The US dollar has come a long way since its introduction in 1792. Over time, it evolved into the world’s reserve currency, holding the highest level of confidence and liquidity, surpassing all other currencies in circulation.
In times of geopolitical turmoil, and a lack of trust in other monetary systems, the US dollar becomes the currency of choice of foreigners and foreign institutions that convert and park their money in US dollars. The currency closely associated with the history of a nation that became the dominant power of the world. This power is eminently represented in the trust in the US dollar.
There are 20 countries using a currency called ‘dollar.’ However, the US’ economic dominance eclipses the visibility of all other dollar denominations in circulation.
The foreign exchange, called ‘FX’ or ‘forex,’ is the marketplace where countries from around the world exchange currencies. It is the largest market in terms of trading volume, surpassing the credit markets and the trade of goods and services. About half of the approximately $5 trillion of transactions that are settled daily are denominated in US dollars.
It is estimated that approximately 70% of the physical paper dollars in circulation are held outside the United States, mostly in$100notes.
What helped make the US dollar the reserve currency is exemplified by the fact that a dollar issued in the 1860s is still a legal tender today, unlike the fate of many other currencies.
The 1960s saw a substantial increase of US dollars held in Eu- rope and elsewhere around the world. The expansion of these financial obligations put constraints on the dollar. As a result, on August 15th, 1971, the US unilaterally abandoned its commitment to the Breton Woods Accord that had been in place since 1944. The end of the agreement resulted in the suspension of the dollar’s convertibility into gold, replacing the gold standard with the dollar standard.
The value of the dollar was left to rise and fall according to market demand, the health of the US economy, and the confidence in the capital’s economic policy. The Breton Woods Accord inaugurated the dollar as a reserve currency of the world. Its cancellation de facto expanded its use.
Because the dollar was no longer backed by a physical and quantifiable precious metal like gold, the currency fluctuated wildly, creating uncertainty and inflation. This affected the price of imported items that were essential to the US economy, especially oil. The end of the accord contributed to the ‘oil shock’ of the early seventies.
As a result, the price of oil quadrupled in 1973. In order to remedy currency volatility, an agreement was made with Saudi Arabia, the leader of OPEC, to peg the price of oil to the dollar. In return, these countries would benefit from a strong economy and use their dollars to purchase bonds, stocks, real-estate, and military weapons.
The term ‘petrodollar’ was coined to reflect the agreement be- tween oil producing countries and the US. What the deal means is that in order for any country to purchase oil from OPEC, they first need to purchase dollars, honoring the dollar as the reserve currency of the world.
The same could be said about the price of gold being denominated in US dollars.
Federal Reserve Notes, are commonly known as money: Amedium of exchange that guarantees the fulfillment of a transaction. Its value is generated by confidence in the government and its institutions to manage the economy in a trustworthy and competent manner. These institutions would not exist without the underlying reality that a currency is backed by the total productive capacity of its people.
There are approximately 30 million small businesses in the United States. They hire close to 60 million workers. A small business is defined as a businesses with fewer that 500 employees. To be fair, the total number small businesses includes individuals that are independent contractors, also referred as self-employed. Overall, these businesses account for 97% of all economic activity in the US.
Communities across the nation rely on individuals and small businesses for production of jobs, goods, services and the general economic well-being of the population. The the sum production of all goods and services generated by the US workforce is defined as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It creates revenues and profits that is taxable income levied by various levels of government, who in turn distributes the money for public works, services, social benefits and the defense industry.
The total productive capacity of Americans is generated by entrepreneurial spirit and all types of of labor, beginning with the settlers and all other immigrants that followed who came from varied parts of the world to the US to benefit from, and contribute to, the economy. They enabled the creation of a global network of contacts that favored global trade and economic growth.
As Alexis de Tocqueville observed during his journey in the country, Americans are not concerned by lofty ideals of virtue or righteousness. They are driven by self-interests, profits and wealth, principles that underline the American Way of life.
America’s entrepreneurial spirit produced the US’ dominant role in the world economy. It is secured by its military power and the global reach of Corporate America. And is responsible for US’ dollar status as the reserve currency of the world.
The strength of the US dollar will inevitably cause dislocations to other currencies and the world economy. When this happens, a reassessment about its role as a reserve currency will likely occur, and a new era in the global economy will unfold.
With this essay I venture into uncharted territory linking past and present fields of social sciences in order to solve a metaphysical puzzle. This relates to the nature of a subliminal person known as the corporation and how this artificial person was able to sponsor a surreptitious belief system? The following essay offers some analytical evidence that reveals that the corporate person has evolved into a deity and its doctrine into a quasi-religion.
In the later days of the Roman Republic the word corporation was used in documents in the same sense as collegium. The term referred to a form of legal association consisting of at least three persons. The collegium was also described as a body –corpus habere. The corporation possessed the legal right to hold property in common. It shared a treasury and could sue or be sued. The property of the corporation was liable to be seized and sold for its debts.
The Roman concept of corporation was adopted by the early Christian churches as a legal form of protection in periods of persecution. It was mostly used as a legal means of holding and transferring the churches’ property. Corporations were later used by varied religious monastic orders. In the Middle Ages life was largely corporate, in the sense that religious institutions were defined by corporations of monks and friars. It was considered a secure way of protecting ecclesiastical property especially in times of feudal warfare. These corporations in the course of history survived and prospered.
The concept was improved with the introduction of “corporation sole” by English law, where a sole or single religious office holder could transfer the same position with identical powers to his successor.
Mussolini had been an active socialist member until he abandoned the idea of class struggle in favor of stati corporativi. A similar concept was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. It was issued to counter the growing influence of socialism and class struggle. Instead, the Church promoted its own Catholic trade unions or “corporate bodies” as an alternative to class conflict into social system that integrated groups that shared social functions, acting in matters of common economic interest, all coordinated by the state. This was also defined as corporatism.
Mussolini’s change of heart made him appealing to a greater number of voters and powerful institutions. Under his leadership business owners, workers, trade unions, professionals, and other economic groups were organized into 22 associations—or guilds. They were given representation in a legislative body known as Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni. The symbol of the fascio, or bundle, was meant to indicate the unifying strength of all the guilds and corporations. The unifying body helped to integrate a geographically fragmented and diverse Italy into one greater market area. The idealistic union led to a totalitarian political system known as fascism.
The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question [whether corporations are persons]. We are all of the opinion [that they are].
Chief Justice Waite, 1886
In the U.S. the corporation is defined as a person, more precisely as an artificial person. The idea of person has a dual and misleading meaning. The ambiguity is attributed to a deceptive confusion between artificial and natural person (a human being). Adding to the misunderstanding is the fact that the Latin origin of corporation is corpus or body. The word body in this sense does not mean a physiological organism commonly understood as a human body, but refers to a society or an association. In addition, the original Latin meaning for person is persona, a mask worn by an actor. One must keep in mind that the mask of a person, his or her personality, does not mean the essence of being, his or her soul.
The misconception around the meaning of person is exemplified by the oxymoron of corporate citizen. Although the corporation is defined as an artificial person, it cannot be a citizen. Citizenship is granted either by birth or through the process of citizenship, a ceremony that involves taking the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment’s first article
The corporation is an association defined by civil law as an “artificial being”. The legal interpretation of the Constitution is that the corporation is an body “existing only in the contemplation of law”: Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court describes the corporation as follows:
A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Among the most important are immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality; properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual. They enable a corporation to manage its own affairs, and to hold property without the perplexing intricacies, the hazardous and endless necessity of perpetual conveyances for the purpose of transmitting it from hand to hand. It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men, in succession, with qualities and capacities, that corporations were invented, and are in use. By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being.
The corporation defined as invisible, intangible and immortal, supersedes ordinary human attributes. This artificial person is larger than its constituent parts, with a power greater than the individuals comprising it. The body of corporations as we know it today surpasses many countries in power and wealth. Although corporations are identified with a variety of brands they nonetheless all have a similar legal definition, structure and accounting standards. This body of unfathomable artificial persons sharing a similar doctrine, has evolved in the Investor State.
A portrait emerges of a body that is invisible, immortal and endowed with supernatural qualities above and beyond ordinary qualities found in a human being. It has attributes that are typically associated with supernatural beings and deities. As such, this super-natural person has inspired a belief system that shares some unintended but similar attributes with religion.
During a conference delivered at Columbia University in 1961, theologian Paul Tillich used the term quasi-religion to describe the encounter of world religions and the challenges of secularism faced by Christian churches. Paul Tillich was a theologian but also a philosopher. The definition of religion that follows is based on philosophy of religion, one that is more open and inclusive.
Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life. Therefore this concern is unconditionally serious and shows a willingness to sacrifice any finite concern which is in conflict with it. The predominant religious name for the content of such concern is God -a god or gods. In non-theistic religions divine qualities are ascribed to a sacred object or an all-pervading power or a highest principle such as the Brahma or the One. In secular quasi-religions the ultimate concern is directed towards objects like nation, science, a particular form or stage of society, or a highest ideal of humanity, which are then considered divine… Even the mutual relations of the religions proper are decisively influenced by the encounter of each of them with secularism, and one or more of the quasi-religions which are based upon secularism.
The term quasi-religion has been having a resurgence of popularity. It was used in an article in The Economist to describe people’s adulation for iPads. Since Tillich wrote his essay many other types of quasi-religions have emerged. Among the more surreptitious example is the subject of this essay.
Tillich further explains that the attribute quasi is meant to “indicate a genuine similarity, not intended, but based on points of identity” with religion. Some examples given by Tillich of secular quasi-religions are Nazism, fascism, communism and nationalism. He explains that the first two examples are “demoniacal” and “radicalized” forms of quasi-religion. They nonetheless reveal points of identity with religion by embracing a belief system that effectively functions like a religion, even though they are a shift away from what is typically understood as normal forms of religious expressions.
Burdened by unmanageable amounts of debt after World War I, and saddled by a lingering economic depression, Germany opted for militarism and conquest as a path to recovery. The birth place of Martin Luther became engulfed in a nationalistic fervor of “one state, one nation, one leader”. Germans surrendered their ancestral moral character and succumbed to a vision of a mythical superiority of the Aryan race. Nazis followed blindly a Fuhrer who promised an eschatological vision of a Third Reich as means of salvation encompassing the world and all history.
Italian fascism shared many aspects of Nazis ideology. Its anti-democratic political philosophy placed the corporate body above the individual. Both ideologies attributed a god like power to their leaders who preached redemption through political means. Every aspect of society was bundled into a system that did not tolerate any form of dissent. Both examples share a quasi-religious faith in a totalitarian state that effectively controlled all aspects of life.
The Fascist conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the individual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Those who perceive nothing beyond opportunistic considerations in the religious policy of the Fascist regime fail to realize that Fascism is not only a system of government but also and above all a system of thought.
