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The Dark Knight Returns’ Batman is Really Ra’s al Ghul

Nothing like Ra's al Ghul. At all

Nothing like Ra’s al Ghul. At all

Frank Miller’s Batman is bound to be an asshole. But what struck me when rereading The Dark Knight Returns is why he’s an asshole.

Batman may be dark and menacing, but he protects Gotham because he cares about the people. Miller’s Batman in Dark Knight Returns has nothing but contempt for the people of Gotham.

It’s a theme that develops subtly in the media coverage as the people turn one way and then another, the contemptible mayor who answers to the polls, the storekeeper itching to shoot the Mutant until Batman warns him off and finally the climax in which Batman allies with the former Mutants to fight… among other enemies… the people of Gotham.

It all climaxes in the showdown with Superman who let the people push him into being a weakling by comic book Reagan who is just another feeble minded projection of the petty people of Gotham and the United States.

The Batman of the Dark Knight Returns isn’t a hero because he cares about people, but because he follows some Randian imperative to be heroic. Eventually he leads an army of the ex-Mutants, the same guys who were murdering, raping and bombing Gotham, on a quest to build his own system. This Batman doesn’t fight for people. He fights because he’s a Nietzschean Superman. He’s just made to be superior.

And Superman is just a loser who takes orders from ordinary people. Like the people of Gotham and the media. He let them make him unheroic. That’s why Batman does so well against him. Superman doesn’t think he’s better than anyone. This version of Batman does.

Superman didn’t do his job of imposing the right system on humans. So he got stuck answering to Ronnie, a human leader. Batman is going to go down into the caves and emerge with some kind of new order to replace the pop psychology, push polls and political correctness.

It’s striking how different this Batman is from his usual self and from Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil. This is a Batman who belongs in Moore’s Watchmen more than he does in Gotham. He’s not just a fascist because he’s a crime-fighting vigilante. That’s a common comic critic mistake. He’s a fascist because he believes that society is corrupt and that he has the right to impose his own order on it.

The Dark Knight Returns gives us Batman as a Batman villain. This Batman has more in common with Ra’s al Ghul, right down to his own private army, a home in the caves and contempt for human society.

That contempt is what always separated Batman from Ra’s al Ghul. Batman knew that Gotham was corrupt, but he never completely gave up on it. Miller’s Batman has given up. He views Gotham with a cold eye. He treats its people with disdain. He thinks he’s better than them.

He knows what’s best for them. And he’ll punish them if they don’t obey. He is Ra’s al Ghul.

Is Science Fiction Fandom Hopelessly Polarized?

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This isn’t just about Larry Correia and Vox Day. Or Jonathan Ross. Or Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Or Mick Resnick. Or all the rest of it. The bitter accusations and counter-accusations. The outrage and counter-outrage and counter-outrage-outrage.

Science Fiction, like a lot of publishing, rests on more than ever on writers marketing themselves over social media. That’s why we pretend that Scalzi is a good writer, when he’s actually a bad writer and an entertaining blogger.

It’s what he has in common with some other recent big names.

We have less of a fandom of writing now and more of a fandom of writers and causes. Followings of writers who are the best at online presence because they polarize and mobilize.

The Hugos have been worthless for a while, but the 2014 finalist list shows how easy it is to rig them. After Vox Day’s appearance on the list, I don’t see why any writer would even want to be associated with them.

But it’s all about the marketing. And the marketing is now all about the politics.

It’s easier to market yourself as a writer if you have controversial political views. It’s much harder if your views are ordinary, boring or if you don’t have any.

A bad writer with an entertaining and controversial online presence. A dramatic online presence. Beats a good writer with little online presence.

In a fractured marketplace where that same audience is buying movies, video game and a dozen other things, politics pulls people together. Fandoms built around writers with a commanding online presence have more power because fandom is a pale twisted shadow of what it once was.

Science Fiction is polarized because that’s what stands out in a crowded and mediocre marketplace. You can’t set yourself apart from the latest 40 urban fantasy series or Martin imitators who are growing out their beards, but you can set yourself apart by being loud and obnoxious.

Maybe this is what’s happening with our politics, but it is what’s happening with our Science Fiction. And then everyone is outraged and outraged by the outraged and no one can hear themselves talking because they’re screaming talking points at each other.

And you pick a side, any side, join in, because that’s fandom now.

Why Digg is Dead

The Digg button once used to be as ubiquitous as the Facebook Like button is today. And now completing its final exit to oblivion, Digg has been sold for half a million dollars,  a fraction of the money that hopeful investors plugged into it. The official story is that Digg died because it was overshadowed by Facebook and Twitter.

That’s nonsense. Sure Facebook and Twitter drained some of the traffic out of the pool, but competitors like Reddit are still around. And Digg is deadBuzzfeed, which is just an uglier version of Digg, which hosts its own content, instead of aggregating to linked content, is doing well.

