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The Geek Messiah[s]

“Somebody save me,

Let your warm hands break right through –

Somebody save me,

Don’t care how you do it,
Just save… save… come on,

I’ve been waiting for you…”

-Remy Zero

One of the hallmarks of any given action being labelled as “heroic” is the idea of ‘saving’ someone from a dangerous or unfortunate situation, especially when said circumstance is out of the victim’s control.  It’s a rudimentary method schoolchildren use for telling the difference between good guys and bad guys- the good guys save someone, the bad guys put people in a position which requires saving. It seems obvious, but rescuing someone from danger and making sure they’re safe is about as close to a “universal good” as you can think of, whether your lens is philosophical, religious, or mythological.

This may have its roots in biology – as a species, we naturally feel the urge to assist one another. It may have its role in ancient philosophy, where great minds laid out some of the foundations for ethical behavior eons ago. Perhaps it first grew in religion: it could very well be that humanity does truly exist in a fallen, vulnerable state where we subconsciously yearn for some being to lift us up, regardless of whether we deserve it or not. Perhaps there is no such subconscious yearning, and instead, we simply wish for a hero because we are aware of the many danger and shortcomings of our world, and we use this imaginary figure as a way to fantasize about the world being a better place.

That is where the myth of the Messiah comes in. Throughout time, geography, and culture, humans have tried to imagine what an ideal rescuer would look like. Often times, the person is birthed or created as a designated intermediary between mystic and human. Other times- it’s a human who attained some degree of divinity. In either circumstance, the result is a superhero – one who can save the world, and grant us a better understanding of righteousness, heroism, and hope.

Today in TGC, we going to begin our study of Messianic figures in geek canon by introducing and examining three of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy “Chosen One”s- and we’ll delve in a bit to what makes them so remarkable. At the end, we’ll see what we can learn from these fictional saviors’ examples, as well as ponder what other characters might fit this particular archetype.


Messiah #1: Superman
Sources:
DC Comics
Superman film series (Warner Bros.)*
Current DCU (Warner Bros.)

*Superman Returns is my favorite.

Superman is possibly the easiest comparison to draw to a modern Savior myth. His origin stories, though written by two Jewish story artists Siegel and Shuster, have interwoven an enormous amount of Judeo-Christian mythology into his own retelling.

Sent to Earth by his father as “The Last Son of Krypton” – the messages his father sends with him include almost verbatim scripture from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Jor-El: The son becomes the father, and the father the son. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.

[Insert relevant scripture of your choice here]

While John and Martha Kent are slightly better off than impoverished immigrants Joseph and Mary – the resulting adoption and raising of the new Messiah figure intertwines again around age 30, when both Clark Kent and Jesus of Nazareth are called away by their respective fathers to being their quest to save the planet through the working of great miracles, but most of all, through their innate goodness, and infallible conscience.

Schoolyard discussions and online forums often complain that Superman is “too goody-goody”, or “too overpowered” – such critics of the Superman myth claim that no driving sense of heightened stakes can exist with a hero whose powers are virtually limitless. As a writer – I understand where they are coming from. It is incredibly difficult to watch Superman in any given scenario and feel a sense of dread or anticipation. Those blue tights do not spell intense drama to me. One might then force the question, and ask, would one say that the active ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, a period of roughly three years living and teaching among the people, lived a life of no heightened stakes so therefore he ceases to be heroic?  

Answer: of course not.

His myth is not the typical “Hero’s Journey” – he’s not in the kin of a mortal striving to become their best self. In a lot of ways, he’s already transcended that – he’s already tapped into his godlike potential, and although Clark Kent still has some mortal problems to cope with on a regular basis (romance be damned), Superman is primarily a figure of limitless righteousness, and perfect justice. He is, for the most part, an incorruptible figure, whose only real trials exist in the relationships he struggles to form with humanity, even as he hears their pleas from everywhere all at once.

In this way, he mirrors a Judeo-Christian Messiah. He is most definitely better than everyone else – but instead of placing himself in a place to conquer or rule, he exists as a servant of the people, a defender against tyranny, and a consistent reminder that we can have hope – that good can always triumph over evil, and that there is no such thing as “too good to be true”.