On the opposite side of the planet, Japan shared a similar political philosophy. Its people surrendered to a sacred devotion to the nation. The figure representing the empire of The Rising Sun was symbolized by the Emperor perceived as a deity endowed with divine powers.
The above examples show that economic recovery was accomplished through the arms industry, political militarization and war. It eventually led to the collapse of these political systems. However, the collapse did not destroy the corporations that took part in the militarization. After the war many major corporations survived and thrived.
Another example of quasi-religion given by Tillich is communism. This example reveals that the social aspect rather than the nation becomes a matter of ultimate concern. Marxist political doctrine promulgated myths of an idyllic classless society devoid of exploitation of the workers. This system was also based on the state effectively controlling all aspects of life of its citizens.
Fascism, Nazism, and communism share one thing in common. They were radical responses to the sweeping changes brought about by The Industrial Revolution and moneyed corporatization. In retrospect, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan reveal the excesses of industrialization that signaled the apotheosis of the modern era. Post WWII resulted in a metamorphosis in the basic components of modernity. During this period we begin to see a slow but steady shift away from a production based economy to a consumption oriented culture.
Secularization began during the Enlightenment: A period where science and technology became the predominant driving forces behind the economic growth and development of the western world. They played a major role in providing answers and solutions to the problems of the world, a prerogative previously held by religion. This period came to be known as the modern era.
The Reformation, the Enlightenment and the advent of modernism inspired a greater role in individual responsibility for one’s personal economic salvation. This ethic of responsibility was outlined by Max Weber in his seminal work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Individual moral responsibility and industry eventually resulted in The Industrial Revolution. Keeping in mind that secularism throughout the development of modernity had religious undertones influenced by centuries of Christian religious teachings.
Secularism is commonly understood as a decrease in church attendance and a declining role played by religion in society. Jacques Ellul explains that this idea about secularism is misleading and is the result of an improper assimilation of religion with Christianity, the consequence of Christendom having dominated the western cultures for many centuries. The author contends that secularization does not mean that the secular world is devoid of any religious dimension or that contemporary culture has rejected the sacred. He explains that in periods of cultural change the sacred proliferates elsewhere. Furthermore, Ellul dispels the notion that the sacred is an exclusive prerogative of Christianity or any particular religion.
The increase in urbanization and immigration during the second half of the twentieth century resulted in Christianity’s encounter of world religions. It exposed society to religious pluralism and secularism. An example to illustrate this type of shift of the sacred from being an exclusive prerogative of the Catholic Church to a profane sphere is the secularization of the French speaking population in Quebec during the nineteen sixties. This period reveals how sacred objects of devotion do not die but metamorphose into other forms of ultimate concern.
The québécois had been religiously sheltered by the Catholic Church and lived in relative cultural isolation for almost two centuries until the nineteen sixties. In less than a decade the majority of the people abandoned the Church leaving behind decades of priestly moral directives. Many of them took up the nationalist cause of the Independence of Quebec. The separation from Canada became a quasi-religious quest. For many, independence was perceived as a matter of ultimate concern.
The political upheaval in Quebec and the emancipation of its people coincided with the incursion of television in people’s living rooms. In a matter of years a new medium was implanted in all homes feeding viewers a culture made in New York and Hollywood. The québécois were no longer captives to the preaching of the Church. Secularization took hold of a predominantly French Catholic people. As a result, the priestly hierarchy was no longer viewed as the sole guardians of the sacred. The Church was dismissed as a dominant sacred organization and relegated as a religious institution like any other. A shift occurred in the power scheme of things.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the U.S. In the nineteen sixties America was still a predominantly Christian nation. Sunday was still observed as a day of prayer, of church going and of rest. The Lord’s Day was considered a religious holiday. In a few decades this would change. Eventually Sunday was phased out of the religious framework of the nation. The seventh day of rest was converted into a day of business as usual, enabling an additional day of consumer spending. December 25th was originally a pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. It later became a celebration dedicated to the birth of Christ, although there is no historical data to support that Jesus was born on that day. Now Christmas has reverted back to a period of consumerism. The change shows that the sacred dedication of this holy-day has switched back and forth between different religious belief systems. A change was taking place in the religious fabric of America. Secularism was shifting the sacred allocation of time. The sacred was proliferating elsewhere.
The United States was undergoing a cultural transition. The country was changing from production based economy to a more consumption oriented culture. From a predominantly Christian country to a more open and secularized society. During that period, declining church attendance to traditional religious denominations was matched with conversion to evangelical churches. Some left the churches to embrace Buddhism, Islam, Hare Krishna, Jews for Jesus and other New Religious Movements (NRM). This transition was occurring in conjunction with the growing role played by the media in shaping culture at home and abroad.
Secularization also led to the appearance of various forms of quasi-religions. Some examples include, the Hollywood star system, the pop-rock stars phenomenon and the professional sports system. All endorsed by a consumer oriented culture propagated by the media.
The Medium Is the Message
Eisenhower was among the first presidents to use TV to address the nation. His televised farewell speech on The Military Industrial Complex was made during media’s growing influence over US’ economy, culture and politics. The paradox is that Eisenhower’s speech was televised. It might be inferred that the warning about a “misplaced” power was not only about a complex relationship between the military and the arms industry but about the nascent power of the media. How it would alter the character of the nation.
A few years after the speech Marshall McLuhan wrote: “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium.” That is to say that behind TV is another medium and this other medium is a corporate entity embodied by the networks and corporate sponsors.
The fact merely underlines the point that “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.
At the time of Eisenhower’s speech, the Big Three were still independent networks committed to independent journalism. In the sixties and seventies the U.S. press corps functioned closer to its ideals of skepticism toward power. Back then the networks were strictly in the business of providing news and television programming. Through mergers and acquisitions and the advent of Big Four the networks evolved into conglomerates more inclined to preach the corporation’s ultimate concern of maximization of profits.
In a postmodern era, corporate media has imposed itself as the provider of the good news. It displaced the priesthood as the mediator between the religious hierarchy and the believers and imposed itself as a technological medium to the people. It provided televised models of conduct setting new grounds for acceptable behavior. In time the media became the new opium to the masses, the gateway to an unlimited source of worldly gratification: A technological go-between between a sacred power source and the profane viewer.
The Sacred and the Profane
Tillich’s definition of religion is helpful to understand quasi-religion as it appears in secularized society. However, his definition does not disclose the full spectrum of a quasi or religious experience. Although Tillich links his idea of ultimate concern to the sacred, he does not elaborate on this most crucial principle.
Evidence of a spiritual dynamic between the sacred and the profane has been documented by scholars such as Emile Durkheim and Roger Caillois in the field of sociology of religion, Rudolf Otto and Gerardus Van der Leeuw, in the field of phenomenology of religion and Mircea Eliade in the field of history of religion, just to mention a few. These scholars revealed that the sacred/profane dynamic is present in many and perhaps most religions.
This long scholarly tradition of research on the sacred has been carried on by intellectuals like Jacques Ellul, known for his discourse on the proliferation of the sacred in culture. He explains that once a religion looses its predominance in society the sacred may disappear temporarily but only to reappear elsewhere in places one did not expect to see it flourish.
The concepts of the sacred and profane existed long before prominent scholars wrote about them. They were central to Roman religio. Contrary to popular belief, Romans were scrupulously religious people. Citizen undertook a priestly role corresponding to his level of authority and status. For instance, magistrates performed important civic rituals, whereas the paterfamiglias, the father of the family, performed domestic rituals and ceremonies. Romans did not have religious doctrines or dogmas to speak of. And they did not have a predominant priesthood. This lack of dogma and a powerful priestly hierarchy may explain why people do not perceive the Romans as being religious. As Ellul explains, the lack of strong and powerful priestly order does not exclude religiosity or the presence of the sacred.
The Romans introduced two important concepts to describe a dynamic inherent in religion: The sacred and the profane. Trebatius, a contemporary of Cicero defined it as, “all that is the property of the gods was sacer”. Sacred is not to be understood as a power possessed by a being or an object, but as a status attributed to them. Sacer was not a magical force but a juridical quality defined by property. Any violation of the gods’ property was met with dreadful divine wrath. Hence, the meaning of sacrilege was defined as the infringement of the gods’ property. Divine property, and by extension private property, was considered inviolable. It could be said that the gods also instituted and were guarantors of mortals’ property rights.
The opposite of sacer was profanus. Any sacred object that was ritually removed from the realm of the gods and moved to the sphere of the mortals was profane. Profanare meant “to bring out” the offering from where the sacrifice was performed. And profanum meant what was “in front of the temple precinct”. The temple being a location set apart by a wall and surrounded by a space available for profane use.
Different religions have varied sacred objects or holy beings. Anything can be sacred as long as there is a marked separation with the profane. This discriminating force establishes a systematic order of things: The rule that keeps the profane at a distance from intruding into the higher hierarchy of power.
There are two main spheres involving a spiritual dynamic of the sacred and the profane. This is best illustrated by the categories of sacred space and sacred time. Sacred space is a place of worship like a temple, a shrine or a stage. Outside the boundaries of the sacred space lies the profane, the believers or an audience. Whereas inside the sacred perimeters stand a holy place reserved for cultic purposes dedicated to a god or holy object, accessible only by a priest. The sacred space is dedicated to the celebration of rituals, rites of initiations and festivals. Sacred time constitutes the holidays that celebrate the sacred rituals distinguished from ordinary time. Sacred space and time integrate the individual to a group, set status and rank and provide order, meaning and harmony. Both principles establish boundaries and parameters between good and evil, pure and impure, member and non-member, holidays and ordinary time.
The most important principle in the dynamic between the sacred and the profane is a fuzzy opposition and a distance that the first imposes on the second. And as a rule, the sacred systematically discriminates against the profane located outside its jurisdiction, perceived as “other” and potentially chaos.
In a post-modern world the media plays a similar role of separating the stars and idols from the viewer. The same can be said about a rock concert and the separation between the stage and the fans. In a sport event the spatial separation is between the field, the players and the spectators. The game representing the opposition between a local team held as sacred by the fans and the opposing team considered as outsiders. The ultimate goal of the game consists in a victory, and ultimately the quest of a world cup. In mythology a cup has an important symbolic significance. It is synonymous with bowl, chalice and Holy Grail.
A Quasi-Religious Medium
Since the mid twentieth century the implantation of TV in people’s living rooms has diverted the power of the word away from priesthood. It surreptitiously displaced the temple as the center for the propagation of identity and solace. The preacher is no longer the sole medium between the sacred and the believer, the single provider of the Gospel, i.e., the good news. The insertion of TV in people’s living rooms created a captive audience. It converted homes into postmodern sanctuaries. While outside the homes the theater replaced the temple as the purveyor of the supernatural. Churches were suddenly competing with malls for a faithful gathering. A fuzzy mutation was occurring in the sacred allocation of space and time.