The problem with Digg is that it was never really a social community, it was a social media gaming forum. It was a game where you voted up things. It was gamed by power users and by everyone else until it stopped being a site where you went to see interesting things or kill 5 minutes over a lunch break and became a social media gaming grind.

Reddit works because it’s built around communities. Digg had no communities, it had factions and allies. It was EVE without the spaceships, but with the same drama. Everything that Digg could do, other sites could do better.

Want a list of goofy pictures and pop culture trivia geared to your hipster interests? Try Uproxx or Buzzfeed. You get the graphics up front instead of having to look at a white and blue interface. Want a community of people to yell at about politics, religion or Apple? Reddit has you covered. Or a bunch of other sites.

Want a place that looks like a social media version of an abandoned arcade game where no one is playing any more? Try Digg.

Asking To Be Hacked

“The naked truth: Stars are asking to be hacked”

Does Frazier Moore actually think this or does he just write stuff like this because it will pick up hits? Today with the sad state of journalism, it’s probably the latter.

What was going on in Johansson’s pretty head when she, like so many, snapped candid self-portraits

Probably that she was sharing private photos with one person, not the whole world.

This sort of head-in-the-cloud narcissism (or is it head-in-the-iCloud?) fails to acknowledge that, more and more, people live in glass houses — especially famous people, whose houses are bigger and even more transparent than others.

So assuming that your photos won’t be hacked is now narcissism? Does Moore even understand the words he’s using.

In this era of digital snooping, why would any celebrity delude himself or herself that his or her physical seclusion guarantees privacy?

I don’t get it, are celebrities supposed to wear clothes all the time? Are they supposed to live their lives assuming that all their emails will be read?

Let’s go a step further. People know where celebrities live. If someone breaks into their house and steals their things, weren’t they asking for it by assuming that physical seclusion guarantees privacy?

However high the walls surrounding one’s property and however well-staffed one’s security detail, why would any celebrity store nude photos on any electronic device that connects to the Internet — unless, of course, the celeb is a closet exhibitionist and secretly hopes the stuff will go viral.

Clearly. Celebrities who have anything private in their private email accounts must be exhibitionists because they don’t assume that they are doomed to be hacked.

But she didn’t know better than to leave ripe for the picking those photos of her in her birthday suit, as if to dare some hacker to share them with the world. Sure, Johansson is one of many victims of cyber-hacking. Maybe she was also asking for it.

So by leaving photos in a private account whose contents the hacker couldn’t have known before hacking into it… she was really asking the hacker to do it.

I’ve seen rape defenses better thought out than this. Actually this is every rape defense ever boiled down with the added celebrity tag.

The End of the New York Press

There was a time when the New York Press was the city’s indie paper. The paper that was everything people expected the Village Voice to be, only to discover that it was a bunch of cigarette and hooker ads tucked around columns and reviews so lazy it makes The Onion’s entertainment section look like a real newspaper.

The New York Press with its dirty feel, its cut art, its columns full of crazy rants and slices of life from criminals, sluts, racists, the blind and its obnoxious publisher was indie. Not in the polished hipsters way of today, but in the greasy, gritty and on the edge way. It wasn’t RENT, it was the guy screaming at you on the subway. And it was free.

After all that was gone, the craziest part of the New York Press was Armond White, who kept up the paper’s tradition when the rest were gone. And now White is leaving too, and that leaves the New York Press an also ran alternative paper that’s slightly more entertaining reading than the Voice. But so are tea leaves.

The foldup of the New York Press is just another reminder that gentrification has won. That the image of New York City the NYP catered to, even if it was by new arrivals and for new arrivals, is over. The new city is poorer and richer. It has a lot of high rise buildings and high rise projects. But the character and the characters are gone.

Junk Science Meet Times

Video games cause murder and iPhones are as addictive as crack. Why bother doing science when you can just make a ridiculous claim that’s sensational and trendy enough to get you a Times page. No seriously.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests, my team looked at subjects’ brain activity as they viewed consumer images involving brands like Apple and Harley-Davidson and religious images like rosary beads and a photo of the pope. We found that the brain activity was uncannily similar when viewing both types of imagery.

Because maybe they were all images. Not because people worship Harley-Davidson, but because they’re iconic images that people recognize.

This past summer, I gathered a group of 20 babies between the ages of 14 and 20 months. I handed each one a BlackBerry. No sooner had the babies grasped the phones than they swiped their little fingers across the screens as if they were iPhones, seemingly expecting the screens to come to life.

Or you know maybe because they’re babies and this is what babies do? If you give a baby something, it plays with it. Or maybe because Apple programmed the babies to do that.

Friends who have accidentally left home without their iPhones tell me they feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow un-whole. That sounds a lot like separation anxiety to me.

