‘Batman v Superman’, ‘Young Justice’, and a Contemporary Lex Luthor

I’ve talked a lot about Batman v Superman before, including this post about how much I love its version of Lex Luthor. And I’ve talked about Young Justice plenty as well. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually discussed the differences between the two different interpretations of one of the few elements they have in common – Lex. That’s a shame, because it’s important. Especially as of season three. So here goes.

Let’s start with the reminder that Young Justice took eight years to release its three seasons. That is extremely important to this, because the first two seasons were very different from the third in a lot of ways. I…didn’t really enjoy season three. You might have noticed that from the fact I never actually wrote anything about it. Sure, episode four was the best episode of anything ever. But the season as a whole was trying too hard to lean into the cultural zeitgeist. It was trying so hard to be relevant to today that it a) felt instantly dated and b) didn’t actually delve deeply into any of the political themes it seemed to think it was exploring. A bunch of teenagers used social media as an organizational tool; there was a fissure between the heroes based on what they believed they should do; no one appeared to learn any lessons from the previous seasons and continued to lie, deceive, and abuse their powers to be met with no real consequences. None of that really went anywhere meaningful. They were just disconnected points without a coherent narrative connecting them and driving them forward. And arguable the biggest victim of that was Lex.

A very vocal group of people expressed a lot of hatred for the BvS incarnation of the character. He’s not physically intimidating, they said, he’s too goofy, he’s more like the Riddler than Lex! Let’s for a minute accept that premise. So BvS Lex is “too goofy”. And yet…season three Young Justice presented Luthor as an goof, blathering about fake news and far less competent and intelligent than the versions we saw in the preceding seasons. I didn’t see nearly as many complaints. How is that different? Well…I think that goes to what people really expect to see out of Lex. Just as with Superman, we’re talking about a character that’s been around for decades. There are many possible interpretations, each as valid as the last. Others might disagree, but I personally believe the version that’s best in a situation depends upon which version of what character he’s being pitted against. That’s something Batman v Superman did extraordinarily well. It’s something Young Justice didn’t really do at all.

Young Justice leaned into the idea of Lex as a fictionalized version of Donald Trump. It was the pinnacle of how season three sought to tell a more political story. And it’s understandable. Of course it is. We’re talking about a villain known for his hatred of an immigrant, real estate ties, and brief tenure as president of the United States. The problem isn’t the interpretation. What is…Trump is a symptom, not the real problem. Trump is not the be all, end all of racism and villainy. So taking shots at Trump is fine…but without actually taking that somewhere, in terms of him as a counterweight that reflects something in a different character, it doesn’t end up meaning anything.  And Young Justice placed him in opposition to Gar, not Clark or Halo or M’gann, and did so without leaning into the idea that Gar doesn’t quite fit in. So making him a Trump analogue fell flat for me, because it didn’t mean anything, didn’t explore what’s actually terrible about Trump. Trump == Bad. Sure. True. But that’s not anything challenging. It’s not a real argument or a political stance. It’s lazy. It’s the easiest shot that can be made, the argument that there’s one bad guy that’s the real problem and not the systemic issues that led to that one guy. It’s the equivalent of Resistance Twitter, those signs at protests claiming that if Hillary won, we’d all be at brunch and reminiscing about Obama, professing to have strong opinions about politics when those strong opinions can be summed up as “I hate Trump”. It’s shallow. It’s empty.

This kind of political story does nothing to challenge some of the worst abuses of power in today’s world – CEOs paying starvation wages to workers whose labour built the companies in question while raking in millions themselves; tech companies that disregard all data privacy laws; the fossil fuel executives that gleefully set the world on fire and are doing everything in their power to stop anyone from putting it out. That’s what I love about the BvS interpretation – at its core, it’s a story about power and corruption.

What makes this version of Lex scary is he’s not over the top. He’s not at all laughable. He’s not a direct parody of any real world figure, but he brings many of them to mind. He’s unthreatening looking, but powerful beyond comprehension. Because it’s not about physical appearance or public image or any such thing. It’s Lex Luthor broken down to his base components – hatred for Superman, wealth, power – and an exploration of what that actually means and how those parts connect. That leaves us with someone whose money leaves him able to do pretty much anything he wants and threatened by the very existence of someone with a different kind of power. It gives us someone who can hire mercenaries and actors, bribe senators and kill them, do pretty much anything he pleases with no oversight…until people start to stand together in opposition of that. It’s a villainy that goes beyond a person and into systemic corruption.

BvS presents a much more compelling, nuanced, and meaningful take on a Lex Luthor for the modern age than Young Justice does.  And it does that through not trying so hard to be relevant. By not giving into the temptation to reference current events through politicians or businesspeople, it yielded an enduring take on a villain. It’s one that was relevant when the movie came out, relevant now, and will continue to be meaningful as time progresses.

Political Opportunism and the Sheer Sliminess of Lacking Principles

Every now and then, I think about Anthony Scaramucci. The Mooch. That guy that lasted about six days before being fired – before his official start date, at that. Today, it was because of his comments regarding parent child separation at the border. They reminded me just what it is about him that bothers me so much.