The media and quasi-religion: What is morphing into the other?
In religion the priesthood acts as an intermediary, a mediator of sorts, between the sacred and the profane, a deity and the believers. The higher the priest’s status the closer he is to the holy, to the divine. As a cultic officer his role is to manage and enforce the separation between the sacred a profane. It also consists in the promulgation of doctrine and dogma implemented in cultic rituals and practices, setting the boundaries between the pure and impure, good and evil and dictating rules of moral conduct.
Similarly in the star system, actors inaugurate new rules of conduct. Screen idols provide new models of behavior and changes in moral conduct to the masses. As such it challenges ethical standards and encroach on a function previously held by religion. Progressively a technological medium claimed control over viewers’ souls. Seeing is believing became a new mantra in a postmodern world, and material consumption its ultimate concern.
The media’s predominance in culture eventually evolved into an inconspicuous quasi-religious medium. This is evidenced by a separation between the screen and the viewer, analogous to separation involving the sacred and the profane. In a theater the separation is even more dramatic. The audience sits aligned facing one direction in total darkness surrounded by thundering sound. The viewer is immersed in a rapturous absorbing experience captivated by stars living in another worldly sphere inaccessible to ordinary mortals.
Media was instrumental in consecrating words of the common language, systematically copyrighting and subjecting idioms to legal protection. Logos and trademarks cast as untouchable sacred symbols. Flashing bright lights on billboard elevated in visible fashion in central squares of New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong are signs of the ever prevalent quasi-religious shrines dedicated to a corporatist agenda and globalization.
Since the advent of the newsreel and silent movies, actors and actresses have been projected as inaccessible beings living in a separated sphere from the ordinary spectator. Part real and part unreal they are rendered immortal by video and film. Celebrities share a dual nature like super-heroes. They are part human and part supernatural rendered sacred by the medium. Stars live in a separate time zone distinct from ordinary time. When stars die they are rendered immortal by their cinematic roles.
In his book Les Stars, Edgar Morin explains that actors participate in both human and divine arenas, similar to Olympian pantheon of heroes, gods and goddesses. According to Morin the mythology of the stars is always in the making, non-categorical. It is part esthetic, part magical and part religious, never being completely one or the other. In Greek mythology, heroes are mortals that entertain a relationship with the gods and are in the process of deification. These mythical characters play an essential role in culture not unlike religion. Movie stars like Greek heroes live in two worlds: In a real world on one hand and in a perfectly edited self-enclosed and inviolable time capsule on the other.
Fans demand to know everything about their idols. Endless amounts of data are readily available for consumption about every aspect of the star’s intimate life. Marilyn Monroe’s personal life was scrutinized and her public life idolized. In American mythos she represents a contemporary version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, renamed Venus by the Romans. The movie industry has been instrumental in immortalizing Charlton Heston as Moses. The media was influential in portraying Lady Di as a saint and as a sinner. In music, born this way, Lady Gaga is shown as an embodiment of a contemporary centaur, half motorcycle and half human.
Today many children are named after stars rather than saints or biblical figures. The love a fan feels for their idol is akin to devotion reserved for deities. It is not reciprocated. It is a one-way love, akin to worship. The fan is not jealous. He doesn’t mind sharing his idolized star with millions of other viewers. This type of love fills a deep human need for devotion previously reserved to saints and religious figures.
The Myth of Super-Inc
Super is a prefix meaning above; elevated in status and rank, higher up than the ordinary person, than the masses; i.e. above the law. The affix is used to represent supernatural beings, deities and super-heroes. These super beings share special powers not available to mortals. These powers include the ability to break and create new rules, supervise orderly management of the world, restore order and harmony when needed. And keep out alien elements from intruding and disrupting the harmony of an orderly belief system.
Several essays on super-heroes have been posted on this web site. Their content reveals several examples of mythical heroes. All have one thing in common. These characters have a dual personality, one mundane and the other supernatural, that alternate between public and secret identities. Similar in fashion to the ambivalent meaning of person: One is natural and human and the other artificial and super-natural. Keeping in mind that corporations are created by human beings. The creation allows mere mortals to become part of an immortal entity bigger and more powerful than its constituent parts.
The following quote from Claude Levi-Strauss captures the surreptitious role myth plays in our cultures:
We are not, then, claiming to show how men think in myths, but how myths think themselves in men, an unknown to them.
Levi-Strauss infers that myth works in subtle and covert ways. Its symbolic significance undetected by the people who live by its scheming power. Analogies shown thus far reveal a myth-making process of a mysterious super person, one that is elusive and prevalent in our cultures, a character that has become global in stature. Since its creation this mythical person has overtaken its human creator and used its power to misplace the legitimate influence of the citizen in the government of human affairs.
To subject myth to criticism, to lay bare the symbolics of its process, is to engage in the most comprehensive criticism of a culture. Whereas to control the myths in which a culture believes —to govern its symbolism—is to control the hearts and minds of a people, to allow the criticism of myth is to dilute that power, to loosen sedimentations of thought and belief that may be harmful to a community or, positively, to reaffirm beliefs and values that are indeed helpful. The task of critical semiotic is not to replace one dogma by another, but simply to disclose the rules of the symbolic processes by which symbols become such —to place control on that control—leading, as Peirce suggests, to self-control.
The Semiotic of Myth, James Jakob Liszka
On August 23rd 1971, Louis Powell, a corporate lawyer and board member of Phillip Morris, and future Supreme Court Justice, issued a confidential memo to his friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum was released in response to President Nixon’s signing of the National Environmental Policy Act that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Shortly after, Congress passed amendments to the Clean Air Act. The legislation was enacted to protect the environment and set air pollution standards by the EPA. Powell viewed the new laws as an “attack on the American free enterprise system” not only by extremists of the left but by “perfectly respectable elements of society”.
Within two years of the release of the memo, the Chamber of Commerce formed a task force involving powerful business executives to organize a campaign targeting universities, the courts and the media. The media became the anointed medium for the propagation of corporate agenda, channeling the subliminal message of an artificial person. The intricate connection between the media, advertising and the star system materialized into a crusade preaching the gospel of the corporation.
This mythical person has overtaken many aspects of our lives. It has been set free to grow in a world unaware of its existence.
It’s the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die, immensely powerful, equally unaccountable. But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works… What is this thing? Ostensibly it’s the equivalent of a local council, responsible for a small area of London known as the Square Mile…The City of London is the only part of Britain over which parliament has no authority. In one respect at least the Corporation acts as the superior body: it imposes on the House of Commons a figure called the remembrancer: an official lobbyist who sits behind the Speaker’s chair and ensures that, whatever our elected representatives might think, the City’s rights and privileges are protected. The mayor of London’s mandate stops at the boundaries of the Square Mile.
George Monbiot, Guardian.co.uk
Powell’s memo inspired what William Simon defined in his book A Time for Truth, a “veritable crusade”, anointing CEOs as high priests of a quasi-religious movement. It established the grounds of the supremacy of the corporation as a sovereign body, whose ultimate concern is maximization of profits. Generating unlimited amounts of money geared toward the propagation of its doctrinal personhood.
A direct consequence of the crusade can be illustrated by a recent Supreme Court decision. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down limitations on “outside spending”, the money spent outside an official campaign. The verdict consecrates the power of money in the media, granting corporations greater access to free-speech. It makes it easier to fund “electioneering communications” and made it much harder for citizens to know who’s actually behind the political contributions.
The Supreme Justices ignored a warning made by Justice Rehnquist in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti in 1977, who explained that it is one thing to grant property rights to corporations but to grant political rights belonging exclusively to human beings “poses special dangers in the political sphere”.
The summer of 2008 will be remembered as a superhero blockbuster. Among the year’s biggest box office hits were Batman, Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Their release coincided with US status as a super-power at a crossroad. The war in Iraq did no go as planned. And the US military involvement in Afghanistan is likely to drag on for years. Russia is flexing its geopolitical muscles in strategic parts of the world. Domestically, the country is going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. As a result, the country’s political status as a super-power is put in question. What better way to alleviate the current setback than to call upon Hollywood’s pantheon of gods to save the day and prop up America’s image.
Tony Stark is a billionaire industrialist and genius inventor who is kidnapped and forced to build a devastating weapon. Instead, using his intelligence and ingenuity, Tony builds a high-tech suit of armor and escapes captivity. When he uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications, he dons his powerful armor and vows to protect the world as Iron Man.
Of all the superhero movies released in 2008 Iron Man stands apart by its direct reference to the military and Afghanistan. The movie is based on a hyped portrait of wealthy playboy Howard Hughes: A twentieth century American patriot, who shared a close relationship with the military. Howard Hughes like Tony Stark was an engineer. He was a real life Hollywood celebrity who held a personal control over the military aspect of his enterprise, especially aviation. Similarly Tony Stark is heavily involved with the military, and addressing a group of Air Force pilots he describes his armored flying suit as: “a pilot without a plane”.
Our hero is the son of industrialist Howard Stark founder of Stark Industries. At an early age Anthony showed signs of inventive genius with an aptitude in electrical engineering which he pursued at MIT at the age of 15. At his parents’ untimely death he inherited the company and turned it into a billion-dollar industry building weapons for the US government.
Iron Man is Hollywood movie making at its best. The cast is first-rate and the acting is top notch. Yet, the depiction of a super-rich lifestyle of luxury cars, concrete bunker home on top of a Malibu cliff is an outlandish display of wealth, especially in times of economic downturn. Perhaps the medium is doing what it’s meant to do. To be a visual rush, an escape from the ordinariness of everyday life, especially during an economic downturn, the new opium of the people. Nonetheless, the movie is set to become another classic of its genre. (1)
One of the more interesting premises of the film is the relationship between the military and Stark Industries and the indignation Tony Stark feels when he is almost killed by a bomb made by his own company. And the realization that these weapons also kill young American soldiers.
The movie begins in a desert setting with the song Back in Black by AC/DC blasting in the background. The camera cuts to a smartly dressed Tony Stark with a drink in hand, riding in a Humvee joking with three US soldiers, one of them a woman. The convoy is driving through a desert in Afghanistan. Tony Stark is on tour to promote his company’s “crown jewel” missile the Jericho.
Suddenly one of the leading Humvee is hit by a bomb. The soldiers quickly exit their ambushed vehicle and are killed by a cluster of bullets. Tony Stark runs out and hides behind a pile of stones. He lays there and suddenly a bomb with Stark Industries logo on it lands a few feet away. Our hero is doubly shocked by the sighting and the explosion of the shell. The next scene shows an injured Tony Stark surrounded by insurgents in a portrait made for propaganda purposes.