Messiah #2: Neo
Source: The Matrix Trilogy (film)

Neo’s origins seem a far stretch from the wholesome upbringing of Clark Kent- the beginning of The Matrix involves an already adult-version of the protagonist as a late-90’s cybercriminal with a deadbeat office job. His eyes are opened not by an omnipotent father figure, but rather, by Morpheus, a proselytizing mystic who is searching for “The One” – a prophesied savior figure who will bring an end to a centuries-long conflict.

Neo’s quest, unlike Superman’s, is not to use his already-developed sense of justice in the service of lesser beings. Instead, Neo is a more aligned with the “Conquerer/Deliverer” side of the Messiah coin – his mission: to see through the deceptions and lies of the “material” world and to directly confront and ultimately defeat the cause of humanity’s great deception. His powers (awesome wire-fu aside) stem primarily from his philosophical clarity – and his understanding that mastering one’s own perceptions is the key to mastering the external world.

It is a different take on the Messiah’s purity, but still one very much in line with the myth as told by various religious and philosophical backgrounds. Guatama Siddhartha, the man who eventually became the Bhudda, began his journey to Ascension by similarly escaping an a world built to deceive him (in that instance, it was a palace devoid of any suffering or death). The ability of one “Chosen” to save or redeem an entire population is also seen in the figure of Moses – who single-handedly spoke for God against the oppressive powers that be (were?) and used his own brand of super-powers to force the Egyptians into surrendering the captive Hebrews into their own Zion. (Well played, Wachowskis).

Towards the conclusion of his story, Neo’s tale takes a much more New-Testament angle. Instead of conquering the demons by force and defeating them in battle, Neo takes on the role of an Atonement-maker, brokering a peace between the Machines and Zion. The Christian symbolism is not subtle, either.

Messiah #3: Avatar Aang
Source: Avatar, the Last Airbender (Nickelodeon)

And now for something completely different…

In Avatar, the Last Airbender, the world has been thrown out of balance by an invading imperial force, and only one being can stop them – The Avatar, a bridge between the denizens of the natural world and the spirit world.

In this instance, the Avatar is a young boy who literally ran away from his prophesied destiny, plunging the world into a hundred years of war and oppression. Thanks to his mystically-powered cryogenic stasis, he is preserved for the ideal moment in history. At the time of his arrival, some believe he will never come. Others say he arrived too late. Few believe his tale, even as he displays and proclaims time and again that he has come to right the world’s wrongs.

Aang is a fascinating take on the Savior myth, because of a few key twists that set him apart. First of all, he is young. The series begins with him at age 12, and the entire series ages him only two more years. To see a character wrestle with a divine destiny is hardly a rare occurrence, but seldom do stories spend so much time investigating the toll said destiny takes on a young boy who just wants to have fun, and live a normal life. Secondly, Aang is one of the only modern messianic figures I’m aware of who is directly related to the theory of reincarnation. Aang’s past selves are active mentors in his life, passing on wisdom and even some of their own emotional baggage. This makes for an interesting conversation – if the Avatar is consistently reborn, how much of Aang’s identity is his own? Furthermore, if the Avatar is in a state of consistent reincarnation, does that mean the world will never “stay saved”?

To look for a surviving religious interpretation of reincarnation in the form of a spiritual guide, one need not look any further than the twitter account for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. According to his own website, “The Dalai Lamas are believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are realized beings, inspired by the wish to attain complete enlightenment, who have vowed to be reborn in the world to help all living beings.”  In this case, we see again a voluntary act of service being chosen by a superior being to guide and assist all other life.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

These three entities – Kal-El, Neo, and Aang, are only nicking the tip of the iceberg of the myth of the messiah. While each of them feature exceptional (and flashy) combat abilities, the true meaning of their myths in the collective subconscious is that they provide examples of what it would take to “save the world” – whether that means an infallible code of ethics, an effort to see through the “deceptions” of physical reality, or a destiny of being bridge between worlds for the sake of all humanity – we can all view these stories and appreciate them as being worth our while. They can help us answer tough ethical choices by asking, “What would Superman do in this situation?” or by forcing us to confront and eventually accept a type of unity within our metaphysical as well as the physical sense of self.

As we wrap up until next time – the question which springs to my mind is this: who are the messiah figures in your personal brand of geekdom? If you need rescuing, which figures do you turn to for examples of exceptional virtue? What would a being as perfect as you can imagine be like? We’ll follow up next time with Messiahs, pt. ii, and we’d love to have some feedback about who you’d like to see brought into the discussion.

