Book Update 2020 – January-February

Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age by Dan Hassler-Forest

I don’t pretend I’m in love with the superhero film genre. As much as I love the comic books I grew up reading and still love to read today, the films never sit quite well with me. Author and critic Dan Hassler-Forest details the underlying ideology presented in modern superhero movies and how it only reinforces capitalist patriarchal hegemony. Hassler-Forest argues that these are merely an extension of the same blind patriotism seen in the Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies of the 1980s. Instead of being expressly American, due to a growing global audience, specifically China, these movies are couched around post-9-11 ideology.

Hassler-Forest states that the American reactions to the events of 9-11 were couched in a perception shaped by decades of mass media. The attacks were not a jarring moment that led to deep introspection about the adverse effects of American foreign policy. Instead, we slipped into revenge fantasies, and our confrontation with the Real was reduced into something digestible in terms of good vs. evil. This is also due to a lack of historicity led by global corporations who see a mass understanding of the roots of strife and suffering as prohibitive to their bottom lines. If we understand that Coca-Cola funded death squads Colombia to exert direct control over resources for their products.

The section on The Dark Knight argues that the film pretty blatantly poses an apologia for surveillance culture and deregulation. The most obvious instance is that Batman is justified in using an illegal network to spy through the devices of Gotham’s citizens. Lucius Fox is given the chastizing speech against this but still complies with the ideas because it’s only a one-time thing. There’s no difference between this justification and the instances on Fox’s 24, where Jack Bauer poses the ticking time bomb metaphor to excuse his torture of Middle Eastern people.

Superheroes are a perfect vessel for corporate ideology as they are immediately branded, simple symbols emblazoned across their chests. Diversity, within these terms, serves not to raise up the voices of the marginalized but rather to coopt their image and transform it into a palatable product for consumption. Black Panther had to include a heroic white American CIA agent as a supporting protagonist. The villain, in turn, was a sympathetic character who, while misguided due to personal loss and trauma, made strong points about the nature of hegemony on black bodies.

This erasure of the Real in favor of Hyperreality exists outside of superhero films. I have seen it plastered across the current American Democratic primary election where Twitter posts seek to determine which House in Hogwarts a candidate would be in or present candidates as members of the Avengers. I see why people do this, but it’s troubling when the level of discourse isn’t rising above this more. Hassler-Forest states that postmodern popular culture’s purpose is to “sever the public’s activity connection with history.” Events we experience seems to exist outside a continuum of past actions. It’s a dangerous path to travel down but so alluring & comfortable.

You Know You Want This: Stories by Kristen Roupenian

The marquee story in this fantastic collection is “Cat Person,” the account of a messy relationship between Margot, a college student, and Robert, an older man who often comes to the movie theater where she works. She’s at a transitional point in her life, trying to figure out what she wants, one of those being what she needs from a relationship. Robert remains an inexplicable enigma throughout the story, becoming the anti-thesis of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype. A Sluggish Affable Man Child? The story’s conclusion reveals the underlying tension that could have been missed throughout. It’s easy to see the tale as an awkward relationship that never amounted to much, but the blade of the ending cuts through all of that and elevates this as a story of extreme relevancy.

Author Kristen Roupenian has penned a collection of contemporary feminist horror stories. The tone and styles are varied so that each entry feels fresh and unique. “The Mirror, The Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone” is told like a traditional European fairy tale but degenerates in the most lovely of ways to a twisted allegory on obsessive love. “The Boy in the Pool” is about a woman uncomfortable with the ways her childhood friends have grown apart from her. To reunite them in a shared sense of nostalgia, she attempts to find the sex symbol from a film they repeatedly watched as teenagers. Her goal is to have this man show up at one of the friend’s bachelorette party but doesn’t seem to know what should come next. “Scarred”’s narrator discovers a book of spells and ends of conjuring a man into existence but struggles to figure out what to do with him. “Biter” is a hilarious dark comedy about a woman who has fought an urge to sink her teeth into everyone since she was a child. When she becomes aware of a workplace tryst between coworkers, the woman sees an opportunity to indulge in her desires.

You Know You Want This sets the bar for my fiction reading this year very high, much like 2019’s Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. If you are in the mood for a short story collection that doesn’t have a single week entry, you should check this book out.

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