A flashback 36 hours earlier redirects the viewer into a conference room in Las Vegas where the Apogee award ceremony is in progress. The screen on stage runs a biographical video about Tony’s life and accomplishments including photos on the covers of popular magazines. Meanwhile the narrator’s comments:
Tony Stark, visionary, genius, AMERICAN PATRIOT…At twenty one, a prodigal son returns and is ANOINTED the new CEO of Stark Industries with the keys to the KINGDOM… Entering a new era in the arms industry creating smarter weapons, advanced robotics and satellite targeting…Tony Stark has changed the face of the weapons industry by insuring freedom and protecting America and her interests around the GLOBE…
Colonel James Rhodes is on the podium to present the award to Tony Stark. The recipient is not present at the ceremony. His partner Obadiah Stane (2) obligingly accepts the award on Tony’s behalf. The camera then moves to a bustling casino where Tony Stark is seen surrounded by a cheering crowd. A drink in his hand, he is gambling lavishly. On his way out of the casino he is approached by reporter Christine Everhart who asks him if he has any moral qualms about being “a merchant of death”. Tony with his usual self-confidence is able to charm his way out of her thorny questions. The following scene shows the two having a one night stand at his Malibu bunker-home overlooking the pacific.
The next morning Tony Stark is on his way to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. He is on a tour to promote Stark Industries’ latest super-missile the Jericho to the military. Obadiah and Tony are both pleased about the successful outcome of the system display. In a show of solidarity Tony embarks on a Humvee with three soldiers. At this point the viewer is brought back to where the convoy is ambushed and Tony injured by the explosion. Tony is shown being held captive in a secluded cave in Afghanistan.
The bomb that almost killed him left pieces of shrapnel around his heart. A co-prisoner named Yinsen saves Tony’s life by surgically implanting a magnetic device to keep the shrapnel that would otherwise kill him from reaching his heart. The shrapnel around his heart symbolizing fragments of his own deadly creation: A vital reminder of his dependency on a technological device for his survival.
The leader of the insurgents orders Tony to build him a copy of the Jericho. Tony refuses and pretends to build the missile in order to stop the ring leader who threatens to kill Yinsen if he doesn’t comply. Meanwhile, both are busy building a miniaturized copy of an arc reactor, similar to the one located at Stark Industries’ headquarters. The device is made to replace Tony’s existing magnetic shield and designed to yield abundant energy to keep Stark alive. However the arc reactor will only generate a limited amount of power to fuel the armored outfit that will be used for his escape. With Yinsen’s help and his makeshift iron suit, Tony Stark undertakes his planned getaway.
The super-hero’s victorious battle against the insurgents has inflicted some damage to his iron suit. It left him with enough power to escape and crash land in the desert where he is rescued by the military. Once safely back home, Tony Stark is a changed man. The implant in his body is a visual symbol of a change of heart. It will prompt Tony to announce at a press conference:
I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons that I created to defend them…I saw that I have become comfortable with zero accountability. I had my eyes open…I have more to offer to the world…I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division until such a time I can decide what the future of this company will be and what direction it should take. One that I am comfortable with and is consistent with the highest good for this country…
Tony explains to a shocked Obadiah that he wants the company to build arc reactors (a visionary solution to the energy crisis?) instead of weapons. Obadiah objects and explains that Stark Industries is not in the business of making baby bottles, but arms. And that the arc reactor he refers to was simply a publicity stunt that never worked. Later Obadiah informs Tony that the new direction that he envisions for the company is blocked by the board of directors.
The movie returns to our hero at a benefit event where he is sharing a drink with Pepper Potts, his beautiful personal assistant. A sensual chemistry between the two is displayed. The furtive love scene is interrupted by the arrival of journalist Christine Everhart who shows Tony proof that Stark Industries has delivered weapons to the insurgents.
Seeing reports on TV about a worsening situation in the Middle East Tony decides it’s time to test the latest prototype of the armored suit code named Mark 3. He flies to Afghanistan to defend a group of villagers and fight the terrorists, freeing them form their tyrannical hold. On the way back home, he is confronted by two F-22s who do not recognize the advanced flying suit. The dog fight ends when Iron Man accidentally hits one F-22 and the pilot is forced to eject from his damaged plane. Once ejected the pilot is unable to release the parachute and is ultimately saved by Iron Man.
Meanwhile Obadiah is seen in the Middle East asking Raza, the ring leader, why he did not kill Tony Stark as requested. A vengeful Obadiah paralyzes Raza for his incompetence and proceeds to kill the leader and the whole terrorist camp.
In order to gather proof of the arms dealing, Pepper is sent to search Obadiah’s computer for evidence. She copies files that reveal the shipping records of illicit arms shipment to the enemy. Pepper also discovers that he has made a deal to have Tony murdered while he was held prisoner by the enemy. She also finds out that Stane has recovered parts of the original power suit and plans to build his own and more powerful version.
Stane learns that his engineers are unable to re-create a copy of the arc reactor that is essential to make his Iron Monger suit. In order to get a copy of the device he drives to Tony’s house. He paralyzes his partner with a sonic weapon and yanks the arc reactor from Tony’s chest. A weakened Stark has barely time to fetch his original arc reactor that he had asked Pepper to replace with an updated version. He had given her the original miniature device to destroy. She kept it instead and put in a jar with a label showing “Proof That Tony Has A heart” and gave it to him as a gift.
Tony’s moral dilemma unfolds as he finds out that Obadiah Stane is responsible for selling weapons to the enemy. The split between Tony and Obadiah underlines a growing conflict within the company. The struggle unfolds and escalates.
Antagonism plays an essential role in the dynamic build-up of the hero’s identity. It is propelled by the introduction of an adversary in the story. The greater the opposition between hero and foe, the greater the heightened definition of each opposing characters. On one hand we have Tony Stark who is morally concerned about his company’s arms dealing with the enemy, and soldiers deaths. On the other hand we have Obadiah Stane whose only concern is profitability without regards for military casualty.
Obadiah’s possession of Tony’s arc reactor allows him to build a bigger and more powerful armored suit. The conflict that has escalated throughout the movie is finally reaching its final conclusion in a pyrrhic battle between Iron Man and a bigger and more powerful Iron Monger. The battle ends in a typical Hollywood crowd pleaser with Iron Man’s predictable heroic victory.
The movie ends showing security agent Coulson ─S.H.I.E.L.D. ─ giving Tony the details of a cover story to conceal Iron Man’s identity. As Tony addresses the group of reporters at the press conference, Christine Everhart questions him about the truth of the official version of events. Looking at his script and at the reporters, he hesitates. He finally discards his notes and confesses:
The truth is I AM IRON MAN
In the end Tony Stark reveals who he is, refusing to go along with the secret service to keep his identity secret. This openness is uncharacteristic of typical superheroes.
Tony is a talented, but somewhat flawed human being. He drinks too much and is an incorrigible womanizer. He is very wealthy. He is nonetheless a brilliant engineer. He builds things like his powerful armored suit. Iron Man being his own ultimate creation.
Unlike Superman whose power originates from another planet or Spiderman from being bitten by a genetically modified spider or even Batman whose addiction to gadgets is fueled by an endless source of wealth. Tony Stark’s power comes from his genius and engineering talent. He represents the epitome of America’s industrial power. Inventive, honest and industrious. He is the personification of Americanism.
Tony shows he is an accessible human being. He mingles with soldiers. He enjoys their company and empathizes with their patriotism. He even shares a risky and fatal ride with them in enemy territory. In addition, Colonel James Rhodes is a close friend with whom he shares his thoughts and good times. Our hero has a close and respectful relationship with the military. And he cares about the men and women that serve their country.
In the end our hero is left with an ongoing conflict between the new direction of Stark Industries and a profitable arms industry. He faces a dilemma about his company’s past and its future involvement with the government. This dilemma is akin to the military industrial complex spelled out by a career military officer and former President.
Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence–economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications…”
The 34th President of the United States is to this day best known for his 1961 farewell speech in which he warns the American people against “misplaced power” and the “military industrial complex”. Eisenhower was a career military officer and being elected President put him in a favorable position to describe the relationship between the armed forces and the industries that supply its weapons. To this day, his speech is a seminal starting point on any discussion about the connections between the military and the arms industry. The movie Iron Man has contributed to the ongoing debate about the subject and its author.
David Dwight Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890 in Denison Texas, to David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover, the third of seven sons, the first President to be born in the Lone Star state.
His father was a college-educated engineer whose ancestors came from Germany, most likely Protestant. Eisenhower’s mother, an only child, lost her mother at the age of five. She was raised by her grandparents and then by her elder brothers. By the time Ida Stover was old enough to go to high school she was not permitted to attend. Her brothers did not believe in the education of girls and encouraged her to memorize the Bible instead. Showing signs of resolve she ran away from home. She graduated high school at the age of 19 and taught for 2 years before entering Lane University where she met her future husband. Ida was a lifelong pacifist. And between 1895 and 1900 she joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses and remained a member until her death.
Many such persons of her faith, selflessness, and boundless consideration of others have been called saintly. She was that—but above all she was a worker, an administrator, a teacher and guide, a truly wonderful woman.
David Dwight Eisenhower graduated high school in Abilene Kansas in 1909. He worked for two years to support his brother’s college education. A recommendation from Senator Joseph L Bristow (R-Kansas) led to his appointment at the Military Academy at West Point in 1911. Upon joining the Academy he reversed the order of his given names and became known as Dwight David. He graduated West Point in 1915.
By attending the Academy he distanced himself from Jehovah’s Witnesses and its anti-militaristic belief. By 1915 his parent’s home was no longer used as a Witness meeting hall. Eventually his brothers abandoned the movement. On February 1st 1953, 12 days after his first presidential inauguration, Eisenhower was baptized, confirmed and became a communicant in the Presbyterian Church in one single ceremony.
Although Eisenhower had a remarkable military and political career, his lifelong dream was to become a professional baseball player. He admitted that one of his greatest disappointments in life was not making the baseball team at West Point. He nevertheless made a brilliant but short lived stint as a football player for the Academy.
During World War I he was put in charge of training tank crews in Pennsylvania. He never saw combat. During the 1920s and 1930s Eisenhower’s career stagnated. He served as a military administration official in different capacities. During that period most of his military colleagues left the army for lucrative jobs in the corporate world.
In the early twenties he became executive officer to General Fox Corner in Panama who instilled in him an enthusiasm for military history. In the mid 1930s he served as chief military aid to General Douglas McArthur in the Philippines. He returned to the US and held several staff positions. In 1941 he was appointed chief of staff to General Walter Krueger at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas and promoted brigadier general in 1941.
During the second world war he was responsible for supervising major war plans to defeat the enemy. In 1942 he was appointed Commanding General, European Theater of Operations and later appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces of the North African Theater of Operations. After the capitulation of the enemy in North Africa he oversaw the invasion of Sicily and Italy. Following the fall of Berlin and Germany’ surrender, he was appointed Military Governor of the US Occupation Zone, based in Frankfurt.
