handout, but not love? I’ve said it before, and it’s worth saying again, when Bill Clinton suggested that every church should help to take one person off of welfare and help them transition into the workplace, this was a very appropriate understanding of how the church can and should help the poor. Unfortunately, the church (technically the National Council of Churches) said, “No thanks.” What a shame. So the poor have enough Jesus in them to be pitied, but we dare not have expectations for them? Can we not ask that addictions be quelled? Can we not ask that efforts be made by those able to work? Can we not ask that mistakes that helped lead to poverty not be repeated in the future, not out of high-handed elitism, but out of love?

The more involved I am in church work, the more I realize the real economic issues at work in America are either ignored or flatly misunderstood by the Church. I don’t expect such mission trips to be able to cover everything that is at play in what helps create, recreate, or sustain poverty. But let’s at least act like we mean it when we look for the face of Jesus in the poor. Let’s have a little respect for what they are capable of, instead of writing them off as welfare-dependent victims. Then we will really be looking for the face of Jesus in the poor. And not just the Jesus who died for our sins and fed the 5,000, but the Jesus who toiled with us so that our own labor might be redeemed.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pride Mixed with Pain: The Recipe for Liberalism?

For conservatives, the last 20 years have been both an immense frustration as liberalism has become ingrained in media, academic and pop-culture circles, and a blessing as the new media has given voice to the conservative leanings of many Americans. The last 20 years have also defined conservative vs. liberal as much as the founding defined federalism vs. states-rights. And it seems we’ve now reached the point where the rhetoric has taken on a whole new level, where conservatives and liberals can hardly be in the same room and where liberalism is understood more as a “mental disorder” than a political ideology.

Michael Savage and Ann Coulter have both championed the idea that liberalism is a psychological condition instead of an set of opinions, apparently with much success in conservative circles given their book sales. And when one looks at some on the far left, I can at least understand the sentiment: such anti-natalistic tendencies as abortion-on-demand, fiscal policies that create poverty and unreasonable vitriol for President Bush all lead me at times to think that hard-core liberalism is based on a very different foundation than my conservatism. The emotion-driven responses to these sorts of issues often make the liberal making them appear to be irrational to the point of insanity. How can one, after all, support such silly fiscal policy after seeing how dreadfully it has failed for the last 40 years? How can it be that any group of people would fight so hard for the right to abortion? Does this not strike others as bizarre at best, and macabre at worst?

But I find the “mental disorder” schematic too easy, appealing to the masses in the worst sort of way, and simply ignorant of what is behind a lot of liberalism. In my experience with those who proudly champion liberal causes, I often find a combination of pride and pain. Now, if conservatives wanted to say that those who are prideful or in pain are, in fact, suffering from very real mental disorders, I suppose they could. But that wouldn’t be particularly reasonable, either. Most of the liberals I know speak from places of pain, not psychosis. This does not excuse their positions that fly in the face of logic (liberal fiscal policy), history (liberal foreign policy) or virtue (the liberal understanding of conception/human life). But it does more accurately diagnose the condition of liberalism as one in need of healing more than scorn. Telling those who hold near and dear positions to their heart that they have mental problems won’t help anybody.

I realize the arrogance of saying that a whole group of people live lives of pain, and make deluded judgments from there. But I find the combination of anger-driven political idealism, agnosticism (or atheism), and unfounded optimism for “progressive” attitudes to be most common among liberals. And I find that what drives it is the sorts of pains that many of us experience, and consequently want an easy answer to solve them. We see injustice, we see ideals not realized, we see meanness, and we all want a solution. But those with a sense of history and cautious optimism have the best chance of providing real solutions, not those who react to injustice with self-righteousness and blind faith in plans that have failed for years.

