Stan Lee’s fan base — kids of all ages


After reading of Stan Lee’s death, I took an imaginary walk through my old neighborhood, past Mitchell schoolyard and Most Blessed Sacrament church,  to Chester Avenue and Whelan’s variety store, which stocked the Marvel comic books I read in my pre-teen years, before sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll stole my attention.

Old Man Whelan’s narrow little domain was crammed with an eclectic and impossibly large inventory of practical goods and practical-joke items. He grumbled non-stop while selling everything from pantyhose to trusses to fake vomit and dog poop.

Most kids came for the comic books, which cost 12 cents each in those days. Discriminating readers bought Marvel comics,  which featured the full-color exploits of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and other superheroes who — thanks to Lee, and to Steve Ditko and other super-talented illustrators —  were way cooler than Superman, Batman and the other stars on the DC comics roster.

DC’s costumed crime fighters looked stilted and seemed stuck in the 1950s.  Marvel’s characters were hip and ironic and came alive on the page, partly because they were presented as flawed and angst-ridden, all-too-human despite their super-powers. They seemed realistic, once you accepted the idea that they could climb sheer walls (Spider-Man) or throw fireballs (Human Torch) or disappear at will (Invisible Girl).

My sixth-grade friends and I understood that Lee’s superheroes, in or out of their costumes, felt like outsiders.  We felt like outsiders, growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood where conformity was valued a lot more than education. Lee was our hero because his heroes and villains used multi-syllabic words (“I have become invulnerable!”) and his stories were socially relevant. We were comic-book snobs.

I remember wishing the Marvel gang could be brought to life on the big screen, but this didn’t happen until decades later, when special effects technology caught up with Lee and his illustrators.  Lee himself lived long enough (95!) to see his visions realized in those multi-million-dollar Marvel blockbusters that Hollywood keeps cranking out.

It’s weird, if you think about it — the fact that so many adults these days — men, mostly — enjoy and identify with comic book heroes as much or more than their children do.  I’ll guessing many of them don’t think of themselves as outsiders and didn’t use Lee’s comics as stepping stones to books and movies for grown-ups.

Lee was an artist and a pop culture visionary, and a grown-up. He didn’t equate his comics with the Great American Novel that he had aspired to write as a young man. But many of his grown-up fans don’t seem to see the difference between the one and the other.

I’m not sure what that’s about — nostalgia, arrested development, postmodernism, the dumbed-down media. Whatever. As Lee might have said, “That’s a question for the sociologists.”

 

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Will media admit to being duped? Nope


I’ll bet a lot of reporters and editors and talking heads hated Krugman for stating the obvious a week before the midterms:

But here’s the thing: Trump supporters aren’t the only people trying to pretend that he’s only doing what everyone does, that Democrats are just as bad and equally liable for the explosion of hatred. False equivalence, portraying the parties as symmetric even when they clearly aren’t, has long been the norm among self-proclaimed centrists and some influential media figures. It’s a stance that has hugely benefited the GOP, as it has increasingly become the party of right-wing extremists.

False equivalence. Let’s present the Trump’s scary “caravan” story as if were factual. even though it is transparently false.  (Not all of the journalists who operate this way work at Fox News.)

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Too many peeps means too few penguins


penguins

African penguins commiserate at Lehigh Valley Zoo

Swamp Rabbit and I were on a sales job at the zoo, discussing what should be done about humans who destroy rainforests in order to expand production of palm oil and soybeans and so on. And how about the greedy owners of  those commercial fisheries who are helping kill off the African penguins?

“We should chop ’em into little pieces and feed ’em to the penguins,” the rabbit said.

He told me it’s not only fishing industry bosses who are villains, it’s the whole human race. It’s the fact that this sub-species of penguin, which is unique to southwestern African coastal areas, is running out of places to breed because human settlements keep expanding.

“But what are people supposed to do?” I said. “Just stop moving into places where wildlife live?”

“You got it,” he said. “There are way too many peeps, Odd Man. It’s time to cull the herd.”

