The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. I’m sure someone far wiser and more articulate that me has a more eloquent way of saying that, but I spend way too much time researching verification of my statements as it is to waste any more time trying to sound more cultured than I actually am. The point is, there is always something more to learn on any given subject and the second one begins to think of oneself as an expert, that’s the very moment one’s eventual humiliation is all but assured.
Funny thing about humility: those who learn it early on steadily chip away at their ignorance as time and maturity allow, but those for whom it never really sinks in only expand their desperate need for it with each passing day.
Another funny thing about humility: sometimes being humble means knowing when to put a pin in bettering oneself and just act on what you know. As one might expect, the self contradictory nature about this last facet makes it the biggest stumbling block of all. The trick is to know when something is important enough to stick one’s neck out. Nothing is gained, for instance, when trying to correct willful ignorance, such as when a coworker seizes on your admittedly limited comic book knowledge to make such a preposterous claim as, “I’m hesitant to see the new Deadpool movie because it’s not true to the comic. In the comic he has his mouth sewn shut.”
Now I’m no expert, but I’m fairly certain that the only continuity in which Deadpool had his mouth sewn shut was the God-Awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In fact, I remember that being one of the biggest sticking points with fanboys at the time. So when somebody says something like that, not only with a straight face, but with the a wide eyed nod like they’ve just graced you with some insider knowledge, and then doubles down by adding, “That’s why all his dialogue is in thought bubbles while other characters’ are regular speech bubbles,” it’s the obvious play not to engage. Despite this intellectual overreach, his dollars count just as much as that of a casual reader such as myself at the box office, or just much as an actual rabid Deadpool fan for that matter. The same maddening calculus is at play in voting. No matter how much I educate myself–about policy, history, the candidates’ positions and trustworthiness–I will forever be offset by someone who thinks that Congress should act immediately to end women’s suffrage, because women have been suffering for far too long.
It’s easy to get hung up on the sense of inferiority brought on my that unfortunate reality, but another way to look at it is that without the informed votes to balance them out, the uninformed would run amok more than they already do. This notion of being the counterweight to ignorance has the unfortunate side effect of snobbery that is evident in fanboys and their counterparts in the political realm as well. Fanboys of a given comic will blast any deviation from the source material in a given adaptation, sometimes creating such a blow back as to put the kibosh on plans that have been projected out years in advance by a multi-billion dollar industry. Likewise, political idealists are constantly taking to the airwaves and the internet decrying any perceived capitulation to the opposition or disregard for political orthodoxy. For their part, the politicians and the studio execs are used to holding all the cards and are quick to regard these often disgruntled constituencies as a given. Politicians reason that, since voters are practically locked into one party or the other, the smart play is to cede as much ground as possible to win over those on the fence or even potential converts, as long as they retain enough of a semblance of their ideals that they can in some way differentiate themselves from the opposite party. In much the same way, studio execs reason that comic book fans are going to spend their money on something at the multiplex and as long as they keep the names and general concepts intact, they can draw in heaps of general audience dollars by leveling out some of the outlandish aspects of comics. Being taken for granted, though, has a way of breeding contempt, and the protestations of these core elements are becoming more and more of a significant factor in both equations.
This contempt carries with it the danger of skewing this increasing clout from the more positive outcomes, such as the recent Deadpool movie, to uninformed, reactionary bravado. Whereas before, shallow adherence to patriotism largely made for cringe worthy moments in private conversation or small forums, now we feel the country collectively cringe each time a likely contender for President opens his mouth. Before, when conservatives proudly slipped “We the People” into every other sentence in their political rhetoric, I would wince at the irony that this phrase was the instrument by which many of the hard fought, nigh impossibly attained gains of the American Revolution were wrestled away from the populace. It sounds so inspiring, “We the People,” until one realizes that it was the rationale behind illegally superseding the existing government of 1787 under the Articles of Confederation, among the overblown, supposed failings of which was that unanimous consent of the States was required to enact any federal law. When people at the time heard that the proposed new government was framed as a compact directly between the people themselves and the federal government, without the middleman of the States, many of them turned a blind eye to the fact that the very supremacy that the Constitution plainly states in no uncertain terms was the same supremacy that Parliament only tacitly attempted to exert over the colonies, which was the driving force behind the movement for independence.
