Sunday, May 21, 2017

FICTIONAL PRIVILEGE AND COMPETENCE

Spider-Man is my all-time favorite superhero; possibly my all-time favorite fictional character. He's a guy driven by guilt to always do the right thing, no matter the personal cost. Peter Parker, in most of his iterations, is a kid or a young adult; a student, a freelance photographer; a guy with barely two nickels to rub together, ever trying to make ends meet. And I wouldn't want him any other way.

But at the same time, that's usually not a character I want to read about (or watch on TV, in the movies, etc.). I love characters like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, and so on. They have millions -- or, nowadays, billions -- of dollars and they live in palatial estates. Moon Knight, in many of his incarnations, falls into this realm as well. I'd even add the Avengers and X-Men to this category, too. They're not all obscenely wealthy, but they're comfortable and they live in big mansions. The Avengers even have a loyal butler!


There was an era for Daredevil where Nelson & Murdock were considered the best attorneys in New York and operated out of one of the upper floors of a huge skyscraper. This has always been my favorite period for the character. Angel is one of my favorite X-Men because he's the richest among them. Oliver Queen is far more interesting to me when he's wealthy than when he lives in a tenement. I like Danny Rand better as the head of a company than as a hero for hire (and thanks to the recent NetFlix series, I suspect the former will be his default setting going forward).

And so on, and so forth. In other media, I love James Bond because he wears fancy suits, goes to swanky parties, and regularly saves the world to boot. I generally enjoy TV series about highly successful professionals more than those about the "working class". I don't generally like to watch or read about characters who mess up and have to fix things. I just touched on this briefly when writing about PARKER a couple days ago, in fact -- I prefer external conflicts that test a protagonist's ultra-competence over seeing that protagonist battle internal demons. This is a major reason why STAR TREK, in most of its iterations, appeals to me -- there are few things I like more than watching people who are the best there is at their jobs doing those jobs flawlessly in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. Sherlock Holmes is another such character in that arena -- I like him because he is never (or at least very, very rarely) wrong. The fun is finding out how or why he's right, rather than in watching him struggle for an answer.


I feel like there must be some term for these tastes, but I have no idea what it could be. "Competence fetish?" "Wealth worship?" Certainly part of it is what I've seen called "lifestyle porn" -- I just like to see powerful characters doing exotic things. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in the so-called "Decade of Excess?" Back in the eighties, greed was good and the best sort of consumption was conspicuous. Not that I watched them, but primetime soaps such as DYNASTY and DALLAS shamelessly glamorized the lives of rich and powerful jet-setters. This extended into comic books as well; one needs only read the David Michelinie/Bob Layton IRON MAN (either run) to see Tony Stark living in a world of fast cars, yachts, private island retreats, and more.

And for me, most of the fiction I enjoy is, to some extent, wish fulfillment. I like this sort of stuff because I like to live vicariously through these characters. I'm in the afore-mentioned "working class" -- the middle class, if such a thing still exists. I work a 9 to 5 office job and, while I'm good at what I do, I don't have that level of über-skill that I love to see in fictional characters. But perhaps in my heart of hearts, all I've really ever wanted was to be obscenely wealthy and powerful.


(That said, I should note that I have no interest in the lifestyles of the actual rich and famous. I don't watch reality shows, I don't follow celebrity gossip or anything like that -- the only rich, powerful, and skilled people who appeal to me are fictional ones, for whatever reason.)

Like I said, I love Spider-Man and I would never want him to change, but he's some kind of bizarre anomaly among the sorts of characters I generally enjoy.* Much as he's my favorite character of all time, I've never envied or wanted to be Spider-Man, while I certainly have envied most of my other favorites at some time or another.


*Note that there are certainly other characters besides Spider-Man who I like despite their not falling into the categories described above -- but they're usually one or the other -- either wealthy or highly competent. Spider-Man is practically the only character I love who's neither of these (save for his gifted scientific mind, of course), yet somehow he's my favorite of all time.

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