*deep, labored breath* Give me *panting* a second. Whew! I gotta sit down.
Forgive me. That pun took a lot out of me. I don’t think I’ll be able to explain it until I’ve had a chance to recover. Maybe I’ll get around to it before the post is over, but for now all you need to glean from it is I’ve been thinking about Doctor Strange a lot lately.
Let’s be honest. Though it was a definitely fun and packed to its upturned collar with impressive visuals, 2016’s Doctor Strange didn’t exactly deliver on the concept of multiple dimensions. Sure there was that Ditko inspired “pollen under a microscope under a black light” representation of the Dark Dimension and the acid trip across existence, but am I the only one who thought that The Ancient One’s tease about an “infinite number” of universes hinted at alternate realities? While it was definitely entertaining to watch astral projections brawling through walls and nice to see a sorcerous sidestep into the Mirror Dimension, I was expecting the “Inception on steroids” shots from the trailer to be a cataclysmic merge of parallel universes rather than just an another overblown instance of the overused kaleidoscope effect that passed for reality manipulation in this film. Ghost fights and glorified Instagram filters do not a multiverse make.
Thus robbed of the opportunity to make yet another “conservatives and liberals see the world so differently that they might as well be living in parallel universes” commentary with a somewhat timely super hero tie in, my powers of hyper political perspective were unable to extract a topic of suitable relevance to government in one of the most recentish comic book flicks I’ve seen. That is, until a deranged lunatic shot up a congressional baseball practice. Until it became clear that his actions were in large part motivated by the “resist” narrative that has been permeating in much of the media since November. Until the depiction of the assassination of a sitting president’s likeness was deemed by some to be important artistic expression, beautiful even.
So in what dimension do these instances have anything to do with Doctor Strange? The infinite realm of personal expression.
Not only is this plane of existence as innumerable as all the individuals that ever have been or will be, but it extends from the pure aesthetics of the fine arts to the more mottled commentary of journalism. In media from oils and marble to blogs and newscasts, individual perspectives are distilled into easily appreciable portions. In this dimension, just as The Ancient One said of the Mirror Dimension, we are able “to train, surveil, and occasionally to contain threats.” In this boundless reflection of our world we can hone our skills and virtues, posit observations and explore motivations, and dispel our sadness, frustrations, and–in some extreme cases–our hatred in ways that don’t consume us.
For all its utility though, there is a tinge of indulgence and vanity to it. One must entertain a degree of self importance to deem one’s own thoughts and feelings worthy of mass distribution. In this, artistry and punditry come easier to those with egocentric worldviews than those who place a premium on humility. Just as Kaecilius and his zealots are stronger in the Mirror Dimension because of their connection to the Dark Dimension, those guilty of hubris can produce some of the most persuasive arguments and most potent art. For those looking for answers or meaning, surety is often more convincing than truth. So when ostensibly credible media spend the better part of a year covering alleged collusion between the President and the Russian government with the sense of urgency befitting La Résistance, it isn’t surprising that someone decided to do something about the apparently existential threat. And even while the conveniently timed calls to soften the tone of political dialogue went out after Hodgkinson’s attempt, the nightly wish fulfillment of a Trump doppelganger’s depicted assassination proceeded to rave reviews.
I’m not here to shift blame or beat the conservative drum. Hodgskinson alone is responsible for his actions. No matter how tasteless and insensitive the art or rhetoric, it isn’t some overpowering mind control apparatus that makes sleeper agents of its observers. Just as occurrences in the Mirror Dimension can’t affect the real world, works of art or persuasion are powerless by themselves to affect change. Sticks and stones and all that. However, that doesn’t mean that purveyors of the kind of vitriol and paranoia that fuels this madness are justified in spewing it. There’s a world of difference between culpability and contribution, and this disparity is the refuge of many a reckless, deceitful, and sloppy artist and talking head.
My objection isn’t so much that biased journalism, or a misleading documentary, or a gory depiction of political violence is overtly harmful in any way, so much as it is just exceedingly poor execution of one’s craft. Journalism that abandons objectivity in pursuit of its agenda is shoddy. Documentaries that skew reality hardly accomplish the task of documenting events. Art that appeals to our basest instincts for shock value without anything more substantive to say is simply juvenile. Shakespeare dramatizing the volatility of mob mentality and the counterproductive nature of assassinations is insightful social commentary. Portraying Julius Caesar as Trump and watching him get stabbed by minorities is a 9th grader drawing boobies on his chemistry folder: no matter how accurate or visceral the depiction, all we can glean is the inner desires of the artist.
So if “words will never hurt me,” why premise this whole argument on Hodgkinson and the ever present Trump pseudo threats? Because, though what happens in Mirror Dimension stays in the Mirror Dimension, the skills honed and information gleaned there are intended to affect the real world outside, just as art and persuasive commentary are intended to contribute to society’s never ending dialogue on the human condition. These forms of expression exist to spur people’s thoughts and, by extension, their actions. They help to shape society’s perception of the world, for better or worse, which has very real consequences.
If I’m not here to carry Republicans’ water, why focus on the latest controversies to rile the right? Because, for all the shortcomings of the Republican party and the often short sighted loyalty of its adherents, for all the sanctimony of the Tea Party and the belligerence of the Trump Train, the right has not even come close to distorting reality like the left has. Like Kaecilius manhandling Strange in and out of the Mirror Dimension because of his special connection with the Dark Dimension, the left’s near ideological monopoly of the arts and media has grown so powerful that they too can pull the kaleidoscope trick in the real world. They can make it appear to huge swaths of society that they are living in a police state that is taking away hard fought freedoms left and right while the party in power is too busy bickering with itself to accomplish much of anything. They can blow so much smoke that many people think there must be a fire despite not seeing so much as a spark even after looking painstakingly for one for months.
If juvenile expression and skewed perspective are so objectionable, why not take Trump to task for his incessant tweeting? Because despite my misgivings about Trump, he’s not shaping anyone’s opinions. He didn’t create the wave of populist discontent with government. He just rode it to the top, saying some really asinine things along the way like a true surfer.
Because, though their unorthodox political savvy may be debatable, no one ever considered his tweets high art.
Being edgy for the sake of being edgy is boring. It is boastful to equate the last vestige of free speech to overwhelmingly hostile news coverage of an administration that has yet to produce a genuine scandal despite unprecedented scrutiny. La Résistance, in this case, is a brogue.
Look it up.
No, not an Irish accent. Further down.
Not a Scottish shoe. Keep scrolling.
A fraud; trick; prank. That’s the one.