A couple of days ago, I linked to Aaron Diaz’ proposal for a rebooted DC Universe. One part of it stuck in my mind, specifically the Superman reboot. More specifically the concept that Superman “has particularly targeted corporate corruption and the military-industrial complex as enemies of human progress, his most prominent opponent being billionaire industrialist Lex Luther and his company, LexCorp.”
Minor point: This strikes me as very much an Occupy Wall Street era concept as much as the Forever People caught the zeitgeist of the early seventies. Which is not meant as a criticism—as Diaz notes, it’s not that far from Kal-El’s Depression era roots.
Major point: Just how far can you go with someone like that? I’m not talking about what DC would let you get away with, but how much can you challenge the system before people start to think your protagonist is a bad guy.
Taking down corrupt corporations is fairly simple: You can thwart Lexcorp’s latest scheme without opposing corporate America per se. You can thwart an evil/belligerent military officer (Lois Lane’s father has been filling that slot the past decade or so) without suggesting the military as a whole is doing evil.
But what if you take it further? If Superman decides we’re on the wrong side in Vietnam? Or Pakistan? Or Afghanistan?
What if the Punisher, instead of gunning down criminals, guns down cops to stop them shooting an innocent bystander? Or executes forensic experts who taint the evidence to get the “right” person convicted (and it does happen, as Convicting the Innocent details)?
At some point, you’re definitely no longer a hero, you’re a revolutionary (and not in a good way) and a terrorist. At another point you’re not challenging the system, just keeping it in order—which is a good thing to do, but not always sufficient to fix things (and not really shaking up the status quo as much as it might look). The middle is where it gets interesting.
Suppose, for example, Superman decided to do something about drone strikes. Nothing extreme—just put his invulnerable body between American missiles and children (because contrary to Joe Klein, blowing up children is not okay). Would readers give three cheers, or be outraged he’s interfering with our alleged goals over there?
What if he broke into Abu Ghraib or Baghram, freed the torture victims and dropped the torturers back in the US calling for punishment?
What if someone hacked into the NSA’s system for spying on everyone’s email and wiped out their data stash? Or leaked CIA dirty tricks to the press? Certainly the government would retaliate, hard. But how would readers take it?
What if someone went back in time a la Guns of the South but to arm and equip slave revolts?
I think what I’m getting at is there are lots of ways in fiction to shake up the status quo without going terrorist. Radical paths, in that they shake up the system, not just the bad apples writers often conveniently blame the problems on. Take Spy Who Came in From the Cold: As I note at the link, it’s a brutal criticism of espionage because even though LeCarre believes it’s vital, he also presents the immorality and ruthlessness as built into the system. British agent Leamas ultimately dies because he can’t get over the cognitive dissonance about it.
I’m not sure, but I think somewhere in there, I just got an idea for a story …


Filed under Politics, Writing

2 responses to “Anti-authoritarian

  1. Pingback: Comics creator Chuck Dixon demands more comics censorship | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Greece, quasi-countries and Anarky: books read | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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