Scaramucci disgusts me. I find him an appalling excuse for a human being. The reason for that is that he doesn’t have any real beliefs. Or at least, none that he won’t cheerfully throw aside and argue against if it serves him. He supports gun control and same sex marriage. He thinks that family separation at the border is inhumane and that it can’t be pinned on the Democrats. Those are positions I agree with! And as such, it makes me even more repulsed by Scaramucci, because he holds these beliefs, but still chose to work for this administration, however briefly, knowing full well what it stands for. He believes that human lives are worth less than what he can get for himself . It’s a sign of an utter lack of empathy, a lack of compassion for other people. He doesn’t have the courage of any convictions. He lacks principles of any kind. He can be bought. Maybe not with money, but certainly with attention. He’s painfully opportunistic.

People like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio repulse me for different reasons. They’re spineless cowards. I find their beliefs and personalities awful. But they still believe things. They’re bigots, even if they’re less open about it than the Trumps of the world. They may accept NRA blood money, but they don’t say the complete opposite of what they would say without it. They have the same disregard for human life as Scaramucci, they’re equally opportunistic, but their opportunism stems from callous beliefs and bigotry, not an impersonal lack of consideration as to how their words or actions will affect others.

Back during the week when he was part of the Trump administration, I thought Scaramucci was kind of funny. And that’s for the same reason I – like a lot of people – used to think Trump was funny. He said outrageous things that blatantly contradicted what he’d said earlier, things so stupid I didn’t get how anyone could take him seriously, things that were clearly more because they were politically convenient than because he actually cared. But that’s not funny. That’s just despicable, and the reason I can no longer even think about Scaramucci without getting upset. A person that defends a bigot is a bigot, and that makes Scaramucci one of the worst.

The United States and Mass Shootings

For years now, The Onion has published the same article every single time there’s a mass shooting. The only change they make is the place and time where it happened. Because it’s always the same story. People die, Republican politicians say there’s nothing to do prevent it, we hear that it’s too soon to politicize it! And then the cycle starts again.

Somewhere along the line, we decided that we don’t care. Not about people going to church, not about people that just wanted to enjoy a night out at a club, not about elementary school children. For some people, the ones that aren’t in public office, it’s out of desensitization. That’s understandable. It’s exhausting. After all, how many times can someone scream and yell at a Congress that won’t do anything to act before all the shootings start to blur together? Before the countless deaths turn from tragedies to statistics? But for the politicians that have accepted blood money from the NRA, it’s not because they’re desensitized to anything. It’s because they honestly don’t care about the people they’re supposed to be representing. They’re actually willing to trade the live of children for campaign contributions.

This is a country that banned Kinder Surprises because they have small parts and someone might choke on the small parts. After 9/11, the reaction was to ban liquids and scissors, stop letting people without tickets through to the gate, and check people’s baggage. But shootings? Nah, gun rights are more important than lives. The families can have thoughts and prayers, of course, but concrete action? Anything to stop something like this from happening again? Of course not. The victims aren’t worth that much.

Every time, it gets blamed on mental health, because it’s easy. Because it’s convenient. As if they’ve ever cared about mental health and the lack of access to health care for the mentally ill at any time other than immediately after a shooting. As if the mentally ill aren’t more likely to be victims of violence than the perpetrators. This country has a gun problem that we refuse to face. This is exhausting. How many more people have to die before Congress decides that enough is enough? How many more tragedies do we have to face? Human life has got to be worth more than money from gun lobbyists.

It brings to mind the old joke about a drowning man that refused all help because he’d prayed to God to save him. Upon drowning, he demanded to know why God hadn’t helped him. God responded by saying that he’d sent him two boats, but he hadn’t gotten in. Actions have power. This country doesn’t need anyone’s thoughts and prayers to solve its gun problem. It needs Congress to actually do something about it.

 

‘Designated Survivor’ and Political Optimism

Courage, my friends, ’tis not too late to build a better world.

Tommy Douglas, an icon of Canadian progressivism said that. Designated Survivor  embraces this concept completely – no matter what bad things happen or how scary the state of the country and world looks, Tom Kirkman doesn’t give up. He keeps fighting for a better tomorrow. Fitting, seeing as Douglas was Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather.

We don’t have to agree upon everything, but we do need to share common values and believe in the principle that all people have a right to equal treatment and protection under the law. Kirkman is a registered independent that leans left in his political views, but his most important ally during the first season was a Republican Congresswoman. And the reason that’s important is that they disagreed on policies. Not issues.

The polarization of politics isn’t bad if it’s about actual issues. Of course not. We shouldn’t compromise on core values. There are things in this world that are a matter of right and wrong, with no room for debate. Discrimination, gun violence, abuse, workers rights violations – we might not agree on how to fix them, but if the disagreement is over whether or not they are problems, then someone is wrong. Polarization becomes a problem when it’s over superficial differences. When it’s a matter of, it’s okay when we do it.

