Guess Who Dies in Green Lantern.

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

We do love our superhero movies, don’t we. I’ve had something of a pet theory for a few years now that says that all superhero comic book mythologies are little more than the superego punishing the id in a celebration of a superficially Nietzschean, almost fascist worldview. What is much more interesting is why audiences find these stories so compelling.

Wait, if the ring gives him all the power, then why does he need to flex his muscles?

Comic book stories are good when they acknowledge this and play with the form. This is one of the reasons why Nolan’s The Dark Knight was so good. It took the Nietzschean superhero motif to its ultimate conclusion–the Noble Lie–and exposed the corruption at the heart of it. When a superhero movie isn’t directed by Christopher Nolan, it isn’t as good, and you get everything else.

Including almost all of the PG-13 action movies coming out this summer. Including Green Lantern.

The synopsis: Green Lantern is green because he is one of the Guardians who harness the green energy of willpower to fight evil in the form of fear, which is yellow (you yellow-bellies!). A Green Lantern uses his willpower to make manifest whatever he imagines, and with this willpower energy, he fights evil-fear. Except evil in the story isn’t really fear, evil is chaos and vengeance that feeds on the fear of the weak (i.e. everybody else).

So on the one hand, you have the Guardians, the ubermensch powered by sheer will, and on the other you have a corrupting monster that feeds on the fear of everyone who isn’t a superman. Throw in some defense contractor ne’er do wells, a corrupt Senator, a beautiful love interest (who happens to be the film’s only major female character) and roll cameras. There’s one other thing, but I’ll get to that later.

Captain America, which comes out in July and which I have not seen, will also be the same. I know this because in the movie, Captain America fights the Nazis. The only problem is that the real life Nazis were already super-evil fascists, so instead of fighting regular Nazis in the comic book, he fights a super-evil monster Nazi named Red Skull (“but I though the communists were-” I know, I know). The Nazi monster gets to be the rabid teeth-gnashing caricature of evil we expect out of comics so that Captain America can be the ends-justify-the-means ruthless ass-kicker we need him to be (and who, if he were blond, blue-eyed and called “Blitzkrieg” we would immediately identify as a Nazi).

I’m not going to ask why they make these movies. They make them because outfitting Lamborghinis with hookers is surprisingly expensive. Instead, I’m going to ask why we see them. Why do we read the comic books they are based on? Sure, spectacle is fun and has its place, but we’ve really been eating this stuff up as of late. What gives?

The answer is quite simple. We want to punish. We want to learn how to be the authority. We like to see our essential natures up there on the screen or in the brightly colored pages beating the crap out of each other, and we want to see the superego win. Take my id, my base desires and instincts that I’m not supposed to have, and use my superhero superego to beat it into submission. That’s how comic books work. For their readers, it’s a nice fantasy.

But that’s also why we’re supposed to grow out of them. Eventually we’re supposed to lose interest in the conflict as fantasy because we’ve experienced it in reality. When the internal conflict is no longer as acute as it was in our adolescence, after we’ve developed strategies to satisfy those baser natures in ways that are permissible (to serve that revenge cold), then the conflict no longer resonates. To say it another way, comic books and similar stories only resonate when the Oedipal conflict within the reader is in full swing. When the “father” (the authority figure of whatever gender) is socializing (i.e. punishing) us, the conflict rages, and these stories help to make sense of that.

So what happens when there is no father, or “father”? What happens when the father is distant, emotionally detached, gone, or simply dies before the child fully grows up? What happens when the adolescent is without an authority to impose those external rules? Cue Marcuse’s the Ballad of the Post-Freudian Man. We drift into a state of childish adulthood, skipping from one surrogate father, champion, or hero to the next.

And this is the other reason these stories are so popular. Because they aren’t just for kids anymore. They are also for a whole generation of 20 and 30-somethings who in this very specific Oedipal sense are still kids. The theaters and comic book stores are packed with post-Freudian audiences who grew up without “fathers”.

Just like their heroes Batman, Spider-Man, and Captain America.

And just like Green Lantern too, who we see as a boy, watching his father die in a plane crash.
 