Until next time – geek on.

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The Geek Canon: An Intro

It is a wonderful age in which to be a geek.


The most popular show on television is a fantasy epic complete with dragons, magic, and an entire lexicon of highly detailed names – places, people, swords, and languages themselves, each custom-crafted to the culture and geography of the imaginary world of Westeros. Game of Thrones has earned more Emmy awards than any other show in history, and its viewership (some 8.9 million viewers, as of the most recent season finale) has saturated mainstream culture.

A new Star Wars movie has come out every year for the past three years (and with Solo coming soon, it will be four)- and each one has dominated the box office upon its debut. Even the polarizing latest installment has proven to be a financial success on a global level, and fans such as myself are enthralled waiting for the next installment. Disney has committed itself to Star Wars fans by investing millions into the construction of “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” – a 14 acre immersive experience at its theme parks, replete with life-sized spacecraft and a cantina stocked with Blue Milk just like Aunt Beru used to pour. It’s set to open in 2019, and the eight-year-old version of me still can’t believe I’ve lived to see this dream become reality!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken the superhero film genre to a previously unimaginable new level – making even obscure comic-book heroes (Rocket Raccoon? Iron Man?) into household names, and creating the largest and most financially successful series of films ever designed – coming to its apex in the two part film “Avengers: Infinity War” this summer, but not before breaking presale records (again) with the star-studded cast of Black Panther. Never before has a film franchise managed to spin a story with continuity between 23+ feature length films, as well as 10 television series – all featuring an incredible array of talent in both the production, design, and acting casts. 

Comic convention festivals have become a regular, annual occurrence – a perfect chance to congregate with like-minded nerds, geeks, otaku and fans. Attendance at San Diego Comic-Con has been growing every year, and the event has sold out for the past 10 years. The events have become so popular that recently San Diego has recently won a lawsuit trademarking the name “con”, which is why you see other cities, such as Phoenix, having to change the names of their conventions (although “Phoenix Comic Fest” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, in my opinion).  Never worry, though, because new conventions are propping up all over – anime viewing conventions, horror festivals, Renaissance Faires and more have made the way to meet and rub shoulders with your fellow nerds more accessible than ever before!

Speaking of accessibility – video games have become a pastime shared by the majority of the population (65% of households include at least one person who identifies as a “gamer”). The industry now has the talent and technology to churn out dozens of award-winning games a year, and the conversation of games as an artistic medium has been launched, spawning exhibits in museums, galleries, and convention centers. Virtual Reality, once a mere figment of Stanley G. Weinbaum’s imagination in 1935- now, a real-life novelty whose potential is rapidly being mined for. Master film-maker Steven Speilberg states that VR-dominated reality (as is explored in the book and upcoming film Ready Player One) is a prophetic “amazing flash-forward…” of what our world might be like in the near future.

Even without VR being readily available (yet) – the internet’s influence coupled with amazing advances in modern gadgetry now allow streaming media to be shared and savoured across the continents and in virtually any space – in my current viewing lineup, I enjoy BBC’s Doctor Who and Sherlock along with TokyoTV’s Attack on Titan! – each directly imported from across the pond(s) in either direction to any device in my home, backpack, or pocket.

As a born and bred geek (my mother met my father while listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Yoda” – the stuff of romance, there) – I am exhilarated by the discussions going on online and in person, touching each and every one of my fandoms – predictive theories based on deep textual analysis, the creation and sharing of artists inspired by the same stories, characters, and worlds that I enjoy – the communal aspect of “Fandom” has become a huge part of my way of life, and I am immeasurably grateful for the friends and memories that being a “geek” has allowed me to make.

That concept – “Fandom” – is what brought me to begin this series. Maybe because I think too much, maybe because geeks invariably seek validation, or maybe because I hypothesize that other people out there feel the same way I do- that “Fandom” is more than a trite hobby that occurs when one places too much emphasis on their choice of entertainments. The idea that there might be much larger, philosophical ramifications of the stories that the world has come to know and love- that’s what brings me here.

Joseph Campbell once proposed that every myth that humanity has ever told is connected, somehow, to a “collective subconscious” – a type of dream that all society shares, and that the myth attempts to realize. These myths may include legends of great beings battling terrible villains, or might recount the creation of the world. Myths tell the stories of a man becoming a hero, through trial by obstacle, antagonist, or fate.