In 1948, Eisenhower became President of Columbia University. In 1950 he took a two years leave from the University to become Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as commander of the forces in Europe.
In 1952 the Republican Party persuaded “Ike” to run for President to counter non-interventionist candidate Senator Robert Taft. He won the nomination and defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson in a landslide victory in 1953. In 1956 Eisenhower won a second term with 86% of the Electoral College’s vote and 57.6% of the popular vote.
His major accomplishments were The Interstate Highway System. The Federal Aid Highway Act (1956) was believed to be essential to national security. Large cities were seen as possible targets in futures wars. As a result, highways were designed to evacuate the civilian population and allow the military to move in.
Since the end of World War II the US had undertaken a major role in overseeing Europe’s security with its commitment to NATO. Following the Suez Crisis, Eisenhower extended the US role as a military protector to include all of US’ allies in the Middle East.
He supported the French colonial forces in Vietnam fighting nationalism and communist insurgencies.
In 1952 the Eisenhower administration declared racial discrimination a national security issue. Televised racial tensions were perceived as being detrimental to the US credibility and image abroad. They were viewed as tools to be used for communist propaganda. As a result he proposed to Congress the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960.
At the time of Eisenhower’s presidency Americans were living in a different social and cultural environment. The country was blessed with a sustained period of economic growth and the US political influence around the world was unequaled. Except for the rivalry of countries living under communist rule, the United States was the undisputed leader of the free world.
A brief chronology of events of that year will give us a political framework in which the speech was delivered.
On January 3rd, President Dwight Eisenhower announces that the United States has severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. A few days later on the 20th, John F. Kennedy becomes the 35th President of the United States.
The following month the US launches its first test of the Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile.
In April the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space. On the 17th of the same month The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba begins and fails on the 19th.
On May 5th Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space aboard Mercury-Redstone 3. On the 25th President Kennedy announces his Apollo program to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.
On October 27th, a standoff between Soviet and American tanks in Berlin heightens Cold War tensions. On the 30th, the Soviet Union detonates the largest ever man made hydrogen bomb named Tsar Bomba.
November 18th, US President John F. Kennedy sends 18,000 military advisers to South Vietnam.
On December 2nd Cuban leader Fidel Castro announces he is a Marxist-Leninist and Cuba a socialist country.
A look at books that were published in 1960 and 1961 are useful beacons to survey the cultural environment of the time. Literary publications are helpful to understand the scope and meaning of the terms used by the President in his speech. Sifting through the numerous titles two non-fiction books stand out:
R.D. Laing: The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness 1960
M. McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man 1961
Psychoanalysis played an important role in America’s cultural makeup during the Eisenhower’s presidency. Freud and Jung were still considered the undisputed high priests of psychoanalysis responsible for revealing the depths of the human soul. Psychiatrists were widely respected and were consulted for an array of malaise ranging from phobias, neuroses, psychosis or sexual disorders. It was not unusual to find several books on psychoanalysis on the publishers list.
Books like R.D. Laing’s The Divided Self are one example. The author was considered to be part of the anti-psychiatry school of thought, a label that he rejected. Laing’s contribution to psychoanalysis consisted in giving emphasis to the patient’s own expression of his disorder rather than rely on established diagnosis. For Laing the patient’s own expression of his condition could be transformative and viewed in the same manner as a shamanic journey.
Marshall McLuhan erupted onto the cultural scene as a guru of sorts, heralding a change in human rationalism introduced by mass-media. According to the author the printed press was responsible for a major shift in cultural development. It led to ever greater standardization of culture, the alienation of the individual and the rise of nationalism. In “The Gutenberg Galaxy” he reveals how books represent the accumulated stored data of all human knowledge.
It’s safe to say that by 1961 televisions were firmly implanted in most of Americans living rooms. The growing power of the medium was being felt throughout the social and cultural framework of the nation. John F. Kennedy was the first President to be endowed with a “star quality” and elected with the help of TV. As McLuhan explained, the medium was surreptitiously re-inventing and shaping the character of the nation.
Eisenhower Farewell Address to the Nation January 17, 1961 (link)
In his televised address Eisenhower uses the terms “a large arms industry” in conjunction with “an immense military establishment”. He takes care to separate the two. He does not use the expression “defense industry”.
The same year Eisenhower delivered his farewell address, the Cold War would culminate with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The threat of nuclear war between the US and the USSR had reached unprecedented levels. Not surprising to find that Eisenhower’s first warning relates to communism:
We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method.
The topic of the speech then turns to the subject of the military industrial complex.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
Eisenhower experienced first hand the meaning of the military: An organization authorized to use armed forces to defend the country and its allies from invaders or the attack of perceived or actual enemies abroad. The military also functions as a society within a society in terms of being an organization with its own economy, educational and medical systems. Logistics and strategy are two important aspects of the military but the use of the best and most advanced technology in weaponry is essential to win battles and defeat the enemy.
The United States’ rise to power was made possible by its unprecedented industrial growth, unparalleled in history. The nation’s economy was based on the invention and manufacturing of material goods. These included ships, trains, planes, cars, tools, appliances, computers, etc. Americans were making and buying things that allowed its citizens to achieve the highest standard of living in the world. Stark Industries exemplifies such an industrial might and weapons innovation.
The terms “military” and “industrial” are terms easy enough to understand, whereas the word “complex” conveys a broader semantic significance. Its primary meaning consists of various parts connected together that are involved in a variety of degrees of subordination. It could also be inferred that Eisenhower’s use of “misplaced power” in conjunction with the word “complex” meant to convey a psychological reference.
In psychology a complex is a group of mental factors that are unconsciously associated by a person to a particular subject. Carl Jung originally defined the term. He described it as conscious or unconscious feelings and beliefs that result in puzzling behavior. At the core of any complex is a universal pattern of experience called the archetype. A prominent example of archetypes is the concept of shadow. According to Jung the shadow represents any aspect of the psyche that has been excluded from conscious awareness.
The Divided Self
R.D. Laing’s book was published in 1960. It sold 1,600 copies. However, in 1989 the year of the author’s death, the book became a best seller and sold over 700,000 copies in England alone. The book has since been translated in more than thirty languages.
The Divided Self was not intended for the academic world but rather for the general public. The book describes in lay terms the schizoid personality and schizophrenia. Laing explains that a schizoid personality is a person whose totality of his experience is split in two or more ways. The overall unity of the person has been broken into separate entities each with its own personality.
One of the senses implied by Eisenhower’s use of “misplaced” is “to displace”, to put in a wrong place or to be devoted to the wrong purpose. One of its synonyms is “to derange”, to cause disorder or to distort from its ideal state.
The movie depicts a growing confrontation between Tony Stark and Obadiah Stane. What follows is a struggle of two opposing visions of the company: A patriotic one versus a globalist weapons manufacturer without any loyalty to the state. Tony Stark is portrayed as a “real patriot”. A magnate dismayed by the discovery that his weapons kill American soldiers. In contrast, Obadiah Stane personifies a transnational company whose core interest is profitability regardless of military casualties. At stake is the integrity of Stark Industries.
Tony Stark and Obadiah Stane are partners. Each owns controlling interests in the company. The conflict precipitates a split between two incompatible personalities within the corporation.
In the US the corporation is defined as a person, more precisely as an artificial person. The idea of “person” has become shrouded in popular misconception. The ambiguity is attributed to a deceptive confusion between artificial, natural person and a human being. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Latin origin of corporation is corpus or body. The word body in this sense does not mean a physiological organism commonly understood as a human body, but to a society or an association. In addition, the original Latin meaning for person is persona, a mask worn by an actor. One must keep in mind that the mask of a person, his or her personality, does not mean the essence of being, his or her soul.
The misconception about the meaning of person is exemplified by the oxymoron of corporate citizen. Although the corporation is considered an artificial person, it cannot be a citizen. Citizenship is granted either by birth or through the process of citizenship, one that involves the swearing and pledge of allegiance. In other words, it might be inferred that the misplaced meaning of person could be attributed to a misleading and deliberate corporate impersonation of a human being?
Although Stark Industries is an artificial person it nonetheless experiences a break down in its integrity, likened to schizophrenia. The split was triggered Obadiah’s psychotic behavior. Displayed in the movie when he undertakes to kill his partner and take control of the company in order to continue his arms dealing with the enemy.
Acquisition of Unwarranted Influence and Misplaced Power
As a career military and President, Eisenhower experienced first hand the complex relationship between the military and the arms industry. Before he left office he warned the citizens about its grave implications. And he expressed his concerns about the future of the relationship.
Since his speech, the growth of the defense industry has reached startling proportions. By 2011 the military budget is projected to account for half of the US deficit. These numbers suggest that the US economy has become increasingly dependent on the growth of the defense industry. This expansion has favored distorted priorities in respect to alternative sources of investment for economic growth. As a result a mounting dichotomy has emerged between a civilian economy and a “large arms industry”, an industry that now includes surveillance and security services.
When Eisenhower spoke of “acquisition of unwarranted influence” he was more than likely referring to lobbying. Today lobbying has flourished and includes the services provided by ex-military advisers. On occasion retired generals are hired by the arms industry as consultants. As former career officers they yield considerable influence in the decision making for major weapons and munitions purchased by the government. Not all of their advice however benefits the security and wellbeing of fighting soldiers abroad.
In addition, officials at the highest level of government, some with a personal stake in the defense industry, have been suspected of over-billing, bribery and possible violations of the law. Investigations and government audits have found that waste, shoddy workmanship and corruption are not uncommon and are putting unnecessary strain on active military personnel.
Another issue threatening the integrity of the military is the increasing use of private contractors. A growing number are being used for logistics, the protection of convoys and as guards for military bases. Private contractors were in the past only used as a temporary measure. It has now become a standard practice of US military operations. The functions conducted by private contractors were previously performed by the military. These functions have increasingly been outsourced so that soldiers can focus on the more risky task of engaging the enemy.
In Irak and Afghanistan the number of private contractors have reached and surpassed the number of military personnel. In addition, mercenaries are paid disproportionately more than soldiers. The inequitable monetary compensation is nothing less than demeaning for the men and women serving their country. Adding insult to injury the presence of mercenaries also discredit and undermine the very role of the military in the nation’s defence.
Another example of misplaced power is the use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drones. The UAV program is run by a secret service agency and is not officially recognized by the government. The use of this type of weapon has caused a growing resentment among the surviving members of drone victims in Afghanistan. This anger is fueling a widespread resentment and retaliation against the troops fighting on the ground. These raids also help foster a nationalistic, anti-American movement in the country. Moreover, the use of drones to hunt down the Taliban may prove to be a violation of international law.