There was a fantastic moment in the second season when the Kirkman administration was trying to get approval to launch a military strike on American soil against Patrick Lloyd, an American citizen. Senator Hunter challenges it, and when Aaron questions her and asks her to trust Kirkman to not abuse his power and to not ask for this if he had any other choice, she says that she does, but that she still can’t let him to order the strike, because a time will come when there’s a president she doesn’t trust to make that decision.

That is something I wish we had today. One of my issues with the Democratic Party over the past several years was the blind Obama worship. I touched upon it in this post. I do believe that Obama did good things, while also finding some of his positions abhorrent. But now, every time someone criticizes Obama or the Democratic Party, people jump in with the same whataboutism they rightfully criticize when it comes from Trump or the Republican Party. Saying that I disapprove of the Obama administration’s prosecution of whistleblowers or his extrajudicial drone strikes does not take away from my disapproval of Trump and his travel bans and incitement of racist violence. We have to hold everyone to the highest standards, otherwise there’s no point.

Congress does not exist to blindly support any president and be a yes-man. It exists to separate the judicial and executive branches of federal government. It exists as part of the system of checks and balances required for a functional democracy. It exists to police the executive branch and force it to make the best, most ethical decisions it can.

I loved that Designated Survivor actually shows what a government should be. It’s not perfect, because the world isn’t perfect. There are bad politicians that care more about their own agendas and prejudices than about helping people. There are hard choices that need to be made. But Kirkman is a good man that wants nothing more than to do the right thing, both in and out of the country. Senator Hunter sometimes opposes him, but she’s also a good person, just with a different role to play. And together, they worked to rebuild a devastated country.

The world is messy. Not all choices will be easy. But it is possible to make better ones and improve the world we live in.

Exclusion and Covert Racism: Canada’s Relationship With Minorities

During the leadership race of the New Democratic Party of Canada, there was a great deal of racism directed towards the man that eventually won, Jagmeet Singh. You wouldn’t know it from the way it was covered, though. Jennifer Bush and her heckling were what got the attention of the general public, something that the general public could decry. That was the story that got international attention. But that wasn’t remotely the only racism Singh’s campaign dealt with. Continue reading “Exclusion and Covert Racism: Canada’s Relationship With Minorities”

Healthcare and the AHCA

I can’t find words to describe the inhumanity of the GOP’s idea of a good healthcare bill. Yes, the vote has been delayed, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. It seems very probable to me that it will pass. And when it does, it’ll cause huge harm to our most vulnerable people.

The Canadian healthcare system is far from perfect, what with it not including universal pharmacare and dental. There are other systems in the world that are better. But compared to the US, its closest neighbour, Canada’s seems like a dream. I grew up there. I know the flaws. I also know that the flaws American politicians claim exist in the Canadian system either don’t or aren’t nearly the problem rhetoric would claim them to be.

The GOP has a lot to say about freedom and individual responsibility and liberty from a tyrannical government that oversteps its bounds, but when it comes down to it, this bill shows us pretty clearly what their values actually are, what they really believe – that life is a privilege that should only be afforded to the wealthy.

The Affordable Care Act was a step towards a greater goal. It was flawed and imperfect, but it was something. We can debate its effectiveness, and we can debate how to improve it, and we can debate whether other systems would be better, but what we shouldn’t debate is whether or not the goal was a worthy one. Health care shouldn’t be up for debate. What conservative value is there to justify this?

By crying socialism whenever someone suggests universal coverage, by claiming that it’s a violation of individual freedoms, the GOP demonstrates that they are more afraid of a word than they are of living in a country where people get sick and die because they cannot afford insurance. If affordable health care is a socialist ideal, then so be it. I’d rather live in a socialist country than one where our leadership is cruel and regressive enough to allow something like this to pass.

Extremism and Resistance

Donald Trump is an abhorrent excuse for a human being. He’s impulsive, easy to manipulate, and dangerous. His actions and policies will be bad for the country. That being said, his level of extremism has given us one good thing – it’s galvanized people to push back and become much more aware.

Over the past few decades, the United States has become increasingly conservative. It’s always been a country that considers non-American lives unimportant. It’s a country of great wealth and enormous inequality. A country that’s spent a huge part of its existence involved in wars around the world. A country where PoC, immigrants, and women have had their rights under constant attack. And yet nothing has caused as many people to unite against something as this election has. The reason for that may be distasteful, but it’s still clear – it’s because Trump is an unpresidential, deplorable caricature. It has even more to do with who he is than it does with what he’s doing.

In a way, it’s a good thing. Had any other person been elected, the complacency of the general populace would have continued. There would be far fewer calls to Congresspeople and Senators. The number and value of donations to various non profits that do incredible work would be much lower. There would be significantly less of a push for the Democratic Party to take a stand beyond a safe middle ground.

Right now, people are engaged. People are angry, and rightly so. People want to see this country move in a positive direction, and are ready to resist the attempts and tearing down every inch of progress that’s been made over the years. It’s essential that we don’t waste that.