How The Crisis of Confidence Speech Informs ‘Batman v Superman’

I’ve long been fascinated by Jimmy Carter, which is kind of strange, given that he had been out of office for nearly seventeen years by the time I was born. I’ve read every one of his books. I’ve listened to countless speeches. And somehow, it still took me a bizarre length of time to recognize the parallels between a quote from his most famous speech and a quote in my favourite movie.

We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The American conscience died with Robert, Martin, and John.

The first of these quotes is from Carter’s 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” speech. The second is Perry White in Batman v Superman. Now. There’s an obvious reason why I didn’t immediately recognize the connection between these two quotes. That reason is that Batman v Superman draws a lot of inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, down to several pieces of dialogue, some verbatim and others paraphrased. And in The Dark Knight Returns, the phrasing of the equivalent quote is much closer to the BvS quote than the Carter quote is: “The American conscience died with the Kennedys.” So when I heard that line in BvS, I didn’t even stop to consider whether there was a different quote that connected the rise in American cynicism to three deaths that changed the face of the United States , rather than two. Once I did…well, it explained a lot about BvS that I’d considered, but hadn’t really understood.

What Carter (slash his speechwriter) realized in the 70s and Terrio realized when writing the BvS script that Miller did not understand when he wrote TDKR in the 80s was that these three deaths defined the United States in the post-WWII era. John Kennedy. Robert Kennedy. And Martin Luther King Jr. Including MLK in the BvS quote was hugely important because one of the main differences between BvS and TDKR is that BvS takes Clark’s side in the story rather than Bruce’s. It does that by presenting a story of immigration and bigotry where people hate what they don’t understand. BvS is all about xenophobia and how dangerous it is when people treat each other as the enemy. It’s about two millionaires waging a war against a journalist that came to the planet as a refugee. It’s about the refusal to acknowledge the humanity in another person. It’s about hatred based on nothing. All this means that MLK had to be included in the quote in order to get the full impact out of the idea because his role in American history is essential context for the story BvS tells (While it’s difficult to say for certain, I suspect that the ballot and bullet part of Carter’s quote refers to the very famous Malcolm X speech of the same name. That part isn’t quite relevant to BvS, but still, it’s interesting).

Carter’s speech goes beyond that single line. And the message of the entire speech is reflected all throughout the movie. Perry’s quote takes on the defeatist message that people remember that speech to have had. It’s cynical. It’s tired. It’s, “no one cares any more, there’s no point in writing about it”. But what’s funny about that speech and how we remember it is…in the 70s, that speech energized Americans. Carter’s approval rating jumped ten points in response! The American people recognized it as the “yeah! We can improve the world ourselves!” message it had been meant as. And it’s that which is the real message of BvS:  “Men are still good”. People can do better and we have to. It’s about seeing the world and everything terrible in it and being motivated by it to be better, to do better, and to fight for better.

Now, does this change anything about the movie or make me regard anything in it as meaning something other than what I had previously interpreted it to mean? No. Especially because there’s no evidence that this was an intentional reference and I think it’s more likely that Terrio recognized the same things that Carter did and that Miller didn’t independently than it is that he read the Miller quote, found it close to what he wanted to convey, and decided to fix it by using something Carter had sad. But it still is a cool thing to consider because of how so many people – without any actual justification – claim BvS to be rooted in a conservative ideology. While there’s a debate to be had about Carter’s role in shifting the country to the right, there was nothing conservative about this speech. It’s about social responsibility and the power of every individual to make their world a better place. That there is the central theme of Batman v Superman.

Advertisements

Jimmy Carter and Inspiration To Do Better

President Jimmy Carter has been one of my heroes my entire life.