And that brings me to pride. A cursory examination of history should humble the examiner if nothing else. The past century was full of failed socialist experiments in every form and fashion, yet miraculously, socialism still has a lot of power in the world instead of fading. It is sheer pride in humanity that would allow anyone to hang on to Marxism for one more minute, because it completely ignores the brokenness of our human condition. It is also pride that allows anyone to think that tomorrow will bring something different, even though history often predicts what will happen next. Raising the minimum wage, for example, won’t work. To believe otherwise is an exercise in pride as much as ignorance. To not protect the sanctity of human life has serious consequences about how we care for all the vulnerable in our society. To believe otherwise is also an exercise in pride.

Would this be the wrong time to say I have a lot of liberal friends? This is not a diatribe against them. If anything, I aim to defend them against the Coulters and Savages of the world, who would write them off as loons as soon as consider the origins of their ideas. And this is nothing new. Conservatives are generally polled to be happier, more hopeful and more joyful than those who call themselves liberal. Maybe instead of trying to get liberals to be conservative, we would have more success if we could just get them to be happier.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Zidane: The Face-Saving Ethic Strikes Back

Zidane Head Butt

The last few weeks were surprisingly momentous for me and millions of my French compatriots. The success of ‘Les Bleus’, the national soccer team of France, was not expected at the beginning of the World Cup over a month ago. Consisting of a slew of relatively old players and a coach who consults his astrologer regularly, this year’s team achieved results that few would have believed possible after its lackluster performance in the preliminary group matches. I am by no means much of a soccer buff, as I only pay attention to the sport every four years for the World Cup, usually out of some inexplicable duty to one of my two native countries (the other being the US, of course). And still I was overjoyed by the championship victory of ‘Les Bleus’ in 1998 over the Brazilian favorites. Watching this year’s repeat of that match in the quarterfinals, I was convinced that France had finally rediscovered within them the spark that had spurred them to winning eight years ago.

Naturally I and many Frenchmen were disappointed by France’s loss in the final to Italy. So close, and yet so unjustly determined by penalty kicks. Since I was eating lunch with my family while watching the game from the corner of my eye, I had not noticed what the French captain Zinedine Zidane had done to merit his red flag. I only saw him talking to the referee after the red card had been issued and then strutting off the field looking quite dejected. Only after the match was I able to see the video footage online further clarifying his head-butting of an Italian player. Zidane’s display of aggression made all of us wonder what the reasons were for this kind of behavior, but it had already become the consensus among most in the French press that the act was reprehensible regardless of what provoked it, and that it had probably turned the tide against the French in the crucial final minutes of the championship match.

As the story on what was said between the two players unfolded, it was clear that offensive language and taunts were common in soccer. Zidane’s outburst was still surprising (not having paid attention to instances of his violent behavior throughout his carreer—remember I’m not much of a soccer fan) and to anyone who thought that the shear gravity of being part of the World Cup finals match would be enough to prevent any player to willfully eject himself from the game, few could imagine any kind of plausible explanation. It was clear that for all of Zidane’s impressive accomplishments in soccer, certain other issues were more important that could only be resolved violently.

As the past week progressed, the Zidane and his Italian adversary Materazzi offered sparse explanations of why events turned out the way they did. In an interview of French television, Zidane revealed that Materazzi had said some nasty things about his mother and sister and to not fight back against such insults would only condone these harsh insults. Zidane’s logic seems puzzling to me and others at first, since it assumed that a civilized response to such verbal provocations would be to ignore it and focusing on the more important task of finishing by winning the match. Materazzi’s behavior was likely an intended effort to rid the star player from his leadership role on the French team by exploiting Zidane’s tendency to overreact. Such tactics are quite underhanded on the part of some Italian players, but a truly great player would easily evade any opponent’s provocations.

And still, Zidane’s head-butt reminded me how the ethics of saving face can easily undermine larger goals of a community. Defending the honor of his family is more important than what over sixty million Frenchmen would otherwise like, such as keeping cool and focused, winning high-stakes matches. Such thinking is indicative of a pre-modern ethic and common throughout most Eastern cultures (Zidane is of Algerian birth) from honor killings of women to pressures in Asian families for their offspring to excel in selected professions. Face-saving has been largely supplanted in the West, probably the result of the emerging influence of individualism and humanism beginning in the Renaissance. Ideals would no longer worth being defended if there was no rational basis that could enhance individuals. Behavior would now be directed for productive ends, with individuals weighing on how to get the most out one’s own efforts as wells as from the efforts of others. Participating collectively in a task would no longer be a means toward maintaining long-standing social ties nor as fulfilling an obligation based on family honor and reputation; rather, the new Western model advocated collective action as the most practical means of accomplishing tangible goals.

