When we started this blog, I opined that pretty much anything we watched, listened to, or read could be the subject of an off-the-cuff philosophical rant, and while I did this a few times without much exertion, I've since let movie after book after album after TV show fly by without so much as a comment. Have I lost my ability to see philosophy in anything? Do I have too much respect for you the readers to subject you to my frivolity. Certainly not.
And so I force myself, late at night, less than an hour after turning 40 years old, to spin out a pseudo-philosophical paragraph each on a few things I've enjoyed recently:
1. Big Love: Is polygamy inherently exploitative? The message of the show seems to be that while certainly it can be, it's an open question whether it needs to be. At least some of the characters involved seem for the most part psychologically healthy, and have a rationale for what they do. It's depicted (presumably based on research) as a matter of real religious conviction; is it meant to thus be a reductio ad absurdum against religion itself? Certainly there are some scenes (featuring a self proclaimed prophet on a polygamist compound) that strongly convey how duping religion can be, but at the same time, nearly all of the characters depicted are religious in some way; it's just a matter of disagreement between faiths. Pretty engaging overall; nice, subtle comedy, and thought provoking without being heavy handed about it.
2. Game of Thrones. We had free HBO for a weekend, so I splurged on this, and have reread the first two books in the series (I'd read the first three several years back), which I enjoyed immensely. It's set in something like Hobbes's state of nature, where life is cheap, unless you're of noble birth, in which case offenses upon you are met with hundreds riding to your aid to be slaughtered, and then you probably get killed or at least maimed anyway. A lot has been written on the sexual politics, but more interesting is the moral ambiguity: even characters set up as horrible in the first book become protagonists (the narrator rotates each chapter between half a dozen people, which change somewhat for each book) as time goes on: everyone has their rationales and is trying to make their way through a horrific situation. I don't feel like I can rate the TV show, as I see it only as an illustration of what I already know and like in the books,
3. Kickass. This movie/comic is based on the premise that if people actually got in superhero fights, they'd end up in the hospital. Pretty much, in superhero comics (which is much too much of the history of comics, and a point of reference even for those comic artists that hate superheroes), the "what if superheroes were real?" thing has absolutely been done to death, but there are still refreshing variations. The obvious characteristic of this one is the over-the-top violence, which makes it all-too-familiar as a movie trope, but it's interesting that it's done here in the superhero genre without its being all dark a la the Punisher or Watchmen. It's got more of a comic, Fight Club vibe, with some added elements: a kid raised to think murdering bad guys is normal (with some amusing father-daughter sequences involving Nicholas Cage), and the main character actually getting freaked out by the whole thing and deciding (temporarily, at least) that getting involved in this sort of mayhem was a terrible, insane idea. So, you can take this movie as a comment re. our relation to violence. The comic was better, of course: no sentimentality there that I can recall.
4. X-Statix. Somewhere in the early 2000s comic companies started letting crazy-ass indie writers (like Mark Millar, who wrote Kickass) take on some mainstream comic titles, and while in some cases this just meant actually readable-by-adults comics (e.g. Grant Morrisson's and later Joss Whedon's New X-Men, Ed Brubaker's Daredevil, and I know similar things happened at DC that I feel less competent to talk about). The very trippy Peter Milligan inherited X-Force, which is a spin-off of the X-men that sort of makes me ill to think about (really, despite my apparent nerdiness here, I find most mainstream 80s and 90s comics to be just unreadably horrific. The kinds of stuff I'm talking about here is not any more esoteric than many movies you have likely seen, even if the whole media form sounds bizarre and distasteful to you).
So for a couple of books (trade paperbacks, that is; I don't know if I've ever actually read a real comic book at the time of its publication) around 2001 or so, Milligan created all new, mostly gross characters (e.g. the mutant who barfs acid) that he had no compunction about killing off rapidly, and answered the "what if superheroes were real?" question by making them all media whores who film their exploits a la reality TV. So, in between the cheap gags, or maybe interposed on them, there's some nice media-culture commentary, a few ethical questions, and a bit of playing with the 4th wall that always makes you feel so included and clever. After a couple of books, the whole "X-Force" pretense was dropped and the book acquired its own, new title, X-Statix.
Lex Mentis says
With cultural notions about marriage evolving, I suspect that we’ll run across more articles like the following:
I see no reason to believe that, in principle, polygamous arrangements transgress some moral duty. What concerns me is the issue of whether or not such arrangements are conducive to human flourishing and welfare. I would want to have access to more empirical data on the issue before deciding one way or the other about whether these sorts of arrangements contribute to human flourishing.
Here are John Stuart Mill’s remarks on it, of which I am sure you are aware:
” The article of the Mormonite doctrine which is the chief provocative to the antipathy which thus breaks through the ordinary restraints of religious tolerance, is its sanction of polygamy; which, though permitted to Mahomedans, and Hindoos, and Chinese, seems to excite unquenchable animosity when practised by persons who speak English, and profess to be a kind of Christians. No one has a deeper disapprobation than I have of this Mormon institution; both for other reasons, and because, far from being in any way countenanced by the principle of liberty, it is a direct infraction of that principle, being a mere riveting of the chains of one half of the community, and an emancipation of the other from reciprocity of obligation towards them. Still, it must be remembered that this relation is as much voluntary on the part of the women concerned in it, and who may be deemed the sufferers by it, as is the case with any other form of the marriage institution; and however surprising this fact may appear, it has its explanation in the common ideas and customs of the world, which teaching women to think marriage the one thing needful, make it intelligible that many a woman should prefer being one of several wives, to not being a wife at all. Other countries are not asked to recognize such unions, or release any portion of their inhabitants from their own laws on the score of Mormonite opinions. But when the dissentients have conceded to the hostile sentiments of others, far more than could justly be demanded; when they have left the countries to which their doctrines were unacceptable, and established themselves in a remote corner of the earth, which they have been the first to render habitable to human beings; it is difficult to see on what principles but those of tyranny they can be prevented from living there under what laws they please, provided they commit no aggression on other nations, and allow perfect freedom of departure to those who are dissatisfied with their ways.”
Hey Mark, If you wanna nerd out on comics, and perhaps pull some between the lines commentary (I don’t think I know enough to specify philosophical schools of thought) you may dig:
-Asterios Polyp, it is a great read, I think there is some existential commentary here, but who am I to say?
-DMZ, you crazy Americans pursue a secound civil war in a very realistic way.
-Unwritten, if we create a world through literature, does it then exist?
-The Walking Dead, morals vs survival.
I am currently at episode 20, working my way to current. Even though a lot of things seem over my head, I have really enjoyed listening.
Nathan Sacket says
Game of Thrones reminded me of this article that compares the plot flow of recent period shows to Nietzsche’s idea of chaos and order in Greek tragedy. Not that this enriches my understanding of HBO. (What a true dualism!) The second link is just a Marxishish interpretation of Muppets.