Monday, August 27, 2012

Let the Truth Have Its Day

“We have to shout above the din of our Rice Crispies
We can't hear anything at all”
-          Synchronicity,The Police, 1983

Let me start this today with a massive understatement: I like comic books.  I always have.  I think there is something magical about the mixture of art, story and a child’s imagination in inventing a worldview and a cohesive set of morals.  Myth has woven its way through the whole of human history and is as much a part of us as our DNA.  While our cultures have let the names and the places of our myths change over the years, the fundamental truths have largely remained the same.  It is of no coincidence that comic books are steeped in myth.  The heroes in their pages have been fighting our moral battles against the dark side of our souls since the printing presses started rolling cheap pulp out for children in 1933.  While Hercules and Thor still captivate us on some level, they do so in the comics.  And, let’s face it, neither one is as popular as Batman on his worst day.

To paraphrase Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Batman is the hero the American people deserve.  He may not be the one we want, or even the one we need, but he is who we deserve.  We deserve someone smarter than us.  We deserve someone stronger than us.  We deserve someone richer, someone more determined, someone willing to do the hard work of protecting a people too lost in our own lives to do it ourselves.  And, we most definitely deserve someone who will not abuse all of that power once he has it.  I love Batman.  But, let’s not forget he’s a myth.  A real person with those capabilities would not be viewed as a hero, and I doubt he could exist for long without losing his grip on reality.  No, a real person with the skill, subterfuge, science and fortune of a Batman would most undoubtedly be the greatest threat to freedom we’ve ever seen.

I think the beauty of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is that by pointing out the very realistic flaws in every character in the mythos, these films challenge us to be a better people.  He may be the hero we deserve, but perhaps we might do better to not need him at all.  Certainly, that is the statement made in the newest movie.  Truth is the hero we need at this time.  Not a CIA skulking in shadows.  Not an organized religion hiding the words of the leaders they claim to love.  Not big business and big money conspiring in smoky back rooms.  We need the truth, and we need to be able to tell the Joker that we can handle it.

There has been a back and forth on whether art imitates life, or if life imitates art since Oscar Wilde published his The Decay of Lying in 1889.  In this famed essay, Wilde posits that Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.  This is to challenge the viewer to strive for something better.  As such, as art pokes and prods us, life follows its direction.  I have loved that essay since I was required to read it in college, and I always felt it was a shame that only other aspiring artists like me had it on their required reading lists.  Perhaps, if everyone took art as seriously as Wilde, our airwaves would not be crowded with the lowest common denominator of unchallenging drivel.

Of course, I always took Wilde’s arguments as metaphorical.  I never once thought that the act of drawing a picture, crafting a story or penning a poem would make manifest the subject of the art itself.  Okay, maybe in an inspirational way, sure.  But, most assuredly there was no true magic behind the act of producing art.  A few years ago, a posting on got me thinking about the possibility I might be wrong.

Cracked is usually good for a laugh at the end of the day when my eyes have glazed over from spreadsheets, or needs assessments, or whatever other fascinating document the exciting life of a grant writer entails.  So it was that I settled in to read through Maxwell Yezpitelok’s “6 Eerily Specific World Events Predicted by Comics” in the minutes before I had to leave to pick up my daughter.  Little did I know that would be the beginning of a long journey into an alien world of alternate thought.  I won’t go into it too far today, but let me summarize what’s important for discussion right now.  In 1945, the creative team over at Superman’s Action Comics so accurately described the top secret atomic bomb project in an issue, that the Defense Department had to crack down on them and pull the book from the stands.  A few months later, they described a cyclotron, also drawing the ire of the Defense Department as this device was also part of the Manhattan Project.  To this day, no evidence links anyone of the DC comic team with any spy network.  Besides, if they had been spies, why leak their findings in the pages of a widely distributed periodical?  It defies explanation.

In 1986, Superman was at it again when writer/artist John Byrne’s Man of Steel comic exploded a space shuttle in its pages, and had to be hastily redrawn at the press when the Challenger disaster occurred.  This was following John Byrne’s involvement in predicting a massive black out in New York City in a Spider-Man/Wasp team-up book for Marvel back in 1977, released one week before the actual blackout in New York City. Oh, and later Byrne killed Wonder Woman, otherwise known as Princess Diana of Themyscira in 1997.  Three days after its release, Princess Diana of Wales was killed in a car crash.

There is more, but I think that’s enough to make my point.  Now, I like John Byrne.  His run on Avengers: West Coast in the late 80s, early 90s were some of my favorite Avengers stories of all time.  I’ve read his interviews, and dug up what I could on him after I read this article.  There are those who believe he is everything from a government agent to a Satanic sorcerer.  I think he’s a comic book nerd with a distinctive art style and a flair for the melodramatic.

However, if we chalk these events up to coincidence alone, I think we do them and ourselves a disservice.  As Commissioner Gordon says to the young Det. Blake in The Dark Knight Rises, “You’re a detective now.  You no longer get to believe in coincidence.”  So, what does that leave us?  What plausible scientific explanation can make sense of what on the surface is insensible?  I believe the answer may lie in the widely disregarded theory of synchronicity put forth by Dr. Carl Jung in the 1920s.  As Jung aged, there can be no doubt he fell into insanity, but there can also be no doubt in his genius.  As defined by Jung, synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner.

That is most definitely subjective, and as we all know, science cannot stand subjectivity.  Therefore, science has never accepted synchronicity as anything other than the delusions of a confused mind grasping at straws.  However, revitalized with the strength a good Batman yarn has always given me, I challenge you to consider synchronicity on its own merits.  By its very nature, it is the observer alone that can decide if an event has a “meaningful manner” in Jung’s definition.  That means in order to consider it, we must abandon the scientific method and its reliance on the impartial observer.  Quantum theory has already required us to make this leap, however.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle shows us that we cannot separate the observer from the observed.  In point of fact, the Higgs-Boson tells us the observer and the observed are in fact one, made of the very same nothingness of existence.

If we can make that intellectual leap in quantum theory, I think we can make the same leap when it comes to the harmony of the universe.  As the butterfly flaps its wings, we get rain in New York.  As we read our comic books and we fire up our myth receptors, could it be that we are contributing in our own spiritual way to the manifestation of the events on their pages?  I don’t know, but I’m neither a scientist, nor a guru.  I don’t have that answer.  But I urge you to be unafraid of asking the question.  As Alfred tells Bruce…maybe it’s time for the truth to have its day.

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