Conflicts under this more modern and mechanistic mentality must be borne out of practical desires. Instances where two individuals are practically better off resolving a conflict than in working together are rare, because there is usually little rational basis for them. Yet a person acting in the name of preserving his family’s honor does not evaluate success in pragmatic or even utilitarian terms. Success relies on whether face-saving virtues have been upheld and familial shame averted.

Zidane accomplished the latter objectives, but his violent act left few French soccer fans to wonder how he was so willing to disregard the hopes and aspirations of millions just to settle a non-productive resolution.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rafts and Rabbit Cages: What the Brightest Architectural Minds Have in Store for New Orleans

Like all members of the AIA (the American Institute of Architects), I receive my monthly complementary issue of Architectural Record, the official professional magazine of the organization. Along with the numerous glossy pictures of recently completed projects typical of architectural journals, the magazine focuses on the current events affecting the public image of the profession. Thus, constant concerns about climate change among many in the profession leads to copious articles about environmentally sensitive technologies and buildings, not to mention editorials excoriating architects for their failure to be ecologically minded enough. Naturally 9/11 and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center received lots of column-inches, with large numbers of elite architects handing down their own verdict on the submitted designs and related changes. Soon after hurricane Katrina flew over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast wreaking havoc along its path, contributors to the magazine were quick to lend their expert insights on what is to be done next.

As a profession innately desirous of the building for the future, the mood among the editors of the magazine was optimistic, since the storm had left a large scale opportunity to reinvent a major American city. Mindful of New Orleans’ chronic social and economic troubles during the last several decades, the columnists promoted progressive solutions that gave cleverly concealed nods to the local context and traditions while proposing abstract building volumes with high-tech and environmentally sensitive systems. Somehow the idea that much of the existing urban fabric of New Orleans could serve to inspire new proposals didn’t seem to get much attention in the magazine, except for a few scathing editorials against more historicist schemes of the New Urbanists, who sought to extend the local vernaculars to proposed areas for rebuilding. Reed Kroloff, the Tulane University architecture dean and the city’s eminent champion for the Modernist movement, helped organize an architecture exhibit in the Netherlands that featured schemes from avant-garde designers around the world. Each of these schemes is an attempt to remake the New Orleans, or at least to add and enliven the city’s sense of identity. None of the schemes actually show any reverence to the older architectural gems that characterize New Orleans. None of them seem to have ever consulted with New Orleanians. The exhibit wasn’t about actually building something as it was to stimulate the public’s imagination on what New Orleans could be.

And even then, some of the schemes are unintentionally patronizing. Several of the schemes made its most monumental function that of being a shelter in case of massive flooding. The Dutch firm MVRDV suggested the idea of a big hill in the middle of the city which would be tall enough so that people could seek refuge on it in emergencies. I could only imagine how inhabitant of New Orleans would enjoy seeing a big mound reminding them of the utter futility of even living in it, since the real essence of the city itself is about seeking shelter from the storm. So much for letting the good times roll if all you're really supposed to worry about is how to survive the next big one. Another much-discussed scheme by the dutch firm U.N. Studio features a green glass zigurrat that contains a media library and administrative offices for the city. Other than the form adding a bit of bold visual interest, the program itself is in my opinion quite irrelevant to the needs of New Orleans. Think about it: a massive hurricane wipes out a major American city and the best thing one can build to revive the morale of the city is to build a massive media library?