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  4. It’s Never the Soviets: Super 8 as Cold War Nostalgia

15 Responses to Guess Who Dies in Green Lantern.

  1. nohope says:

    PB, I can’t believe you see the appeal of this as a superego triumphing over an id. When I look at the popularity of punishment and revenge stories, I see instead the id getting legitimized by careful moral justification. If you’re frustrated and emasculated, if you’re full of rage, it’s cathartic to watch a character WHO HAS PERMISSION–nay, WHO HAS SOCIETY’S BLESSING–beat someone’s head in. Not because we want to eliminate our base desires, but because we want to express them. The reason these take the form of good/evil conflict is because it neutralizes the voice of superego, it cancels out the nagging guilt that these violent fantasies are wrong or shameful. It celebrates and glorifies violence, and it sexualizes violence and returns it to a symbol of masculine virility. It’s not post-Oedipal, it’s just plain Oedipal: your dad/boss/girlfriend are keeping you down, and you can’t kill them, so instead you watch a movie or read a comic book about someone who gets to do all the killing you can’t…

    • Pastabagel says:

      I never said it was post-Oedipal, I said it was post Freudian, which means that the Oedipal conflict remains unresolved (or still a dominant psychological force) well into adulthood.

      The reedy of what your are saying is very much the superego at work: so-and-so is keeping you down, so you want to punish them. Unless you are making the point that people like these movies to secretly cheer for the bad guys…

      • xiphoidmaneuver says:

        I’m not well versed in Freud, but I think of the desire to hurt someone else when they’ve hurt you as id-driven. I think thats where nohope is coming from as well.

        I think of the impulse to restrict or punish one’s own self as the full extent of the superego’s shtick.

        • Comus says:

          Zizek (yes, him again) had a point where, in my reading he solves just this id/superego question. The authority, the father, works as a superego via fear. Once that fear turns into id-energy, ie. the father is explicitly aggressive, violent, what have you, it becomes impotent, it loses the adopted position of the Other and becomes human.He has descended (ascended?) from the superego to the id. The threat of a proactively violent superego is it’s power, once administered, it loses that position.

          Superheroes are different. They are controlled in their violence, they have a Reason, a goal of supreme good. And that is why this humanization of them is interesting. It absolves them of this position and they inherit a state of constant superego – id -conflict. Just like you. You’ll only see the renessaince of Superman, after he’ll develop a violent identity crisis or an amok-run to avenge for the destruction of his kind. Once he finds the id.

          It’s not the 20th century anymore.

          • Robert says:

            We’re going to turn this fucking website into a Zizek study group, the two of us. :P

      • nohope says:

        I have not read extensively and I only have a pop-culture ignorance of what Freud is all about. But I was under the impression that the superego impulse has more to do with, say, when you see someone stealing from a tip jar at a coffeeshop without getting caught. You see someone break the rules and you want them to be punished. That’s different (as xiphoid below relates to) from wanting to lash out at those who have authority over you. It’s particularly different, in my opinion, when those in authority or power over you are repressing the expression of your emotions or masculinity.

  2. claudius says:

    How is this at all unique to the post-freudian population?

    There have been stories of heroes since time immemorial, far before post-modern man had daddy issues.

    • mwigdahl says:

      Yep, I see superhero stories as a subset of mythological tales in general. We’ve had Gilgamesh and Hercules for eons, just without the poorly-written screenplays and CGI trappings.

  3. Robert says:

    There is something quite fascist about the incredibly consistent uniform-wearing. That actor, a normal guy – and now he’s in a green uniform, with all the power. It’s that uniform-ideology thing, the same with Nazism – they loved their uniforms.

    • mwigdahl says:

      In the case of Green Lantern, he’s explicitly part of a quasi-military organization, so it’s unsurprising there might be a uniform involved.

      For other superheroes, does it really count as a “uniform” if only one person wears the design? They may be trying to hide their identities or evoke an emotional response with their costumes’ appearance, but they sure as heck aren’t trying to look just like all the other superheroes.

  4. xylokopos says:

    Maybe instead of directing batman movies, Nolan should have directed the Watchmen – that would have been something.

    Also, maybe they are doing all these movies because no one buys comic books anymore. And we all know what kind of movies get done all the time these days.

    Fox almost gave Guillermo Del Toro a 150M dollars to do an R-rated version of Lovecraft’s “In the Mountains of Madness”, before the project got pulled at the 11th hour. Then someone apparently realised that we need more costumed superhero movies.

    Fuck.

  5. CubaLibre says:

    I thought you were going to say, “the black guy.”

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