A friend of mine sent me a fascinating Alan Moore interview from 2014. The comic industry icon told Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks that the heightened popularity of Marvel and DC superheroes may be ‘culturally catastrophic’.

The Guardian reported January 21, 2014:

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

Mr. Moore is close — he’s so close — but he doesn’t seem ready to acknowledge that the catastrophe has arrived. It is now. We are living through it. An introduction to our cultural implosion can be found in my Nov. 14, 2014 blog post titled: “Rossetta scientist cries over feminist outrage at his shirt: It’s been fun, Western Civilization.”  In short: societies that live in perpetual fear of the “micro-aggression” are societies that have seen better days.

For those who want to know just how obsessed our culture is with superheroes, I suggest watching Red Letter Media’s “Nerd Talk: Sequels, Spin-Offs, and Standalones,” which was posted July 22. It perfectly highlights just how much of an industry “nerdom” has become. Other symptoms of Western civilization’s disease might include the preponderance of men who spend inordinate amounts of time playing video games, collecting figurines, endlessly cycling through imgur, or trolling Tumblr — while simultaneously showing little to no interest in expanding their own intellectual horizons.

There is nothing wrong with having an interest in video games or superhero movies, but there is something culturally suicidal when large segments of the population delve deep into fantasy worlds before they have a sound grasp of reality.

In a strange way, technology acts like a double-edged sword: our standard of living is so high and our problems so few and far between that we invent dragons to slay (e.g., political pundits must be excoriated for not being “polite to the pronouns” of transgender individuals). The poorest Americans live better than the kings of old, and so they engage in sad and pathetic wars over whether or not The Dukes of Hazzard is too offensive for television.

As the character Cooper says in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar: “We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

For all intents and purposes, America has become a nation filled with infantile men and women who fight over intellectual belly button lint. They feign outrage over puerile affairs while legitimate threats to the safety and security of future generations mount around them.  Bubble-butted celebrities bump serious news stories off the front page. Strange diversity quotas for Star Wars movies that don’t even have finished scripts are more talked about than state-sponsored hackers stealing the personal data of millions of federal employees. To put it more succinctly, we are lost.

If you get a chance, read Mr. Moore’s interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid. It’s titled ‘Last Alan Moore Interview?’. If it is, then it’s definitely one worthy of the man’s exit from public life. Time and time again, he puts his finger on the pulse of all that ails us, but for whatever reason he doesn’t give his patients a frank diagnosis: Western civilization has a fever. Instead of going to the doctor, its men and women are going to movie theaters, man-caves to play video games, or San Diego Comic-Con.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

16 comments

  1. I was thinking exactly the same thing, recently. When i was kid, i used watch lots of cartoons and play lots of video games. I used to imagine, pretend how to be those super heroes, how they do those things, would it possible for simple boy to do, then there is batman, superhuman strength, trained by ninja’s. I used to get lost in imagination and dream, thinking about those things as you grow you still get to see more of those and there is this little thought with all the things you saw, that to do anything right, you need to have superpower/superstrength. Since i have exercised imagination and fantasy soo much, i can imagine what can probably happen, if i do something right with that thought i lose hope and give up. But, that is not good.

    Fantasy worlds and Pretend to be superhero/spy imaginations are OK. But, the side effects are huge as a adult, eventually a person will be losing the grasp of reality and present moment and when thinking back, its just lost time.

    1. But, the side effects are huge as a adult, eventually a person will be losing the grasp of reality and present moment and when thinking back, its just lost time.

      There was a guy a few years ago who asked me how I had all so much time to do [insert activities here]. He rattled off a list of things he wanted to do, but said he “didn’t have time.” This guy probably spent 40 hours a week — at least — playing video games. I just told him he had to make time, even if that meant making some tough sacrifices.

  2. I stopped playing video games about a decade ago and used to lament to friends who still played regularly that I had no time for it.

    I eventually realised that it was because I was doing these other things which were more fulfilling to me personally and have let to me widening my social circle, improving my career prospects and even meeting the lady who would become my wife.

    I have seen some friends recently regress back to computer games as it is now socially acceptable to be in your 30s and 40s and play these games.

    My household has an Xbox 360 and a Wii U. All of our games are ones me and my wife play together.

    1. My household has an Xbox 360 and a Wii U. All of our games are ones me and my wife play together.

      My wife and I bought a Wii U. The last game I purchased was “Shovel Knight.” 🙂 I’ll get the new Zelda game when it comes out as well. In general the only time I play is if my wife and I are playing old school games, something like Zelda comes out, or over the holidays. I don’t begrudge anyone if they like video games, but I’ve known a lot of guys who are basically addicted to them. I would feel pretty weird spending 40 hours a week reading about Spider-Man as a 36-year-old man. Likewise, I would feel pretty weird spending 40 hours a week playing video games. I don’t think it’s healthy.