The most puzzling aspect of the military industrial complex involves the expanding infringement of the state’s sovereignty by corporations. During the Apogee awards the video refers to Tony as the “anointed” CEO with keys to the “kingdom”. An interesting analogy is made between the corporation and a kingdom. The film shows that the business of arms dealing knows no borders. And on occasion the transnational corporation behaves in ways that is counter to the national security of the state. Obadiah Stane’s double dealing reveals he puts the corporate interests above those of his country, violating the sovereignty of the United States in the process.
The growing allocation to the military budget, compounded by a growing deficit, may prove to be detrimental to the sovereignty and national security of the United States. In 2007 Ralph Gomory, head of the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, testified before Congress:
In this new era of globalization, the interests of companies and countries have diverged. In contrast with the past, what is good for America’s global corporations is no longer necessarily good for the American people.
The use of the expression “anointed” to describe Tony Stark is also revealing. The term refers to a ritual used to consecrate a king. A monarch by definition rules over his sovereign kingdom. The comparison between a corporation and a kingdom may not be too far-fetched. Some of the world’s biggest corporations are richer and more powerful than a great majority of third world countries. Conglomerates typically are run by a disposable king, own large chunks of real estate, hire their own security, provide income and supply medical care to their employees, pay for travel and provide shelter for a certain number of its upper management. They in effect erect a virtual wall around their kingdoms.
All the examples of misplaced power described point to the growing influence of a large arms industry. The existence of such a shadow system is not recognized by a great majority of people. This obscurity benefits the weapons industries. They thrive and expand while hidden from public and political scrutiny. The ever increasing power of corporations may one day evolve to challenge and abrogate the sovereignty of the state.
Eisenhower clearly stated that the role of the President is to “balance” the two connected but distinct parts. And he warned to keep a watchful eye that one does not override the other and become a power onto itself.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
In the end Iron Monger is destroyed by Stark Industries’ arc reactor. The mysterious power source did prove to be useful to annihilate the shadowy force that planned to take over the company. Otherwise, Iron Monger’s victory would have been detrimental for US’ national security. As depicted in the movie, the innovative power source could be an answer to promote the security, the liberty and the economic growth of the nation.
(2) Obadiah is not an uncommon name in the bible. It means “Servant of Yahweh”. Obadiah also refers to a prophet that is also the title of the shortest book in the Bible ─21 verses in all. In it Obadiah preaches against the nation of Edom who was historically hostile to Israel. The text relates to a vision about the ultimate victory of the people of God against their enemy; God’s promise being conditional to the unwavering faith of his people.
Superman’s power originated from being born on an alien planet. Spiderman’s prowess was the result of being bitten by a genetically modified spider. Batman’s power revolves around being the heir to a huge fortune inherited after the tragic death of his parents. Despite the difference in the origin of their power, these super-heroes typify the prominence of Hollywood’s pantheon. A medium’s celebration of American mythology and an ongoing tribute to true Americanism. Batman Begins recounts the genesis of a Paradise Lost. A hero’s loss of innocence, his journey through a painful path of redemption and coming of age. Visible on the movie’s official web site is a poster of the masked hero seen standing prostrate in the twilight. An appropriate reflection of a nation undergoing a period of soul searching.
Batman is the alter-ego of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. He was first introduced to the public in Detective Comics 27 in May, 1939. Wayne took up his role as Batman after the traumatic experience of witnessing his parents’ murder. Following a painful soul searching he decides to adorn a mask of a bat in order to instill fear upon criminals: and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful.
In Detective Comics 38 in April, 1940, Batman was joined by his crime fighting partner, Robin, the Boy Wonder. Batman and Robin were later joined by their faithful butler, Alfred. The team of Batman, Robin and Alfred became the nucleus of the Batman success since the 1940’s. Over the years Batman & Robin’s endless battles against an assortment of villains got increasingly favorable ratings. Prominent among Batman’s arch enemies include Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Two Face and Catwoman.
Contrary to most other super-heroes of his era, Batman has no supernatural powers of his own. He relies instead upon a superior training and intellect. He also uses expensive and sophisticated crime fighting gadgets that our hero is able to afford due to his enormous wealth. The best known are: The utility belt, the Bat-cave, the Bat-mobile, the Bat-plane, the Bat-cycle, the Bat-boat, the Bat-Signal, and all other array of high-tech contraptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city. To help him with his hi-tech devices, he relies on the help of a Wayne Enterprises’ tech expert, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Similar in many ways to British technical advisor Q in James Bond’s movies.
In Batman Begins, our hero is a loner who travels the earth to redeem his soul. He finds solace through hard physical training and discipline under the supervision of his newfound mentor, Ducard (Liam Neeson).
However, when Batman comes back from his journey, Robin is no longer our hero’s companion of choice. Alfred the butler is. Previous Batman movies have starred mostly American actors. Batman Begins’ leading cast are from Britain. They include Christian Bale (Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman, (Lt. James Gordon) and Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone). And British born Chris Nolan is the film’s director. The fifth Batman sequel, with England’s prominent acting contribution, is a sure recipe to be a “bloke”-buster of the year.
Batman, a “Masked Crusader”
Batman Begins clearly reflects a post 9/11 environment. The movie’s main themes of tragic loss, fear, anger, revenge, justice and moral responsibility reflect a current national disposition. Even some of the villains in the movie are made to appear like terrorists.
The movie plot begins when Wayne must deal with the physical and spiritual vacuum left by his parents’ death. He must also face the premature responsibility of being the heir to his family’s Empire, who’s headquarters just happen to be located at the very center of the city ─the center being a prevailing symbol in mythology. All the strength that he has built up during his journey will be useful when Bruce finally returns home to his castle. He finds Gotham city ruled by criminals and his own Wayne Enterprises in disarray.
Bruce Wayne faces enormous obstacles upon his return. He realizes that Wayne Enterprises is slipping out of his control. Disillusioned, Bruce Wayne undergoes a dramatic change and a metamorphosis into the Masked Crusader occurs. The hero is undaunted by his foes. He spares no means to fight for justice. However, there are many people who don’t like his plan to clean up the city. Among them, a stereotyped mobster named Carmine Falcone, Scarecrow and the League of Shadows.
The Masks of the Gods
Masks have been used among different cultures all through the ages for a variety of purposes. Generally, masks are adorned to honor the departed spirits of the ancestors. They have been used by shamans to ward off evil spirits. Masks have played an important role in rituals to cure illness or drive disease demons from entire villages or tribes.
Masks have been worn in holidays, festivals and masquerades like Halloween and Mardi Gras. In carnivals, masks are used to hide the identity of the wearer allowing him to break everyday rules that he or she would not normally break in an ordinary environment.
Wearing a mask in war was meant to instill fear in the enemy. Masks were also used to protect the dead by frightening away malevolent spirits and scavengers. In ancient Greece and Rome masks were worn by actors to make the gods manifest, thereby giving birth to drama.
Mostly, masks are adorned by secret societies, generally made up of men. They are used in rituals of initiation and rites of passage, introducing the teenager to hierarchy; the system that establishes social order.
Recently, we have seen the resurgence of masked men like the KKK. The Klan’s reappearance brings back images of cross burning and memories of lynching. As we have said, masked men like to instill fear onto the non-members. They like to hide their identity to avoid exposure and personal condemnation by the world that lay beyond their control.
Most super-heroes wear a mask as part of their persona. Bat-man is a perfect example of its veiled significance:
The mask in a primitive festival is revered and experienced as a veritable apparition of the mythical being that it represents ─even though everyone knows that a man made the mask and that a man is wearing it. The one wearing it, furthermore, is identified with the god during the time of the ritual of which the mask is part. He does not merely represent the god; he is the god…In other words, there has been a shift of view from the logic of the normal secular sphere, where things are understood to be distinct from one another, to a theatrical or play sphere, where they are accepted for what they are experienced as being and the logic is that of “make believe” ─“as if.”
The Masks of God, Joseph Campbell
What are we to conclude about the hero? One can draw a number of conclusions from the movie and its masked message. One that comes to mind is the allusion to an American semi-god sided by a British butler in an alliance to fight villains. Promoting acts of revenge to distract from any problems within the system and by making the enemy the focus of all the anger; a scapegoat.
What about the message that only a billionaire is able or can afford to fight crime? Whereas the non-elite masses are merely powerless spectators.
The name of Dark Knight also brings forth an interesting analogy in respect to the knighted celebrities. Dark Knight is the owner of an “empire”. He lives in a castle that will eventually be destroyed by flames. All these images suggests an induction of a new form of corporate feudalism. A New World Order where mega-corporations have become the new kingdoms, favoring the workers inside its perimeters with overwhelming providence.
Olympian religion is essentially a religion of the successful, comfortable and healthy ruling-class. The downtrodden peasant harassed by the necessities of keeping body and soul together in a naturally unfruitful land, crippled by debt and social injustice, asked something very different of his gods: The Olympians bore a discouraging resemblance to his oppressors.
Mythical and Allegory in Ancient Art, Roger Hinks
We conclude with a last reference in regards to the setting of the movie. According to the Shorter Oxford dictionary; Gotham was the name of a village proverbial for the folly of its inhabitants, who were also referred to as simpletons.
The title refers to our previous article, Superman: A mythical American. Spider-Man is another attempt on our part to delve into the popular American mythology, as portrayed by what is referred to in Hollywood as, “the Industry”. At the outset Peter Parker states the premise of the film:
“Who am I? “Are you sure you want to know? “The story of my life is not for the faint of heart. If somebody told you I was just an ordinary, average guy, not a care in the world! Somebody lied. But let me assure you. This, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl. That girl…the girl next door: Mary Jane Watson. The woman I loved since before I even liked girls.”
From the start these questions are entertained: Does the movie relate to the angst of a teenager’s identity crisis or is it an ultimate love story?
The Spider-Man’s persona has some universal appeal as it flatters on one hand, a young male’s “ego” and his sense of superiority and on the other hand, women’s romantic feeling of abandonment. Girl meets inaccessible man to be eventually turned down by the super hero. Ordinary men would normally fall prey to their luxurious feelings and sex drive. A noted shortcoming among men, which women exploit with great talent; not Spider-Man.
The movie is foremost a tale, mythical in many respects. Like all myths, it is about super-beings, super-heroes and gods involved in the lives of ordinary men and women. Like most mythical stories it can be divided into a thematic sequence:
The setting…….New York city The hero………..Peter Parker The quest……….Mary Jane The adversary…Green Goblin The mentor……..Ben & May Parker The outcome……Spider-Man
The Spider-Man movie is set in a working class neighborhood of New York City. The first movie was released in May of 2002, less than a year after the tragic events of 9/11. The Big Apple, the archetype of the 20th century metropolis, is the setting for the story of our mythical hero.
