Maintaining Social Relevance: Priceless

Congratulations and welcome to post three! For those keeping track, we’ve so far discussed where we are socially and how we got here (amongst many other things). So today must be about where we are going. Except it isn’t. It turns out, prophecy and clairvoyance are not in the Caped Persuader J’s utility cape (and no one is more surprised than me!). Instead of spouting doom and gloom about the absolute damnation we Millennials have ensured or, instead, the promise of wonderful, picturesque futures, full of colors and overly large fruit, I’m going to aim for a target I can actually hit. I can say what it won’t be and why.

There is a storytelling device in both comic books and comic movies called a “reboot”. You may have heard of it. Reboots give writers, creators, and producers an opportunity to reimagine characters and universes in a new way. Hopefully, in a newly relevant or interesting way. If you pay even a little attention to either the paper or the screen, you can see the reasons why, as they rarely have need to hide them. Maybe a team of writers or actors quit. Maybe the IP changes hands. Maybe the audience simply cannot buy into the stories coming out from the source any more. Whatever the reason, it indicates some failure and a major overhaul meant to put things back together.

Easiest example is DC Comics and their Gold, Silver, Bronze, and  Modern divisions. Each time a metallic age would shift, the writers, drawers, publishers, everyone would work towards advancement. It wasn’t enough for DC comics to just forget about the universe they created in the beginning, they had to rebuild it. They did it on the backs of good characters and good stories. They did it with a motivation to build higher and greater than before. They started to focus on things like the theoretical physics involved when Flash would run through physical objects, or how drugs affected their world. They began to include diversity on a grander scale. They stopped telling so many cutesy stories and started to tell really mature, dark stories. The drawings themselves changed, built on this fresh ground. Once they were confident in their new base, they would build fiercely and with great passion, straining every muscle they could to push it a little further, create a bit more. It’s how human beings are.

The metaphor here is easy. We reboot our civility based on the same ideas. When leadership or authority changes or when the populace simply stops believing in them, we change our habits, our culture. We have to cling to the things that cannot move or change, our essential characters and themes, as our new foundations. From there we build up, fiercely and passionately, building new monuments and wonders. Unfortunately, which characters will be deemed important enough to keep and themes solid enough to expand on are only known to the future. Worse, telling the good from the bad cannot be done with sight alone, only through testing. Once we know some, we can find a sort of pattern in them and follow it. Until then, we have to test them all.

It is possible to see from the previous Cavern Crawl post that I perceive what is happening globally right now as an indicator of a time where people are smashing down all notions of truth and reality. Let start from there. Our future is not to continue its destruction. This is the scouring process. While it does seem at times that it is a never ending process, it is not an end. I mean, this is can be seen from every other aspect in human culture. When DC rebooted from the Golden Age to the Silver Age, it had to do what it could to save its most iconic and important characters, but it obliterated the rest. Even in this case, once someone who thought they had a really good plan for an old character, it could be brought back. But it first had to prove its relevancy.

This, however, does mark a notable difference between this world and the comic-verse. For comic scribes, whether it’s Frank Miller rebooting Daredevil and Batman, or Alan Moore bringing back Swamp Thing, we as individuals only had to see their final product. I have never looked at their rough drafts but I feel fully confident they exist and, except for a few moments of light, that they were bad. On the other hand, here in the terrestrial plains, we have to watch every misstep happen, every half-thought idea be attempted. There is no deadline that can be pushed back or release date to ignore in an attempt to give it a bit more polish. We just live our lives in a single direction of time. When we suck, everyone gets to see it. When we fail, everyone has to make a judgement call. One success might be a fluke or it might be an insight, who can say? When it’s an entire nation’s worth of attempts, it gets very, very ugly.

Let me then note that it would be an egregious and horrifying mistake to believe that the scouring process itself is the end result. I kind of get it. To see the demolition of buildings and houses by a group of invading foreigners and assume they plan a future with only exploding architecture and life in the rubble they created is obviously wrong but still quite scary. Especially when they do so with no apparent regard to the importance or beauty of the things that have been made before. In all reality, though, it doesn’t matter how pretty the building or important the people who dwell within are. If the foundation is faulty, it goes “splat” just like the rest of them. Only then can they build a thing that won’t.

Let me put this another way. When they made the jump into the New 52, DC tore down the Justice League. To explain the weight of this, imagine if we “rebooted” the country and demolished Washington D.C. Now, they did this with the full intent to rebuild it, but in a way that was more meaningful than the previous iteration. The change was superficially small but well noticed and indeed full of meaning (referring here to how they dropped J’onn J’onzz as a founder and replaced him with Cyborg). It sent a message to the fan base, sure, but it was also done (as all actions within capitalism are) to bring in new customers. They had a new idea, a somewhat different philosophy, and this had to be done in order to achieve it.

After all this, a singular conclusion is hard. “The world is different than when I was a kid” is always a true statement for any adult in any age. The interesting twists and curves my generation has created make me smile and laugh, while I remain exhausted trying to keep up if only to know my own opinions on things. I like to think that this volume and breadth of difference means that I might actually get to live through an entire Era change, but, at the least I know that I live in a time where people have never been more desperate for truth, even as they fail to believe it exists. Finally, whatever comes after this, whatever different facet of truth we find worthy to rebuild upon, I am excited to learn about it and teach people how it connects to times before, how this “new” bedrock is just an extension of the old. I’m excited to get rid of systems that have been so tied up in importance, people forgot they never really existed to begin with. It’s like shedding skin. I’m excited to try out my new suit.

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