Or like what happens when you’re disconnected, missing phone messages, out of contact with clients, unable to get email, etc.

So are our smartphones addictive, medically speaking? Some psychologists suggest that using our iPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors — like gambling — so addictive.

Or writing scientifically unsound articles to get your name featured in the New York Times

Earlier this year, I carried out an fMRI experiment to find out whether iPhones were really, truly addictive, no less so than alcohol, cocaine, shopping or video games.

Or cocaine based video games. Or D&D vodka. Don’t forget that.

But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.

Because that’s how their girlfriends, boyfriends and family members contact them?

As we embrace new technology that does everything but kiss us on the mouth, we risk cutting ourselves off from human interaction. For many, the iPhone has become a best friend, partner, lifeline, companion and, yes, even a Valentine. The man or woman we love most may be seated across from us in a romantic Paris bistro, but his or her 8GB, 16GB or 32GB rival lies in wait inside our pockets and purses.

My best advice? Shut off your iPhone, order some good Champagne and find love and compassion the old-fashioned way.

My best advice, phones are a communications device, stop pretending that they have some independent existence and do real science.

Is Newsweek Completely Losing It?

Okay I get that buying a news magazine in 2010 was maybe not a great investment. Newsweek was always the weekly version of USA Today a glossy and content free list of things to read about while waiting at the dentist. Okay. So why resurrect it as a crazy boring version of itself?

First we get a cover story of Mitt Romney performing a dance from the Book of Mormon. Bigoted? Yeah. Imagine of Joe Lieberman was on there as a character from Fiddler on the Roof or Obama acting out a part in Porgy and Bess. Then follow it up with a photoshopped cover of Kate Middleton and Princess Diana.

There’s something about the stench of desperation from a major brand name magazine that’s unappealing. It’s like a presidential candidate who suddenly decides to show off his juggling skills. And now Newsweek is starting to look like a better photoshopped Weekly World News.

The Thin Line Between Critic and Fanboy

It’s reviews like Ginia Bellafante’s screed in the New York Times against Game of Thrones that remind you of just how small a gap there is now between the professional critic and the fanboy. Ginia Bellafante’s only underlying point is that she doesn’t like fantasy and science fiction. Instead of just letting someone else do the review, she dresses up that dislike in gender typing that sounds like it came from a Charlie Brown panel (science fiction and fantasy is for boys only) and social relevance (period dramas in the 1960’s can examine social structures, but not fantasy ones).

The tone is everything you expect from a fanboy screed, irrationally dismissive, even contemptuous and a poorly disguised argument for personal preference mocked up as a review. And it is billed as a review.

But even though it says review on top, Ginia Bellafante doesn’t even pretend to review it. It’s an Armond White review, with Ginia Bellafante citing all the things she likes better than it and using appeals to gender roles and social relevance to buttress her argument, which turns out to have nothing to do with Game of Thrones. The closest she comes to mentioning something specific about the show is its development of a language, but only to peg that as her closing put down.

The single worst moment in it all must be

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first.

And if Ginia Bellafante hasn’t met women who read fantasy novels, they must not exist… or they must not matter. Because she never met them.

The Horse of Undeclared War has Left the Barn

No he actually said that. The Horse of Undeclared War has Left the Barn. He said it with a straight face, like he had no idea that he was delivering one of the worst visual metaphors even by cable news standards. If he had only said it with a straight face, then we might think that he was in on the joke. “I know I’m saying wacky stuff, but I’m being like Stephen Colbert. This is just a persona. It’s not me.”

But somehow, somehow he thinks this is a brilliant line. And that the 5 second rule is a meaningful intro to a speech about executive powers. He’s not wrong, most of his points are okay, but what kills it is the stiffness, the self-conscious air of self-importance and his entire dead on parody of an anchorman with no sense of humor.

Why Keep Katie Couric?

As Couric’s contract comes up, CBS has the chance to dump the blond albatross around its neck. Couric’s huge contract didn’t lead to big ratings. And Couric’s presence on CBS Evening News and on 60 Minutes has hurt CBS’s once solid news programming credibility. Couric was a mistake, the question is will CBS have the guts to dump her.

Keeping Couric means negotiating a pay cut. And that would be an admission of failure from Couric’s people and from CBS. But paying her another 15 million or giving her a raise would be nuts. Getting rid of Couric would give CBS a shot at revitalizing the brand again. This time with a more serious news personality. Someone who will actually go on the spot and has the cred.

Lara Logan is an obvious name being kicked around, if only for the contrast with Couric who is not a journalist, takes no risks and doesn’t know anything her earpiece or teleprompter doesn’t tell her to say. But there are plenty of others. Dumping Couric would be an admission of failure, but keeping her would mean paying a fortune for third place.

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