Prior to its release, the film attracted immediate response when an trailer showed Spider-Man spinning a web on New York’s Twin Towers to catch a helicopter full of crooks. A favorite scene that drew cheers from preview audiences in the United States. However, the terrorist attacks on September 11 had forced a re-evaluation of this scene and all images of the Twin Towers were eliminated.
Unlike Superman, who came from another planet, Peter Parker is a working class boy. Both heroes were adopted. Both have a double identity. One of an ordinary being, the other of a supernatural hero. The former is a journalist, the latter a newspaper photographer. In the 1930’s, the original Superman’s prowess was limited to leaping from tall buildings, similar in many ways to our hero. As time and technology progressed, so did Superman’s powers. Peter Parker in the original comic series was bitten by a “radioactive” spider whereas in the movie he is bitten by a “genetically designed” spider. He becomes “genetically modified”, so to speak.
The character is the brainchild of Stan Lee who introduced his colorful hero in 1962. Soon after, Spider-Man became one of the most popular American icons. Unlike other super-heroes of his day, Peter Parker is a regular guy with “real” teen problems living in a “real” city. A nation-wide poll conducted among college students in 1965 by Esquire magazine revealed that Spider-Man ranked among the top of their favorite idols.
The movie begins with the portrait of a young man running after a school bus that he has missed yet again. Inside is the girl next door Mary Jane with her bully boyfriend, Flash, who entertains the mob inside the bus by making a mockery and an outcast of our hero, the nerd next door.
As the story develops our hero meets his best friend Harry. The rich son of Norman Osborn who owns OSCORP, a research company in nanotechnology doing business for the military. They’re on their way to the museum on a scientific field trip. In one of the labs they are visiting, 15 spiders have been “genetically designed”, one of which is reported missing by Mary Jane. Shortly after, it is seen descending from above to bite our ordinary guy on the hand. As a parenthesis, the Latin word for “super” literally means “above” or “over”. The image of the critter looming over our hero is a forceful image of the “super-natural”.
Back home, Peter Parker is undergoing a mutation generated by the spider’s bite and develops some unusual powers. Meanwhile, aunt May visibly worried, is seen outside her nephews’ bedroom and inquires about any notable changes in him. Peter looking through the window at Mary Jane in her bedroom next door and down at his genitals, replies to his aunty with a smile, that yes there are “big changes” going on.
Peter Parker is undergoing big changes. Some are due to his “raging hormones” and some are genetically designed. Some are related to his infatuation with his neighbor who doesn’t know he exists. Fortunately, he soon gets her attention when his uncontrollable powers get him in trouble with Flash in the school cafeteria. He finally beats up the bully to the ground, to Mary Jane’s surprise and admiration.
Aunt May tells Peter that he’s overreacting and doing too much.
“Do you think you’re Superman?….” “When you were a child the first time you saw Mary Jane when she first moved next door, you asked me, is that an angel?” “But aunt May she doesn’t know who I am?” “That’s because you don’t let her. Would it be so dangerous to let her know that you care.”
Like any teenager, he needs money to buy a car to impress Mary Jane. He decides to enter a wrestling contest. The prize is $3,000 for whoever withstands 3 minutes of beating from the house villain. For the occasion Peter draws his first ideas for a costume. The night of the fight he introduces himself as the Human Spider but is introduced by the MC as Spider-Man. In the circus on steroids he beats his opponent. However, he is only given a $100 reward since the fight lasted less than a minute.
On his way out of the promoter’s office a thief walks in and robs all the cash. Peter lets the thief walk away as a way of getting even with the manager for ripping him off. He repeats to him what he had been told earlier when he was shortchanged: ‘I missed the part where this is my problem”.
The army is expecting good news from OSCORP and its “human performance enhancer”. A drug to make a superior warrior. Unfortunately for Norman the drug is not ready. The formula has some bad sides effects that result in violence, aggression and insanity. The military are not pleased and inform Osborn that they are thinking of giving their contract to his main competitor QUEST.
Shortly after, Norman Osborn finds out that the board of directors of the company he has created plans to get rid of him in a merger. As a last resort, he decides to test the drug on himself. Following the intake, he develops an evil alter ego and the Green Goblin literally takes over his personality. From then on, the Green Goblin will seek revenge on the board of directors for their betrayal by planning an attack on the company’s corporate merger celebration.
At the “World Unity Festival” our hero and the villain meet for the first time setting the stage for a pyrrhic battle carried to the end. The adversary in any story is at the center of the hero’s own identity. It is the villain that triggers the hero’s appearance. It is he who forces Spider-Man to measure up and become the idol that he is. The “struggle” with the adversary is at the core of every hero’s identity.
After his first encounter with Spider-Man, Green Goblin traps our hero and offers him to join him in his efforts to destroy and to terrorize the people, telling him: “One thing that the public likes more than a hero, it’s a hero that fails.” Our hero refuses to go along creating his mortal enemy in the process. Knowing that Spider-Man is a forcible opponent, the Green Goblin plans to hurt the ones Peter loves in order to get to our hero.
Back home, the changes in our hero is affecting the relationship with his uncle who senses that he is loosing his beloved nephew to a higher calling. Uncle Ben who just lost his job, complains that “the corporations are downsizing people and upsizing profits”. Looking through the classified ads for a job, he observes that even “computers need analysts”.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
Ben tells Peter on his way to the wrestling match. Our hero who is not in the mood for a speech reminds his uncle that he’s not his real father. Unknown to Peter is that the fleeting thief that he lets go after the wrestling match will hijack Ben’s car and murder him.
“No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, the ones I love will always be the ones who pay…”
During the attack by the Green Goblin on the “World Unity Festival” Peter Parker finds out that Mary Jane is Harry Osborn’s new girl friend. Our hero comes out full swing to save the day and Mary Jane. Prompting her to ask him:
“Who are you?” “You know who I am.”
At the hospital while visiting aunt May, who was badly injured by the Green Goblin, Mary Jane tells Peter that she’s in love with somebody else. She asks Peter if he knows Spider-Man. He tells her that he knows him since he is his official photographer. She asks if the hero ever mentioned her. Peter replies:
“Spider-Man did ask what I thought about you.” “And what did you say”… ”I said…A great thing about Mary Jane is when you look in her eyes and she’s looking back at yours, everything does not feel quite normal. Because you feel stronger, weaker at the same time. You feel excited and at the same time terrified. The truth is you don’t know what you feel, except what kind of man you want to be. It feels like you reached the unreachable and you were not ready for it.” “You said that?”…
* * *
In the final scene Mary Jane is in danger yet again. In the darkness between the bridge and the deep waters below, the Goblin threatens to kill a tram filled with children and our heroin. Divided between the sadistic choice of saving Mary Jane or the children, the super-hero saves both.
“That’s why fools are heroes. Misery, misery, misery…That’s what you have chosen.”
In the final battle Norman pleads that it is not he but the Green Goblin who is responsible for the evil doing. Osborn’s brief sense of sanity is short lived and he succumbs to the “violence, aggression and insanity” a final time. In his last unsuccessful attempt to kill Spider-Man the villain is killed instead.
At Norman Osborn’s funeral, Harry swears revenge for his father’s death and tells Peter that he is the only family he has left. Unaware that he is confiding to the Green Goblin’s killer.
In the final scene Peter turns and faces Mary Jane as she reveals to him:
“There is one thing I have been wanting to tell you when I thought I was going to die. There was only one person I was thinking of and it wasn’t who I thought it would be. I kept thinking, I hope I make it through this so I could see Peter Parker’s face one more time. Really there’s only one man who’s always been there for me, who makes me feel more than I thought I could be. But I’m just me and that’s OK… I love you…I love you so much.”
As they kiss we hear Peter Parker talking to himself.
“All I wanted to tell her was how much I love her” “Tell you that everything ─ and there is so much to tell.” “I can’t…”
He tells her instead:
“I want you to know that I always be there for you, to take care of you. I promise you that I always be your friend.” “Only a friend Peter Parker” “That is all I have to give.”
As he walks away from her she begins to cry. Then she touches her lips remembering her kiss to Spider-Man.
“Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words; “With great power comes great responsibility” “This is my gift this is my curse” “Who am I” “I’m Spider-Man”
Our hero is seen on top of a skyscraper with part of the US flag visible swirling to the wind high above the city.
The Medium is the Message
Myth is the medium through which the super-natural is revealed. The language of myth separates the words and actions of the super heroes from the ordinary world. Myth creates a different setting and separates the boundaries between:
the extraordinary vs the ordinary the celestial vs the terrestrial the supernatural vs the natural
The separation between film and the audience is what the Romans called the sacrum, or the sacred. No contact is allowed between the sacrum and the profanum, the profane. Similarly, there is a technological partition between the screen and a mesmerized crowd. With the film, the visionary display is located “above” the masses of people located below. The separation is likened to the dichotomy between the super-hero and the ordinary Peter. In an interview with Le Monde, Sam Raimi relates his first experience with the 16mm amateur movies his father made as a child and how they were responsible for his fascination with movie making. Revealing; “I thought movies were supernatural, a gift from the gods. I never got over the wonder that I felt back then.”
Typically, mythical stories come in the narrative form. Before the alphabet and the text were predominant, myth was passed down orally from generation to generation. Changing with each story teller, adapting to the new social an cultural realities with the passing of time. With the advent of the myth as narrative, the story became self contained and carved in stone, so-to-speak. The story became immutable, not open to any changes.
With the movie, however, myth has gone through some technological mutations, in part due to the nature of the medium and in part due to the magic of special effects. Contrary to myth, the film industry is mostly an economic endeavor. Ratings and profits are central to “the Industry”. Consequently, to make a movie more profitable a sequel follows to increase its box office returns. As a consequence, the nature of the medium and the sequel is shifting the message and the ending, postponing the outcome of the story indefinitely.
In the beginning Peter explains that the story is about the girl next door: A love story. At the end our hero has second thoughts about his love for Mary Jane. He succumbs to the love of his own image as a super-hero. His quest for power and responsibility finally overshadows his desire for MJ. As a result there is a reshuffle the in thematic sequence proposed at the beginning:
The setting……..New York city The hero………..Peter Parker The quest……….Great Power and Great Responsibility The adversary…Green Goblin/Mary Jane The mentor……..Ben & May Parker The outcome……Spider-man
In the scene where Mary Jane is stalked by a band of young thugs on a rainy night Spider-Man appears again to save our heroin who wears an enticing wet tee-shirt. Shortly after, he appears in a close-up upside down, his masked face opposite to his girl friend’s. She removes Peter’s mask just enough to allow for a kiss.
Is the image of Spider-Man upside down facing Mary Jane suggests some kind of opposition to the thematic sequence described in the beginning of the movie? The image of our beloved heroes opposing each other in such a way brought back some vivid memories about the symbolism of opposing forces.
