18 July 2007

Iconoclasm, Symbols, and What We Believe In

"If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything."

When I was a teenager, half a lifetime ago, to be exact, I was big into comic books. Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, X-Men, Spawn to some degree. It was a strange time to be a fan, as the major publishers were going through a massive iconoclasm binge. They killed Superman. They broke Batman and temporarily replaced him with a younger, more violent version. They told us that the Spidey we'd loved for the past 20 years was a clone. They ripped the adamantium out of Wolverine. They had Green Lantern go insane and nearly destroy the entire universe. All of these mythic, epic characters were radically altered and put through the grinder for no other reason than to create a strange piqued interest. Everybody aped DC after the death of Superman. Entire histories were wiped out, re-written, shoved aside, and all logic suspended during this wave of symbol-smashing.

I read not too long ago that they've now killed off Captain America. It is a strange time to go about whacking one of the great symbols of American freedom and all the things that make America great. The Superman movie cut out "...and the American way" in order to avoid possibly offending anybody that may like Superman but not be a big fan of whatever conception of the United States they hold in their head. With America at war against Islamofascism, terrorism, and tyranny, American pop culture is committing suicide on a large scale. The hero that first leapt into the world's imagination by bopping Hitler square on his little moustache was killed on the front steps of an American court by a sniper, hardly a befitting and deserving send-off.

The other day I got exceptionally frustrated by a snarky comment that Hollywood et al. should refrain from blowing up or desecrating any and all symbols so that nobody can ever be offended. When I challenged this individual on his reductio ad absurdum, he responded with the flippant comment that there's few good places to start discussing such things, so he suggested the destruction of the White House in the movie Independence Day. Clearly this person didn't grasp my point: symbols and icons are things which we look to as part of our identity. When some filmmaker sends the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty rolling through the streets as part of a movie plotline, he/she is treading on grounds that would be offensive to a great number of people. For many, the Statue of Liberty is an icon of the best of American ideals--the "untamed fires of liberty" cited by George W. Bush in his second Inaugural Address are harnessed in that statue--and destroying it, even in a ridiculously cinematic fashion, can rub people the wrong way. Yes it's fictitious, no it's not real, but what genuine purpose does such wanton destruction of a cherished symbol serve? Is that entertainment? Are we to take joy from it? For the same reason that people get incredibly angry over the burning of a national flag, so too do people's nationalist tendencies get aroused sometimes over such iconoclasm.

We need not look squarely to fictional accounts to see how some people take their icons seriously. Remember the uproar last year when a veteran snapped a photograph of some drunken buffoon urinating on the War Memorial in Ottawa? Remember how many well-reasoned people were justly offended by that disgraceful incident? Yet, how many people were also saying "Who cares?" That location is a hallowed ground to people who have lost loved ones in combat, serving Canada and defending its interests and principles. It's not something to be treated as a urinal. Older generations led the charge in demanding some form of public embarrassment for the young fool who would desecrate the War Memorial, while younger generations, not entirely but for the large part, yawned, flipped the channel, and tuned out.

Ours is a generation that is desperately lacking something in which it believes. When more young people see the United States--not people around the globe, but Americans--as the greatest threat to world peace than they do genuine threats such as Iran or North Korea, there is something severely wrong. They don't believe in America, they don't treasure the ideals of democracy, liberty, the rule of law. They have a misguided view of what liberty is: "let me do whatever the hell I want, I don't care if it hurts or affects other people, I enjoy it." We are de-sensitized to any number of atrocious actions. There is almost nothing we believe to be worth fighting for. When people say that they don't think President Bush being assassinated would necessarily be a bad thing, a) is it any wonder that politicians don't take younger people seriously, and, b) what does that say for their level of respect for the office of the President? I've seen other Canadians who wouldn't have complained too bitterly if the snuffed terrorist plot to kidnap and behead Stephen Harper had been able to come to fruition. What is behind this strange, almost nihilistic, mentality? Is nothing important actually important to these kinds of people?

To me, symbols and icons are important. The Maple Leaf is something that I hold dear to my heart. Values and ideas are central to my thinking. Wearing my "Support Our Troops" hat is but one outward display of what I stand for, and what I believe in. The idea of someone trying to blow up the Parliament Buildings in repugnant to me. Someone who would cheer inside at the murder of Stephen Harper or George W. Bush is not someone who I would call friend. The concept of genuine equality in our society is something I believe we should all strive to achieve so that we may all reach, together, our true potential. These are things that I believe in, and I am befuddled to see that there are many people who seemingly don't believe in anything.


Carrie! said...


here's an icon to be proud of! Kidding kidding.

But, I seriously agree with like..
Everything you said.

The day Marvel kills all the X-Men for good will be a very sad day... Very sad indeed.

And it's really amazing how people can turn what can be such a simple thing.. Even if it's only in a movie... To it being extremely offensive and what not...
What's wrong with society?!

RGM said...

Lack of people who think for themselves. Not to be confused with people who think only about themselves.