The across-the-board worshipping of the late Stan Lee and the corresponding corporate Marvel-ization of mainstream motion picture fare cannot be separated. Deny it or not, but these two things have happened due to an outgrowth of mass infantilization and the increasing influence of fanboy culture, which has been happening since the explosion of wide-release, teenage-catering entertainments (Jaws, Star Wars) in the mid ’70s.
It is therefore allowable for Bill Maher to have written what he wrote this morning about the Stan Lee effect. Just shut up and take it. We’re supposed to be be okay with differing opinions in our country so act that way.
“The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning,” Maher wrote. “Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.
“Someone on Reddit posted, ‘I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.’ Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own. Now, I have nothing against comic books — I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.
“But then twenty years or so ago, something happened — adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature. And because America has over 4,500 colleges — which means we need more professors than we have smart people — some dumb people got to be professors by writing theses with titles like ‘Otherness and Heterodoxy in the Silver Surfer‘. And now when adults are forced to do grown-up things like buy auto insurance, they call it ‘adulting’ and act like it’s some giant struggle.
“I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.”
HE context entry #1: Remember what Watchmen creator Alan Moore said nine years ago, to wit: “The average age of the audience now for comics, and this has been the case since the late 1980s, probably is late thirties to early fifties — which tends to support the idea that these things are not being bought by children. They’re being bought in many cases by hopeless nostalgics or, putting the worst construction on it, perhaps cases of arrested development who are not prepared to let their childhoods go, no matter how trite the adventures of their various heroes and idols.”
“The downside is that American lowbrows have once again told Hollywood loud and clear to keep cranking out CG-driven, jokey-ass comic-book movies about unlikely superheroes doing spectacular things and…you know, whizzing around in CG-land. Thank you very fucking much. The downward aspirations of American mainstream cinema have just been handsomely rewarded, the non-Catholic zombies who are in the movie business for what they can siphon out of it are now cackling and flexing their muscles all the more, and the struggle to produce quality-aspiring, human-scale theatrical fare has just gotten that much harder.
“Congratulations, American megaplex ass-clowns, for doing your part in the great ongoing effort to nudge American movie culture in a downmarket direction and…you know, another notch or two down the reverse-evolutionary (or devolutionary) scale.”
HE context entry #3: An A.O. Scott N.Y. Times essay, posted on 5.4.08, titled “Here Comes Everboy…Again“:
“Occasionally you will see a functioning if beleaguered dad, usually a widower, like Steve Carell’s character in Dan in Real Life. And sometimes, as in Little Miss Sunshine, a coeducational, multigenerational ensemble will carry the therapeutic and satirical burdens of the genre. But far more often the center of attention will be a guy, his buddies and his toys. He will, most of the time, be nudged toward responsibility, forgiven for his quirks and nurtured in his needs and neuroses by a woman who represents an ideal amalgam of supermodel and mom.
“It would be hypocritical of me to dismiss the appeal of this fantasy and silly to deny that a lot of these movies manage to be both very funny and disarmingly insightful about the male psyche. But I suspect I’m not alone in growing weary of the relentless contemplation of that psyche in its infantile state, and of the endless celebration of arrested development as a social entitlement.”
HE context entry #4: A 10.9.13 HE post titled “Name Under-40 Filmmakers Who Aren’t Jizz-Whizzers“:
“In my previous post about the death of Stanley Kauffmann I wrote that movies are still humming and crackling for the most part, but ‘you could certainly argue that the arrival of the post-cinematic, sub-literate, sensation-and-explosion-seeking, digitally-attuned generation of jizz-whizz moviegoers (by far the least educated and most reality-averse in Hollywood history) and the filmmakers in their midst has brought things to an all-time low.’ And I’m wondering if we can put a list together of under-40 filmmakers who are not in this bag?
“I don’t think I’m being too dismissive or pessimistic to say that generally speaking the under-40 generation of filmmakers (mostly born between the mid ’70s and mid ’80s although there are some arrested-development types between 40 and 50) are inclined toward cinematic imaginings that have clearly been more influenced by their online and gaming experiences as teens and 20somethings than by real-life experiences, and who are more or less committed to composing and presenting stories, activities and images that reflect digital as opposed to organic realms.
“Filmmakers, in short, who are more or less opposed to the idea of making films about the actual world. When I say this I mean scripts that are (I know it’s a pain but bear with me) based on actual, first-hand-observations of human behavior and the real-world physical laws that govern things like running, falling, fist fights and the like. In both the dramatic and comedic realms, I mean.
“Like it or not there IS a thing out there called ‘reality.’ There are things like gravity and weather and human frailty and other factors that determine what is generally possible and impossible when guys try to do crazy stuff or run away from cops or what-have-you. There are certain laws that cause car chases and fist fights to be limited and/or clumsy activities that are more on the level of what you might see on YouTube or in reality series like Cops. I recognize that most audiences prefer fantasy crap, but as much as they might prefer this reality is still out there and it’s not going to change any time soon.”