I was born years after his presidency, so I never knew him as a politician. I grew up knowing him as the former president that was out there building houses, fighting disease, and negotiating with world leaders. I remember reading an article once about how he nearly punched the then-president of South Africa for refusing to allow AIDS to be treated. Just a few months ago, he fainted from dehydration on a Habitat for Humanity build site in Canada. He’s ninety three. He’s been doing this kind of thing for decades, and every time I read an article or a quote or one of his books that discusses what he’s up to, I’m inspired. Continue reading “Jimmy Carter and Inspiration To Do Better”

History, Hamilton, Music,and Pop Culture

I may not always love taking history classes – there’s a reason I’m in engineering – but reading about history is a lot of fun. When you choose a historical topic you want to know more about, you get to read stories about it that people found interesting or important enough to document. And maybe that’s less significant in recent times, since the advent of recording technology and the Internet – everything is documented – but you’re still reading about events that shaped the world as we know it today.

I went to see Hamilton last Saturday, and I loved it. I’d heard the soundtrack, of course, but that doesn’t compare to actually going and watching it. Something that struck me both when I first listened to the soundtrack and again when I was sitting in the theatre watching the show was that I was legitimately surprised at how much I was enjoying it. I was born in the US, and at this point, in total, I’ve been nearly as long here as I have in Canada, but I spent the formative years of my life in Ontario. I still consider myself Canadian above all else. This is an incredibly American production – not just the subject matter, but the focus on the individual rather than the results.

This kind of topic is something that could very easily come across as dry, not so much because of what it is – I wouldn’t consider that boring at all, because it’s a significant part of how this country got to the point it’s at today – but because of how dense it is. There’s just so much information that condensing it to a two and a half hour musical would be a daunting task. Lin Manuel Miranda did an excellent job doing that, keeping a lot of important information while glossing over details that weren’t directly related to what he was talking about and having an engaging story that didn’t drag at all.

As a musician, I adore soundtracks – whether they’re strictly instrumental or have vocals – and this was incredible to hear. I had heard the recording of the original New York cast before, so I got thrown off a few times by the different voices, especially the woman that played Angelica, but it wasn’t a bad surprise at all, just different. I haven’t gone to many musicals, and this was a wonderful one to go to. The music stood on its own so well that I never once felt like there needed to be something else going on on the stage.

I’m generally wary of people getting historical knowledge from pop culture. I’ve found that it leads to vague knowledge of a topic, but no more.Of course media and works of fiction have a role in piquing a person’s interest in a topic or a person, but it’s important to read. To question the conventional wisdom, to form your own opinions. To listen to what other people have to say, but focus on the facts and the argument, not the mythology.

In this regard, one of my opinions that’s furthest from conventional wisdom is mine of Jimmy Carter. I think that he was and is a very good man whose flaws included micromanagement and being loyal to a fault. I still think he did as good job as could be expected under the circumstances.

Carter took responsibility for failures. He brought back the confidence in the presidency that had been lost with the Vietnam and Korean wars, with Watergate. He had the courage and strength of character to tell people the blunt truth and not what they wanted to hear. And for all the complaints people have about him, it’s undeniable that he was squeaky clean ethically, and in 1976, the US really needed that. Just like how in 2008, it needed Obama’s message of hope and change, in 1976, it needed the peanut farmer and nuclear engineer from Georgia that believed in the goodness of the American people and had no scandals or controversies to speak of.

I only got this opinion from reading, from being fascinated by Carter and wanting to learn more. His presidency was over long before I was born. I don’t remember how long I’ve been interested in him, his presidency, and his post-presidential work, or how that interest was first sparked, but it’s been years now. I read everything, all sorts of articles, even if I have to sometimes have to grit my teeth to get through a piece of rhetoric that I can counter easily, just to know what people are saying. So many people, even if they do their research for current events and politics, accept what’s generally accepted about the past as true.Had I just considered the image of Carter presented in popular culture, I’d be one of the people considering him a complete disaster. I didn’t, so I’m not.

Hamilton is one thing. For all that it’s a positive take on Alexander Hamilton, it doesn’t gloss over his flaws to the same extent as a lot of fiction focusing on a historical figure does. It was also vague enough to pique a person’s interest without giving them misinformation. In most similar works, however, the writer’s biases come through even more clearly, altering the perception viewers or readers have of whatever historical figure is the topic at hand. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, but I do think people should keep that in mind when consuming media.