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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Never say Hollywood can't learn from its mistakes. The producers have figured out how to please everyone: maintain earnestness regardless of the inherent absurdity of the genre, be 'topical' by way of empty allegory, be spectacularly violent, never stop moralizing. Meet these requirements, and a great deal of variety is possible: one has free reign to be jokey or serious, bright or gloomy, undisguisedly sexist, racist, homophobic, or none of the above, 'critical,' or 'wish fulfillment.' Or all of the above. These labels are simply not the creator's responsibility. Restore the superhero's propaganda function, in short, and in so doing prove Sontag's thesis that "pure camp" is always so for the future and not the present.** The comic book-loving nerds of my generation are now faced with the dubious realization of our pubescent dreams: the nerds have taken over Hollywood, and the responsibility thus falls to the Figure of the Superhero to 'teach us' something about the "human condition."
Good news for culturemonkeys: Ryan has a great post on superhero cinema over there. (And here too.) It's more or less the definitive post on Dark Knight. But a few quick thoughts. First, I think Acephalous's attempt to rehabilitate the film from attempts to understand it solely as a "balls-out obvious apolog[y] for the authoritarian, repressive 'excesses' of global capitalism" is instructive, and definitely worth reading.

Second, Ryan writes that we are currently experiencing the"repetition-as-farce of the '50s"—but this doesn't strike me as a new phenomenon. Isn't it more the case that post-war American culture is perpetually returning to the '50s as a site of degrading, doomed unity?

This is to say that Jameson's claim that WWII is the moment of highest American nostalgia par excellence is, I think, fundamentally correct, with the revision that it's more the period from Dec. 1941 to August 29, 1949, the day the Russians exploded their first atomic bomb. The '50s are the memory of "the good '40s" combined with and juxtaposed against the reality of 8/29/49—they are the dawning but perpetually unfinished recognition of how it all will go / is going / has already gone wrong. In other words, the '50s themselves were a repetition-as-farce the first time around of the ideologically unacceptable, apocalyptic shock at the end of the previous decade—and we find ourselves going back to the '50s for answers whenever we get shocked again.

That's why, when 1973 is the year of disaster for American capitalism, Happy Days premieres in January 1974.