The architects wished to give New Orleans a new 'urban icon', as if of all things that the city needs a new symbol for progress is of the highest order. I seem to remember the largest indoor stadium in the world, the Superdome, filling that role quite nicely. Somehow, giving New Orleans a cool new ziggurat was going to have the same positive effect as Frank Gehry's masterpiece in Bilbao, Spain. The problem with that kind of thinking is that one shouldn't compare the uninviting Basque port that few wanted to visit to one of the U.S.'s top tourist destinations. Besides visitors come to the Big Easy not only for its quirky architecture as for its cultural ambiance, its food, its festivals, and as a welcome setting for debauchery and fun. A self-absorbed media library or hill with a school and buch of emergency shelters don't mesh with New Orleans' existing urban identity.

In the latest issue of Architectural Record, the magazine sponsored a design competition (co-hosted by Mr. Kroloff, again) for new housing prototypes for New Orleans. The best submissions were published, each accompanied by comments from the select members of the jury, each nationally respected architects. Browsing at the proposals made me shake my head at the arrogant naiveté conveyed by these schemes. Although the drawings, renderings, and forms were attractive, the absolute disregard for the on-the-ground reality of New Orleans was obvious. Maybe it was beyond the scope of the competition, but little was mentioned on what daily life is actually like, what people in the afflicted communities actually aspire to, what actually matters as important to New Orleanians. And although each of the schemes tried to resolve a problem by clever design, I really hope that the designers have the humility in knowing that the destructive social pathologies that afflict New Orleans are far more complex in nature than the simple elegance of their logical-looking drawings.

The submissions reminded me of a contant tendency that has helped generate public disgust against much of modern architecture. Most of the high-density housing schemes presented show little contextual response to the uniqueness that is New Orleans. They could be built in any other city around the globe, often exhibiting a look more in keeping with Dutch housing prototypes, which to me can look a stack of elegant rabbit cages. There is also a clear revisiting of LeCorbusier's Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles, from the design of the apartment units to the way they are related to the high-rise structure. And similar to Le Corbusier's tendency to design high-density dwellings that were so generous so as to be more fitting for wealthy bachelors than the 'masses', the schemes in the magazine propose units more generous and better built than the priciest uptown condominiums. Certainly the cost for housing a significant portion of the population that lost their dwellings in the ninth ward would be exhorbitant if built to the luxurious standards of the proposed schemes.

Among the entries for a single-family housing prototype, there was at least a bit of respect for the traditional housing typology of the shotgun home. And yet some of the designs harken back to the tendency to design with a patronizing air of pity. One scheme demonstrates how modular housing units no different from shipping containers on stilts could prove to be a quick solution to rapid and economic reconstruction. The most absurd scheme in my eyes was an entry by Harvard students, no less. It describes how many of the city's inhabitants would live inside a two-story cube to dwell in, and designed to float on water in case of massive flooding. The area where these units would be would in times of high water act as a large village of glorified life rafts. When the waters recede, the units would sit back on the ground, changed in location from before the storm, thus reconfiguring the order of the neighborhood. You know, I've always thought of humans being naturally terrestrial creatures, and I can't think of one place where people happily live on the sea in private life rafts. There are very good reasons why human settlement has gravitated toward drier land instead of embracing naturally flood-prone areas.

It is obvious that none of the projects submitted ever had the intent of being built. Competitions and exhibitions of theoretical work serve not only to stimulate new debate on the future of a place but also to enhance the prestige of those who submit the schemes (since preparing an entry takes lots of unpaid man-hours and deferred earnings doing 'real' projects). And although I'm all for promoting a lively philosophical discussion and fruitful brainstorming, it is not clear why the participants of these exhibitions and competitions believed it was necessary to complete re-envision the city of New Orleans. The Crescent City is blessed to have inherited the most picturesque urban landscapes anywhere, its architectural identity solid and beloved by everyone who lives there. In terms of pedestrian scale, the distribution of density, and its organic relationship with the landscape, New Orleans has much to recommend itself as an example of good urban design. Looking back, Katrina was more of a technical problem for the city, having little to do with the quality of its planning and urban monuments. Faultily constructed levees, poor evacuation planning and mobilization, and ill-conceived strategies for drainage of the Mississippi delta all contributed to tragedy following the hurricane. Fancy media libraries, man-made hills, or floating cubes in the water don't offer much in the way of helpful solutions to the technical dilemmas that face New Orleans. Such typically inadequate responses from these elite designers lead me sometimes to doubt the utility of even enlisting their ideas in the first place.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Superman and the American Way: the Postmodernization of Superheroes

