Friday, May 13, 2016

Why I Don't Love Captain America: Civil War

I took the kids (and some of their friends) to see Captain America: Civil War at 10:30am on Saturday morning the day after in opened. In other words, we have bought into the Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe in a big way. (In contrast, when my son went to see Batman v Superman and asked if I wanted to come with, I passed.)

So, you think to yourself, the new Captain America movie didn't live up to your high expectations?

And the answer is no, I think it was quite good.

The trouble is, I came out of the theater feeling a bit assaulted (lots of punching -- superpunching) and, well, I couldn't quite remember what had just happened. I remember some great fight scenes, and some dramatic revelations, I loved the new characters introduced and I enjoyed seeing older characters again.

It took me a week, but I figured out what is bothering me: it's not a comic book.

Watching the movie reminded me of when I was 14 and collecting comics. My best friend Marcus was an X-men and Marvel collector and I was a Teen Titans/Justice League, DC collector. What allowed us to function this way was that I would go over to his house and read the latest Daredevil, or he would come to my house and see what was up with The Vigilante.

Every once in a while, there was a storyline that couldn't wait. We would sit in the mall outside the convenience store -- or sit on the subway home from the comic book store -- and open up the latest issue of the Judas Contract or Secret Wars and read it together. That first pass was just about inhaling plot, flipping those pages as fast as possible to get to the end of the issue before looking up at each other in amazement. Did that just happen?!

That's how the new Captain America movie felt -- did that just happen?!

But here's the thing about comic books: After that first quick pass, I would re-read the comic, reviewing the dialogue but also just devouring each panel with my eyes. The backgrounds, the facial features, the weird stylized illustration of a "Boom tube," the careful italicization of a single word in a dense Claremont word balloon... There was just so much to absorb.

Civil War was great and there was a lot to digest and I don't feel like I have fully absorbed it yet. I want to pore over sequences that happened quickly and think about characters and composition.

You may suppose that what I want is to watch the movie again, or to get a DVD that I could advance frame by frame.

Nah, I just want my son to be old enough that we could sit and have a soda and discuss the movie from beginning to end. He's almost there but he still gets a bit hung up on applying real science to these fantasies, and he's still more interested in spectacle than character. But he's getting there.

It's going to be great watching Avengers: Infinity War with him. Can't wait.

Monday, May 09, 2016


It’s only natural in an election year, to think about what kind of person you would like to be the President of the United States or POTUS.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the declared candidates -- or even politicians we might want to draft into the race -- I’m talking about pure speculation. What sort of person -- with what sort of experiences -- would make a great president?

In this age where we are all more globally connected and yet wary of even our closest neighbors, I would want as president someone who has spent significant time overseas. Not as a tourist -- someone who has lived overseas in an apartment, not a hotel. Someone who has the ability to consider the United States from a foreign perspective.

Ideally, the foreign experience would take place in an Islamic country, so my POTUS would have a personal sense of the culture that so many Americans fear right now. Perhaps this sort of perspective would temper or at least inform decisions to start wars, or to use drones as killing machines. I think it can be hard for some people to understand how large the United States looms in the politics and economics of every other nation on earth, but a POTUS who has lived as an ex-patriate might not have that blindspot.

Of course, my ideal POTUS would have real, hands-on experience in the United States. How about a POTUS who began life as a social worker? Or nurse? Or parole officer? Someone who dealt with people of every income and learned about the problems people face when one sick child or car accident or dumb mistake seems to lead inexorably toward bankruptcy or incarceration. And on the positive side, my POTUS would have worked through a local government system and could spot flaws and inefficiencies to be corrected while also recognizing higher purposes and successes that could be replicated.

Domestic policy as designed by a social service employee could be amazing. Access to health care and some way to control costs would be a priority, of course. But just working in a social service agency would encourage my POTUS to seek new ideas, perhaps pushing Judge Brandeis’ formulation of states being laboratories of democracy, into making states laboratories of social policy or education reform, or any manner domestic innovations.

Remember that hypothetical graduation speech by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich? Sure you do -- people mistakenly credited it to Kurt Vonnegut and someone else made it into a song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”? My ideal POTUS would follow the advice she gave: Live in New York City for a while, but leave before it makes you hard, and live in California but leave before it makes you soft. In fact, it would be great if my ideal POTUS was not identified with just one state or region of the country, but could claim both a big city and a small state as “home.” Just as living abroad would help my POTUS internationally, a sense of the many regional and state differences within this country would help my POTUS connect with people all over this extremely diverse nation.

I think it’s important that my POTUS is a parent, or if not, have strong relationships with the next generation. This bond could be with sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, much younger siblings, or a best friend’s children. The point being, while Representatives in the House may work hard to insure their next two-year term, the POTUS should be looking beyond four, or even eight years, and make investments at a generational scale, the way Eisenhower did with the highway system and Kennedy did with the space program.

In the heat of this primary season, there are Republicans saying they would never vote for Trump -- or Cruz, and Bernie supporters who say they would never vote for Hillary or vice versa.

To which I say: It’s great that you found a candidate whose ideas and leadership you admire, and more power to you. But when it comes down to politics, things are too messy to throw away your vote because you didn’t get your ideal candidate.

My own POTUS wishlist is somewhat improbable except for the fact that our current president, fulfils all of my criteria. President Obama lived abroad in Indonesia, a majority Muslim nation, went to college in California and New York City, and calls both Hawaii and Chicago his home. He worked in social services and is a family man.

Obama would seem to be my ideal POTUS, and, for the most part, I’ve admired his presidency. However, he has made a number of choices that I’ve personally disagreed with. And of course that’s true: He has different information than I do and has politics and legacy to wrestle with. Also, he’s not me.

It’s easy to get caught up conjuring up an ideal POTUS, but we’ll probably each be happier -- and ultimately advance our own political causes -- if we can accept that real-life candidates are never exactly what we want.