Obviously, he was still reeling from the recent news that humans had helped wipe out 60 percent of the world’s wildlife since 1970. I was sorry I showed him the news story.

We strolled past a little water park reserved for North American river otters,  a woodsy patch for Mexican gray wolves (another  endangered sub-species),  a raccoon in an outdoor holding pen, and a porcupine and skunk in another. The long circular trail eventually took us back where we started. A zookeeper was feeding big chunks of fish to the penguins.

“Zoos give me the blues,” Swamp Rabbit said. “They ain’t nothing but jails, even the nice ones.”

“Not true,” I replied, watching the penguins chow down. “This zoo beats that shack in Tinicum where I live. The food here is better, too.”

 

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Trump’s snake oil still potent


Yesterday I showed Swamp Rabbit a line from a pre-election news story:

Two years of political volatility will culminate Tuesday, when voters for the first time since the stunning 2016 election render a nationwide judgment on whether Trumpism is a historic anomaly or a reflection of modern-day America.

Now it’s Wednesday and the people have spoken. Trumpism isn’t an anomaly, it’s a reflection of the deeply held beliefs of more than 40 percent of American voters.

Trump has slurred Latinos, mocked the physically disabled, bragged of being a pussy grabber. He has declared bankruptcy six times, championed a massive tax cut for the one percent, gutted the EPA, tried to kill Obamacare, antagonized America’s closest allies, started an ill-advised trade war with China, embraced Vladimir Putin and other dictators, obstructed the Justice Department’s ongoing probe of Russian interference in recent elections, and much more.

Trump’s fans don’t flock to him in spite of his beastliness; they flock to him because of it. They look in the mirror and see him. He knows his base is solid, which is why he campaigned so hard in the midterms for candidates who are almost as hideous as he is, but not as popular — Ted Cruz, Rick Scott and so on. His personal intervention arguably helped Republicans maintain control of the Senate and hurt the chances of the African American candidates for governor in Georgia and Florida.

I chattered on and Swamp Rabbit played devil’s advocate. “You don’t know that for sure,” he said.  “Maybe them peckerwoods was just doing what they thought was best for them.”

“They were doing what Trump said was best,” I replied. “They were voting for protection from elitists and Muslim terrorists and uppity blacks and armies of Central American who were coming to steal their jobs.”

I told him that Trumpism in its natural state is a brand of snake oil that first caught on with blue-collar Democrats who backed George Wallace in 1968 and thus helped elect Richard Nixon.  The snake oil became more potent over the decades as right-wing propagandists worked to convince “Middle Americans” that blacks and feminists and heathens and sinister socialists were responsible for the ongoing decline in their standard of living. It helped elect Reagan and Bush Sr. and Dubya.

“That’s just a lot of talk,” the rabbit said. “What’s it got to do with Trump?”

“He’s the best snake oil salesmen yet,” I replied. “Only a master con man can keep selling it on such a large scale, after losing an election by almost three million votes.”

The rabbit stood up and glared. “You ain’t gonna start comparing Trump to them dictators again, I hope.”

“You said it,” I said. “Not me.”

Footnotes: The U.S. is still split in half, just as it was before the Civil War… Yes, Democrats recaptured the House.  Not by much, but it’s a big step… Whatever happened to that investigator? Mueller, I think his name was.

 

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A referendum on Trumpism


Donald Trump’s unwitting accomplices in the media were at it again this weekend, helping spread the lie that Democrats may have tried to “hack” Georgia’s voter registration files. The accusation was made by Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, who also happens to be running for governor. Various media outlets noted that there is no evidence of hacking, but they all ran the story anyway. Is this any way to cover the closely contested mid-term elections?

Never mind. The pundits and the talking heads have got one thing right: The mid-terms are a referendum on Trump and what he stands for.  They aren’t about deciding which Democrats are progressive enough, and which, if any, Republicans are “moderate” enough to deserve our votes.