Before, when the Tea Party members I’d meet with likewise exhausted the phrase “of the people, by the people, for the people,” I’d roll my eyes at the incongruity that the very speech that lifted this phase to immortality was given near the sight of the deaths of nearly 4000 men who wanted only to preserve that sentiment; that the “new birth of freedom” Lincoln so loftily spoke of was a nation where any attempt to take seriously the promise of the 10th amendment would be met with armed resistance; that when he spoke of dedication to the “unfinished work which they who fought [there had] thus far so nobly advanced” he spoke of dedication to an agenda for concentrated federal power and influence that is largely indistinguishable from that of the current government against which the Tea Party rails.
I would bristle uneasily as we, at said meetings, would rise to say the Pledge of Allegiance, wondering whether this would be the day that I refused to stand and would have to explain to them that the Pledge was, again contrary to most of what they were assembled to defend, written in 1892 by an avowed Socialist as a means to support the nascent push for nationalized public education.
Every time I would decide not to rock the boat, reasoning that it would do little but alienate the people with whom I mostly agreed. I recognized that most of them came of age at a time when the pledge stood for everything that was right about the US, the specific history of its origin notwithstanding. These good, well meaning people had come to know the pledge, and the out of context quotes plucked from the Preamble and the Gettysburg Address, as symbols of the freedom we all cherish. That they were uninformed about these symbols’ contradictory origins does little to diminish their genuine enthusiasm for the their individual sovereignty, much as my aforementioned avid comic book fan roommate (for simplicity’s sake, let’s call him The Least Resistor) is only slightly less avid of a fan for his belief that Iron Man’s arc reactor was originally put in place to counteract his body’s deterioration due to his alcoholism. This was the version of the story he first came to know and identify with (whether by it actually appearing in the comics or simply his misunderstanding of its purpose; alas, I have not read every Iron Man comic so as to say.) His undiminished enthusiasm, though, only makes it that much more laughable that he would then go on to object to the MCU’s version of events as being inaccurate, despite the only notable change being a substitution of Iraq for Vietnam as the location of Tony Stark’s life altering run in with an IED.
In this emerging paradigm where the brand loyalty of fanboys and party bases are less of a foregone conclusion and more of a force to be reckoned with, the incumbency on all of us would be Fanmen only grows to fully understand what it is that we’re digging in about. One rollicking good time at the theater and one and a half outsider candidates probably won’t prove to be the end of entrenched interests in Hollywood or Washington–in fact it’s likely that the relevance of each goes misdiagnosed or woefully co-opted–but the fact remains that, for the time being, long simmering enthusiasm is boiling over. It is up to us to determine whether that enthusiasm is raw or refined, reasoned or reactionary, informed or ignorant. It is to us to educate ourselves and those whose enthusiasm translates to a willingness to learn rather than to buckle down instinctively on what they think they know, to be willing to accept some hard truths like the Joker not having a definitive backstory, rather than simply running with our first impressions and proudly touting absurdities like “the only consistent thing is that he’s always the one to have killed Bruce Wayne’s parents” (another gem from my coworker, who we’ll hereafter call The Improviser, whose policy seems to be: when in doubt, make it up.) Most of all, we must never become what we hate. We must never confuse gut reactions with reason and expend our precious time and energy doing mental gymnastics to provide justifications for them. We must be vigilant, so as to remain among the heroes and not among the rogues.
How best to accomplish that? So glad you asked…
Oh you were expecting an answer? We’ll get to that soon enough, but in the meantime we’ll delve into my allegiance to Team Cap. See you next time, same bat time, same bat channel.