Myths often are religious in nature – telling the stories of gods and spirits, of a “chosen one” and the prophecy surrounding it. The tales may recount grievous wrongdoings, or related tales of redemption and reconciliation. 

It is my proposal that Joseph Campbell is entirely right, and that our collective subconscious has invested value into these stories as our modern mythology.

Furthermore, these myths merit serious analysis to determine their philosophical and spiritual impact. If these stories are so spectacular that they capture the imaginations of millions of human beings around the world – there must be something that causes that resonance. Why else would the stories of Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, or Naruto Uzumaki each garner such a devoted fanbase?

It is the mission of The Geek Canon to treat the mainstays of geek culture as if they were a type of scripture – to pore over  the details of modern mythology in order to decipher deeper meaning in the collective subconscious.

 

 

The Geek Strikes Back

One could make the argument that the Internet, and the overwhelming take-over of all that is franchise geek becoming synonymous with popular culture, that the movie experience is not what it used to be.  Cinema is not the sandbox playground that it once was, alas… cinema is about making money, and single digit millions are small change.  Imagine, Lucas or Spielberg creating Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., and The Goonies under the Atlas weight of studio executives, stock prices, keeping up with the competition, and market expectations.

There is simply no way!  In today’s market, those kind of projects have found a very lucrative home in streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.  Stranger Things, The Man in the High Castle, The Handmaid’s Tale, Longmire and Bright come to mind immediately.

No… nowadays, Cinema is about the almighty dollar, franchise options, post-credit scenes to immediately get you going, “What’s next” before you even process what you just saw, and the Internet.  Social media has made the speed of fan outcry almost instantaneous.  In many cases, these outcries (often full of spoilers) are available before many have even had a chance to view the film.

It is an interesting perspective to watch what used to be my geek childhood becoming mainstream.  It is not like we had conversations in junior high with the football jocks about The Empire Strikes Back.  That simply did not happen.  So in many ways, watching the phenomena of things like Marvel Comics, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and DC Comic films becoming this cultural mega-story has been a bit double edged.  That said, it is also a very interesting phenomena to watch the true second generation of super geeks come into adult hood.  Fans like J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson are not fad fans.  They are the geeks, just like me, who grew up to make films and write stories… just like me.

So, the backlash and division of Geekdom with the release of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, sparked me to think about what it was about the film that I liked… or what I did not.  For me, the more I talked about it with friends, I started to realize what I liked the most about the movie was the director.  I liked the passion.  I liked the visual construction.  I enjoyed being able to see his process.  It was awesome, and it was totally separate from a fan reaction: the reaction that says, “I own these characters.  They are my entire youth.  Do not ruin my childhood.”

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Therefore,  in many ways… I felt that it was perhaps most appropriate to use this opportunity to give that voice to a younger generation of Geek.  A younger generation, coming into adulthood, with a child of his own on the way.  Perhaps… the most clear perspective on a global franchise such as Star Wars is that which is beginning to be a generation once removed from the rawness of never-before-seen awe.  That is my youth.  That… you cannot have or take away.

This year I want to make a concerted effort to try to diversify on Keep the Greasy Side Down.  I don’t so much want to broaden my topics, but I would very much like to broaden voice….  So, without further ado, the first of that endeavor, is the first article of the new year.  Welcome 2018! and welcome the new voice of a former student, debater, and individual event performer.  One of my great success stories….. Mr. Wade Crossman, who not only runs Star Wars Miniature Campaign tournaments, but is a lights-out teacher of his own right in the West Phoenix Valley.

***

The first time I saw The Last Jedi, I was smiling, but also had an uneasy feeling after it ended.  It was nowhere near the euphoric sense of, “I have got to go see this again!” that I had after The Force Awakens.

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I started my usual analysis of the plot and storylines, and I came up with essentially a list of ideas I though were brilliant and a list  those that were perhaps ill-conceived.