No Republican candidates deserve our votes. They’ve all ignored or gone along with Trump’s attempts to demonize immigrants, his contempt for a free press, his efforts to scuttle the Affordable Care Act, his tax cuts for the wealthy, his refusal to speak out against racists, his appointment of corrupt Cabinet members, his refusal to release his tax returns, his obstructions of the Mueller probe, his vicious and proudly dishonest personal style. And so on.

There’s no excuse for not voting against the party of Trump. If Democrats retake the House, they can curtail Trump’s inevitable efforts to defy Mueller. In the unlikely event that they retake the House and the Senate… well, then they can stick a fork in the monster, he’s done.

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The scariest news story of them all


Swamp Rabbit was trying to choose the Halloween week’s scariest story. It was Donald Trump threatening to rescind the 14th Amendment, he said. Or it was Trump’s statements blaming the media for the pipe bomb mailings and the slaughter of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh.

I shook my head and showed him a news story that was even more fear-inducing than the pre-election behavior of Agent Orange and his followers:

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.

The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by [the World Wildlife Federation] and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

“That ain’t news,” the rabbit said. “Everybody knows about over-fishing, and that most land animals are gonna get wiped out to make room for soybean fields to feed all them chickens and cattle that humans eat.”

But that’s crazy, I told him. Too many extinctions would upset the balance of nature forever. We’d be looking at a drastic decrease in the number of people in the world, especially after you figure in global warming.

He sipped  from a pint bottle of bourbon. “The world can afford to lose a few billion peeps. Ain’t no other way to sustain all them ecosystems and get the climate under control.”

I glared at him. “You’ve got some hard bark on you, rabbit. You’re talking about human beings, not termites.”

“Do the math,” he said, shrugging. “Think about all them pandemics waiting to happen. And the lack of fresh water.”

I showed him a story about how the Trump gang wants to freeze fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks because it’s already too late to keep the world from warming by seven degrees by century’s end.

“You’re a nihilist, just like Trump,” I said.

Au contraire,” he replied. “I’m just a jaded old swamp rabbit. He’s president of the United States.”

Footnote: The book to read is The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Be careful, it might drive you to drink.

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If you’re going to lie, lie bigly


I showed Trump’s tweet to Swamp Rabbit. “Do you believe this guy?  Have you ever encountered such a low-down, mangy liar?”

“Sure,” he said. “I worked for some sidewinder who sold junk furniture to poor peeps.  He could lie about anything. He showed some old lady a broken old rocking chair and said this here’s an antique, Abe Lincoln rocked in it. She said don’t tell me that, I ain’t no fool. But she was laughing. He kept at it and she bought the chair.”

I shook my head. “Trump is the president of the United States, not some junk dealer. He’s been trying to kill Obamacare since he got elected. He wants to protect insurance companies, not people with pre-existing conditions.”

The rabbit waved me off. “What he wants is to not get impeached, which might happen if the Dems do good in them midterms.  He’ll say anything to avoid that.”

I objected. Surely there’s a limit to the amount of lying Trump can get away with. There’s a point where even his most ardent fans will realize they’re being played.

“Ain’t gonna happen,” the rabbit said. “Most peeps like to be lied to, so long as you look them in the eye and sound like you mean it.”

The rabbit elaborated: Trump long ago mastered the art of the con. He knows that the best way to defend his lies is to tell more lies, because the media unfailingly report his lies as if they might be truths. And he knows his fans will believe his lies, or pretend to believe, because his lies are tailored to fit their fears and prejudices.

After ruminating, I had to agree. The bigger Trump’s lies, the more his fans believe him. Reporters are “enemies of the people.” Democrats aren’t the other party, they’re an “angry, ruthless, unhinged mob.” That “caravan” of migrants is a cover for “unknown Middle Easterners” heading toward the U.S. border with bad intent.

Trump’s fans thrill to this sort of talk, the way kids (and adults with short attention spans) thrill to superhero movies. They want Trump to be like the savior in that David Bowie song:

Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you
We want you Big Brother

If you think I’m exaggerating, you haven’t seen videos of Trump exhorting enthusiastic rednecks at his get-out-the-vote rallies. You haven’t seen them laugh when he pretends to body-slam a reporter.

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