  3. I remember one other Alan Moore video where he says culture is “turning to steam”, and that history was a heat of accumulated complexity that we absorb and digest much quicker. I think what he meant there was we absorb the information but we sort of don’t mull over and study it, and by doing so we don’t practise it in our practical lives or to grow mentally stronger as individuals. One comics website even said reading comics was good for your mental health, I’ve heard horror stories in regards to the exact opposite, it depends on your own state of mind over matter.

    1. I think it’s all about finding a proper balance. Someone who is addicted to fantasy books or video games is in the same predicament as someone who is addicted to exercise or fast food. It’s possible to turn something that brings enjoyment into a creepy obsession. We need mental breaks from “the grind” of professional responsibilities and other hardships, but what was once a respite can turn into a prison of our own making.

    2. “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.” -George Orwell

      Nowadays you just have more than drinking this can apply to.

  4. I don’t play as many video games as I once did. I read a lot of fantasy books and comic books, although I don’t think I overdo it. I agree there are some people who overdo it, though.

    Personally, while I agree with Moore in saying that the culture is in decline, I don’t think superhero movies are a reason for that. He largely comes across as a bitter old man when I’ve read interviews with him, and a bit jealous that the movies based on his comics haven’t been as successful as the ones Marvel has been churning out in recent years. Part of that is because he refuses to put his name on adaptations of his work and as a result, he doesn’t get royalties for them. Personally, I thought the LXG movie was better than the comics he wrote, and I thought V for Vendetta the movie was better than the comic. I even liked the “Constantine” movie with Keanu Reeves, and I’m no Hellblazer fan.

    I think Moore’s best work was on comics like Swamp Thing and Superman. I’ve always thought Watchmen was a bit overrated, and his other comics didn’t do much for me. As for LXG, the most recent volume was just a long rant about how much Moore hates Harry Potter and James Bond. Seriously. Thinly-disguised analogues of Harry Potter and James Bond (who aren’t named due to copyright reasons) were villains in LXG. Personally, I think Moore is more than a little jealous of the success that J.K. Rowling and the Ian Fleming estate/MGM have had with said characters.

    1. I don’t know too much about the guy other than randomly running across articles here or there, or if a friend passes something along. In the few interviews I’ve seen he comes across as this eccentric — but highly intelligent — crotchety old man. I have always been impressed with “Watchmen,” but rather depressed at the effects on the industry of its success. There have been plenty of imitators, but they usually have the violence and the darkness minus Moore’s multi-layered social commentary.

    2. Even Moore, from what I hear, despairs at the legacy of Watchmen. He wrote that as a deliberate deconstruction, but now that has become the norm with a lot of heroes we looked up to, to the point people are less and less interested in traditionalist good vs evil and even outright “classic” forms of villainy, in favor of the heroes being continuously at odds and distrustful of each other.

    3. Even Moore, from what I hear, despairs at the legacy of Watchmen.

      If that is true, then on some level I sort of feel bad for the guy. “Watchmen” clearly influenced future writers, but at the same time it was really just a harbinger of things to come. Maybe his worked helped the culture reach terminal velocity a bit faster, but Western civilization was already in free-fall.

  5. In interviews, Moore tends to come across as pretentious and eccentric. He claims that he only sold movie rights because he did not think the films would ever be made (so his intention was to get money for nothing?), and he complained about DC using the Watchmen in more recent stories. (1) Moore wrote scripts for Superman and Swamp Thing, characters created by other writers, and (2) it’s debatable whether he can claim that the Watchmen were entirely his own creations, since they were parodies or pastiches of Silver Age Charlton Comics superheroes.

    That said, I tend to agree with some of his latest comments.

    And a monomaniacal preoccupation with anything-comics, video games, sports, whatever-is unhealthy. (I keep thinking of the Garfunkel & Oates music video, “Sports Go Sports,” where one of the sports fans is wearing a T-shirt that says, “I Have Nothing Else.”)

    In the 1960’s, the Batman TV series was played for campy comedy, because it had to appeal to adults as well as kids, and adults could not be expected to take the genre seriously. The James Bond movies had tongue-in-cheek comedy relief, and the various imitators (Our Man Flint, Matt Helm, Man From U.N.C.L.E.) even more so. Even the comic books themselves (which, back then, were mainly aimed at kids) were usually unpretentious, although they often delivered a moral message (e.g., crime does not pay).

    Today, comics and their media adaptations seem to take themselves as seriously as if they were doing “Schindler’s List” or Shakespearean tragedy. And I’m not convinced that the trend is progress.

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