Great ideas:

  • Kylo + Rey mindlinking
  • Seeing Poe Dameron 1v1 a Star Destroyer (er… Dreadnaught)
  • Crait’s visual design
  • Making the pressure of “the last three ships of the resistance” the driving force of the Resistance story arc
  • Bickering Hux and Ren
  • Praetorian Guard Fight
  • Giving Luke a chance to be nonviolently awesome.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The entire B plot with Rose and Finn – mostly because it broke the tension of “we can’t escape” with an entire escape and return.
  • The flashback to Luke’s failure. I didn’t like the staging of that flashback in any of the three times we saw it. It never felt like more than clumsy exposition.
  • Speaking of clumsy exposition – Rey just being told “Your parents are nobody” by Ren was… clumsy. Not bad, I’m not upset she comes from nowhere, but it’s a plot point that doesn’t match up with the vision she had. She was definitely dropped off as a ship flew away. That’s not nothing.
  • Also.. Super Leia was… really weird. I’m not opposed to making sure we know Leia is force-sensitive, in fact, I thought that was cool, but I think I would have rather her have just held herself to the remainder of the bridge rather than have her zooming through space..


Basically, like what is proving to be the vast majority of fandom, I was pretty torn up about it.  It failed to deliver on many of the promises that The Force Awakens set up.

 

  • Luke was not a Jedi Grandmaster
  • Rey was not the heir to a legacy to counter Kylo
  • the Resistance did not score a crippling blow on The First Order after Starkiller Base was destroyed
  • Snoke was not the primary antagonist at all
  • and we still don’t understand what made Ben Solo lean so heavily towards the dark in the first place

There were so many questions The Force Awakens made me feel like we needed the answer to and for some reason… The Last Jedi intentionally subverted, ignored, or told us those questions didn’t matter.  It felt like a huge step backwards, and it bothered me a lot.

BUT…

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Then I saw it again last night, and this time, I looked specifically for character arcs.  What does each character go through – what’s the true theme of The Last Jedi?  I think that helped me understand the director’s vision a lot better.  TLJ is all about letting go and there are things we don’t want to let go of, like the idea that Luke was suposed to be a Jedi master who was going to teach Rey the ways of the Force, when really, Luke in TLJ is awfully similar to Luke in Return of the Jedi.  He’s whiny, bull-headed, annoyed… Luke actually basically says just as much to Rey, “I became a Legend.”  He is saying… I never really was more than me, but people thought differently.  I thought I was myself.

(If just this once, I can interrupt my young Padawan here, and provide the counter argument.  I disagree.  I believe that with The Last Jedi, after more than three decades, we finally are gifted with seeing Mark Hamill act.  I thought he had range, true emotion, and for once… was not the whiny little bitch I always thought Luke Skywalker was…. but…. this review is about new voice….. shhhhh)

Yeah, he screwed up and that mistake put him into so much shame that he closed himself to the Force and retreated to die.  Which… while not the choice I would have made, actually does… kinda make sense for Luke Skywalker.

Anyways… I digress…

TLJ has a clear thesis.  Kylo says it out loud.  “Let the past die, kill it if you have to, it’s the only way you can what you’re meant to be.”  He is not…. wrong, really.  And that line is about the fans as much as it is about anything in-universe.  It’s saying… we can tell future stories and we don’t have t be beholden to what happened before.  Old heroes die, new ones rise.  The villains don’t have to look the same as villains we had before……

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BUT…..

“No one is ever really gone”, and we end the movie with literally the next generation of dreams, looking up at the stars and wondering what their story will be.

My wife is pregnant right now, and that scene made her cry both times, because she’s thinking of our son, and what his dreams and hopes will be.

What adventures will he dream up?

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It’s really kind of beautiful…. so, in a list form:

  • Kylo lets go of Vader as his legacy and Snoke as his mentor.
  • Rey lets go of the idea of her parents as her legacy and Luke as her mentor.
  • Poe lets go of his confidence that violence (even awesome X-wing driven violence) is the solution to everything.
  • Finn lets go of his fear of the First Order and goes from defector to [almost] martyr.
  • Luke lets go of his regret for his failures, and even more importantly, lets go of the idea that The Jedi Order(tm) deserved to die because of its failures.
  • Leia lets go of the idea that she has to be the one leading the Resistance. Her allies are all used up, and it’s going to be up to Poe and the rest to take over going forward.
  • Chewie lets go of his desire to eat Porgs. (okay, I’m joking about that one)

Now, the hard part about letting go is that it sucks.  It’s emotional.  It’s hard.  You want to cling to things you love and wish they would never change.  But of course, the truth is that they always do and always will, and there is a small comfort and beauty to that as well.  Those things are still with you…  still a part of you.

And always will be.

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Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends…. and May the Force Be With You