Several years ago I visited Coba, an Mayan city locate in the Yucatan area of Mexico, not too far from the paradise setting of Tulum and the better known city of Cancun. During my excursion I climbed the main Mayan pyramid and reached the top. At the peak of the monument stood a small room, in all likelihood an altar, about the size of closet. Above the door of the entrance stood a sculpted image depicting a god falling from heaven to earth, head first.
The image reflects the idea of a plunging god as the sole power in opposition to the rest of pyramid below. The monument represents the world pointing to the heavens to the falling god against its peak. Two opposing forces; one from above coming down and one from below pointing up. A symbol of the supernatural against the natural, an eternal and divine struggle.
The image of the opposing actors suggests a struggle in our hero’s super-natural calling. In order to become “who he is” our hero must give up his carnal desires for Mary Jane and become celibate. She has become an obstacle to Peter’s identity. The girl next door is now an impediment to Spider-Man’s quest for “great power”.
As we have seen in the movie and described above, our hero’s power and responsibility are all focused in the defense of his loved ones from his own calling. As he states at the end; it is his gift, his curse. One interesting point about the comic books saga is that Mary Jane eventually marries Peter. She also supports him financially so he can continue to “serve” the people of New York. So why this concern with sexual abstinence in the movie? Conservatism?? Unfortunately we have no answers except to say that MJ is protected from physical harm and Spidey’s sexual touch.
Raimi’s depiction of our hero’s angelic qualities brings back memories of a cinematographic Paradise Lost. Similar to the themes of It’s A Wonderful Life depicted in Franck Capra’s idyllic movies of the 30’s. Where the US stood at the highest of its moral character, with decades of bright economic future ahead. Unchallenged in its political leadership and respected throughout the world.
To conclude, aren’t we all a bit like our hero, nerds who believe that we are super-men. A well kept secret, never willing to admit to it. Always in search of the opposite sex to impress. And in the course of our search ending up with a woman who will listen to our dreams and see us for what we are. Mere mortals living between fantasy and reality. Childlike or childish in our quest for greatness. As we grow, we transcend our idealized self through the “otherness” of the loved one. Faced with the prominent presence of the “other” in our lives, we become compelled by the reflection of our own true self and destiny.
I cannot help making a last analogy between Spider-Man’s and the Internet users. Leaping from web site to web site interacting together in the other-worldliness beyond our monitors. Fighting the battle against a symbolic Green Goblin, represented by war, fundamentalism, secrecy, control and censure.
By the time this article was completed, Spider-Man 2 was released. The sequel has basically the same thematic sequence as the first movie. Except for the ending where Mary Jane abandons everything for the sake of Peter, taking control of his life, ending our hero’s indecisiveness. Making MJ the ultimate quest, mentor and outcome of the story.
Superman is a perfect example of a contemporary mythical hero. No other character better exemplifies myth as paradigm: a mythical model that embodies the cultural reality of an era. As such, we can retrace Superman’s origin and development into a synergy that evolved between the creators of the Man of Steel, the history of the US during the post-war period, and the fans who bought the comic books and made Superman an American icon.
In 1934 the US was in the midst of the Great Depression and the Nazis were in power in Germany. Joe Shuster, who moved from Canada to Cleveland, met his long lost cousin Jerry Siegel when he was 16. They immediately became close friends as they both shared a passion for science-fiction and comic books. Flash Gordon and Little Nemo were their favorites. Both were Jewish, shy and wore glasses. Joe had already published several cartoon illustrations in his Junior High School paper, while Jerry had published Cosmic Stories at 14.
The same year they met, Siegel came up with the idea of a strongman for a comic hero depicted by Shuster in flamboyant cape and red tights. The story would evolve around an otherworldly alien with an earthly identity of a mild-mannered reporter pursuing unattainable Lois Lane who in turn was in love with the inaccessible Man of Steel. Thus creating the most famous love triangle in American folklore.
The name for their character came from the German philosopher Frederich Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra in which he introduces the concept of Superman. The great-souled hero who transcends morality by his will to power. The original model for the character was based on the actor Douglas Fairbanks Senior. Both Siegel and Shuster loved the movies he played in, especially The Mark of Zorro and Robin Hood. The actor’s stance was used as a model for the drawings of Superman. The pose now famous is that of the hero who stands with his hands on his hips and his feet apart. On the other hand the model for the diminutive reporter Clark Kent was that of Harold Lloyd.
When Siegel and Shuster came up with the idea of Superman, neither knew that it would take another four years before they would see their hero published in a comic book. In 1938, after years of rejection, they finally sold the first 13 pages of Superman for $130 to National Allied Publications. Unfortunately, they unwittingly signed a release form relinquishing all rights to their character. Suddenly Superman was no longer their property. As a result, they had to work for the publishing company to produce the character they created. A few years later Superman became the most popular comic book hero in America.
Like every mythical hero Superman has a super-natural origin. The story is that of a star-child placed by his parents on a small rocket and shipped across millions of light-years to earth as the only survivor of a wonderful race on the eve the planet Krypton’s destruction. The baby finally lands in a Midwestern corn field. He is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent who raise the child like their own son. They soon find out that Clark is no ordinary being.
Superman’s original name on Krypton was Kal-El and his father’s was Jor-El. The suffix of both names has a biblical significance. One of the oldest Semitic appellatives of God is “el”. The designation has been widely used in ancient Israel. It can be found in words like Isra-el, Ishma-el, Samu-el, Gabri-el, Micha-el, etc… Michael is also the mythical warrior angel who opposed Satan i.e., the “adversary”. As such he is Superman’s biblical alter ego.
Another biblical analogy that springs to mind is that of Moses’ early days. He too was saved by his parents from the murderous hands of the Pharaoh who had ordered to kill all the Hebrew newborn males. Moses’ mother put him in a watertight reed basket and set him afloat on the Nile. The child was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter who was bathing in the river nearby. She recognized him as one of the Hebrew children and adopted him. Moses grew up in the royal court and he too shared a double identity: as an Egyptian prince and as the great liberator of the Jewish people.
With so much Jewish symbolism inherent in the character it is reported that Joseph Goebbles, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, branding a comic book in his hand during a cabinet meeting, furiously denounced Superman as a Jew.
What Goebbels did not understand is that the core of Superman’s persona is that of the immigrant: an alien coming from another place. So Goebbels ended up antagonizing not only Jewish born Americans, like Siegel and Shuster, but all Americans. Because, with the exception of the aboriginal inhabitants, every American was an alien at one point or another. In other words, the essence of the character depicts the process of integrating as a citizens of the US. As such Siegle and Shuster created a quintessential portrait of a new American; as an ordinary character in his day to day life and as a super-hero who defends the American Way of life.
In the early issues of Superman the hero was seen leaping tall buildings. A few years later he began to fly. As cars and airplanes became popular means of transportation it increased the overall mobility of the American people. As American’s mobility increased so did Superman’s. Through the years his powers increased until Superman became a godlike figure which also matched the US’ status as the world’s military super-power.
Accordingly, Superman’s most singular trait is that of his dual personality. One part relates to his super-natural powers and the other to the profane reality of the everyday world; a yin and yang so to speak. The first symbolizes the ideals of individual freedom and power. A stark contrast to the limits imposed by the reality of everyday life as portrayed by the humble Clark Kent. Such a contrast between the super-natural powers of Superman and the ordinariness of Clark Kent depicts the essence of human spiritual ambiguity. Don’t we all at times live in a fantasy world but soon are awakened from our dreams and have to come down and live on earth like Clark Kent.
Our hero’s duality also represents the full potential inherent in all human beings. This duality depicts the yin and yang of human spirituality: A dynamic present in many world religions. A good illustration of this duality would be Jesus Christ, characterized by the interaction between Christ the Son of God as the sacred, and Jesus the son of Mary as the profane. Such duality is at the core of the Christian religious experience. In the Incarnation he is both God and man, he is ONE God. In other words, both the sacred and the profane blend into ONE spiritual reality. For Superman and Clark Kent it is ONE animation as they are different characters yet they are the same person.
As we have seen, Superman is more than just a vigilante taking upon himself to rid Metropolis of its criminals. As the prefix super in his name implies he is above the ordinary man: A sacred and inaccessible being that roams the heavens. These godlike qualities represent the super-natural origin that is typical of all mythical heroes. Myth therefore plays a major role in the edification of a cultural model that transcends all cultural and ethnical diversities. As such, the hero fosters an ideal to which all can identify; in this case an American ideal. As a result Superman embodies a civil religion that transcends all other religions. A civil religion that is concerned with the cultural identity and integrity of America.
When the Superman TV series first came out, the opening statements for the show were; Truth, Justice and the American Way. As Umberto Eco points out in his essay The Myth of Superman, the hero is not concerned with changing the status quo. His idea of truth and justice is preserving law and order. He devotes all his energies to put the criminal element behind bars. As Eco observes, Superman does not use his powers to change the social conditions that breed urban crime, poverty or homelessness.
The biggest irony about Superman is that even with all his super-natural powers he could not help his creators fight the legal system. In 1947 Shuster and Siegel were tired of seeing other people making millions from their character. They went to court to regain the rights to their creation and cancel their contract. They also claimed $5 million in lost revenue. However, the court denied their claim to ownership of Superman. In the end the hero that is able to put the most dangerous criminals behind bars, making Metropolis a safer place for everybody, could do nothing against legal injustice.
As the story reveals Superman lands in a corn field in the Midwest. His adopted parents are white Anglo-Saxon. The question is, why the Midwest? He could very well have landed in a native, Jewish, Irish, Polish, Italian, or Chinese neighborhood in any of the country’s thriving big cities. The reason is that during the period in which Superman became popular, the portrait of a model American was white and Anglo. The movies, the TV shows, the advertising promoted that ideal.
By choosing a farming environment, the creators give credit to the historical part played by the Settlers and the early immigrants who labored the land who were mostly English. By the same token they also acknowledged the contribution made by the Founding Fathers in the cultural and political foundation of the country. But also, by being immigrants themselves, they display the process of becoming American.Therefore, Superman is a mythical paradigm of an era. A cultural model of America promoted by varied media.
At the turn of the century there has been a shift in the cultural reality of the US and the world. The planet is being dominated by shifting antagonistic military powers. Whereas the development of the Internet has promoted the idea of a multi-facet world. It appears as if the political trend of the future is not toward further centralization but decentralization and diversification.
The US is driven by a dynamic multi-cultural diversity. The shift is represented by the popularity of the TV shows like Star Trek, which has been one of the leading series/movies of the past decades. As such the series is more representative of a cultural model of the post-Vietnam war era. It is represented by a multiracial crew on the USS Enterprise displaying a more contemporary reflection of the cultural reality of the US. Although in the original Star Trek the captain is Anglo-Saxon, in The Next Generation Jean-Luc Picard is French. An additional step toward a new American mythical model mediated by the media.