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Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Cheerleaders of the world, unite!

Eyewear found Heroes (Season 1 has just ended on terrestrial BBC2, Season 2 airs in 2008, and is delayed post-episode 11 due to the ongoing writer's strike Stateside) eye-catching entertainment. However, its hybrid, multicultural plotlines, more than homage to great 60s TV series like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, and comic books like the X-Men, and Star Wars, was often as not more a quasi-rip-off of ideas from, say, The Incredibles (where another evil-minded maniac kills superheroes to pilfer their powers). However, originality need not be the benchmark for great TV entertainment, and, starting with the straight man Mr. Bennet (and his mutilated-yet-recoverable post-Lolita daughter, Claire, pictured), on to the semi-dumb yet lovable cop who can read minds, it won hearts. Sylar and his murderous moving finger cemented the show's greatness - or maybe the dumpy Japanese bespectacled guy, Hiro, hopping about time, did it. It was also fun to see the cameos from pseudo-has-beens, including Mr. Takei, of Star Trek.

Something still grates, though. Perhaps it was the series slogan: "Save the cheerleader, save the world" - a mantra that became tedious. My main concern was that the "world" was never even in peril - just several million people in NYC. Once again, a very American-centric view of the world prevailed, as in other superhero films (admittedly usually American in origin) where, aside from a few shots of Wonders of the World being toppled by meteorites or giant waves, most of the rest of humanity barely exists. Worse, still, is the absence of any sense of two major factors in human experience.

The first is culture (other than rather 19th century figurative painting), which seems entirely absent from the worldview of any of the characters, all isolated, in pure postmodern post-industrial American fashion, and individual, uniquely alone and mostly frustrated in their dreams of fulfillment - fulfillment which, it should be added, has nothing to do with an interior journey that might involve education, enlightenment, let alone literacy. It is often the unspoken blindspot of TV product that it seeks to render invisible the letter, literacy, and text itself - books, reading, writing - and the heroic journey that sort of quest involves, is annihilated. In Heroes, the world of the mind, rather than being saved, is already mostly lost - Mohinder, the Indian genetic scientist, represents Reason, but hardly Art.

The second absent factor is Economics - or rather, a historical, or Marxist, reading of America. In Heroes, you would hardly suspect that worse things threaten mankind than several insane people capable of going nuclear (a very Bush-style paranoia) - for instance, global climate change, or the AIDS pandemic, actually represent catastrophic human suffering - yet our Heroes instead scramble to merely confront a local, pathological watchmaker. In creator Kring's defence, this is only the first season, and the series arc may confront wider international issues. However, the major weakness at the core of most American filmed product (There Will Be Blood may be different) is that it cannot deeply question the "American way of life" and posit an alternative system of distribution, or social co-operation.

Bereft of the idea of true solidarity, or community, the ruggedly individual quests of the main characters combine only at key crisis moments, presenting a "family values" idea of brotherhood (like The Waltons did) without offering a sustained critique of the rot beneath. Therefore, the shallow, surface plot elements that seem subversive (a corrupt presidential candidacy predicated on mass murder) merely reinstate a feeling that, ultimately, as one young character says, when told the world needed to be cured: "I didn't even know it was sick". Indeed. While America continues to think all is well with capitalism, nothing will be done to stop capitalism's destruction of the planet.

Heroic? Not very.
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