While preparing for a sermon I would give on July 4th weekend, it never occurred to me that I should mention anything about the secular holiday that would be only two days away from the time I gave my sermon. When I got to church and noticed a rather large banner saying “In God we Trust” with stars and strips on it, I knew it would be a rather glaring omission. After all, as the congregation looked towards the pulpit as I preached, it would be impossible for them to miss this patriotic banner out of the corner of their eye. So I did my best to ad lib a few lines about how Jesus frees us in healing us, etc., which is even greater than the freedoms we celebrate on the Fourth of July every year. Hopefully, the assembly thought that was good enough.

Now, I would love to give a whole sermon on how the political freedoms Americans celebrate have theological underpinnings. After all, the founders could not have insisted on concepts concerning the freedom of man without first understanding that God created man to be free. (Of course, after the Fall, man became in bondage to sin, only to be made free again through Christ on the cross.) So if God intended man to be free and not enslaved, then naturally the systems that govern man should protect man from encroachments on such freedom, all the while condemning as well as possible the sinful aspect of man’s nature. So from this theological understanding of man as both free and enslaved, forgiven and sinful, comes our rare and wonderful constitutional republic that both protects man’s inherent freedom (don’t forget the Bill of Rights all limit government power) as well as protect man from his own sinful nature.

There is such a thing as the American way, and this is it, written into our Constitution. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but instead it rightly should be celebrated, not with a sense of naked nationalism, but with the understanding that what makes this nation’s founding so unique is not its political brilliance as much as the political carrying out of theological truths about the nature of man.

So why, then, has Superman stopped fighting for the “American way?” Having watched Superman IV in the past 12 months, I was struck by two things: how much worse it was than what I remember as a 12-year-old, and how clearly Reeve’s Superman stood for defending America. (The anti-nuclear proliferation idealism in that movie is rather silly, however.) The same was true after I watched Rocky IV; James Brown’ rendition of “Living in America” simply would not be filmed in today’s Hollywood studios. Having never read the Superman comic book, I am only learning now how prominent that theme is throughout the series, that Superman’s whole identity is rooted around preserving the noble values that America stands for. Yet, in “Superman Returns”, the phrase was purposely ignored by the writers and hinted at bitterly and cynically when the newspaper’s editor says, “Whatever happened to ‘truth, justice, and all that stuff?” or something along those lines. It seems even Superman has turned postmodern, skeptical of standing for the most basic values Americans cherish. I know the trend for comic book movies has been to turn dark (a change I welcome), ushered in by Tim Burton’s first Batman. But what good are comic book heroes if they do not fight for the values America excels at defending, in ideal if nothing else?

When I said I did not want to see the movie because of this blatant swipe at America, my fiancée reminded me that I loved the new Batman movie, which also took a turn towards the dark cynicism of postmodernism. But in thinking about it, Batman and Superman represent very different things. (I never thought I would make the following analysis.) Batman, a self-made hero of sorts, is more about conquering the inner demons that haunt him, and using the pain inside of him to help those in need. Superman is not even human, and seems to have chosen America to defend because of the goodness he experiences in the heartland, my fiancee’s home state of Kansas.

For those of you who aren’t like Comic Book guy on The Simpsons, you’re a lot like me. I could care less about owning Spiderman #1 (except for the monetary value), and I couldn’t tell you how many X-Men there are. But I do know that a $250 million movie assumes a place in speaking for and to the culture. Superman has officially become an America doubter like so many in Hollywood who doubt the greatness of America, who don’t trust its history or values, and who do not see the need for there to be an American defender any longer. Yes, no doubt the writers of the movie feel the world needs Superman to defend them against America more than America needs Superman to defend itself against the world.