Comic Book Intelligentsia

Silly to the Nth power.

Silly to the Nth power.

One of the reasons I like Jonah Goldberg so much is that he is evidently, like me, a whorishly promiscuous reader. He’s as likely to cite Godzilla as Savonarola in his essays. So. I know who Archie is. I’ve read the comic books. But this was a shocker.

On July 16, comic character Archie Andrews, of Life With Archie, will die after being shot while protecting gay friend Kevin Keller.

Keller is “Archie Comics’ first openly gay character.”
According to the Associated Press, Keller is “a married military veteran and newly elected senator who’s pushing for more gun control in Riverdale after his husband was involved in a shooting.”

Archie Comics’ publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater said the way in which Archie will die was carefully chosen. While he could have been killed saving “Betty” or saving “Veronica,” doing so for Keller was something “that would really resonate with the world.”

Resonate? Hardly. Archie isn’t even dead. Apparently the publishers put Archie into parallel universes some time ago. In one universe he marries Betty. In another he marries Veronica. In this particular gay/gun control universe, he dies. He’s a comic book character. Nothing he does matters or lasts. It’s called having your cake and eating it too, and having the additional frisson of cramming the same cake down the throats of those who are foolish enough to keep buying sophomoric crap.

It’s a perfect example of progressive propaganda. A straw man argument made not even of real straw but virtual straw, with no accountability, consequences, or credibility.

Hence my title Comic Book Intelligentsia. A persistent subtext of Jonah Goldberg’s writings is that we are all defined by the cultural sources we experienced in youth. I tend to think of it in terms of a massive map that encompasses all possible sources. My particular trick is that I actually can imagine that map and locate anyone in it. Each individual has a zero point, his first major cultural influence. Based on curiosity or its opposite, that individual has a unique spread pattern originating from the zero point. The shape of that spread, including its gaps, leaps, and ultimate extent, suffices to define the mind of the person.

Why I like Jonah. His map is very different from mine but probably every bit as extensive. If we color-coded it, his Goucher blue consciousness spans an area similar in scope to my Buckeye scarlet one. We’ve both dabbled in everything. I may scorn his gloppy Star Wars smear of utilitarian metaphors, but I have dabbled enough to know whereof he speaks. I get his references and I know they are never entirely out of context. There is always a relationship that leads back to the zero point.

The thing is, I’ve made a lifelong study of what people think they know and how they think they know it. Most of them don’t know much. And what they think they know is almost always wrong or sheer fantasy, based on a handful of sources they’ve never done squat to extend. Even people who boast of their IQs and glittering educational credentials. Their minds may be sharp, but they’re terrifyingly small.

Think of all the guys you know who keep returning to The Godfather as an operating manual. All the libertarians who default constantly to Atlas Shrugged. All the women who make a kind of religion out of Disney or Gone With the Wind. On our map, they are just pitiful little clumpy blobs.

Why the current Hollywood fad of comic book inspired blockbusters is so concerning. Everyone wants to be a superhero. They have an image of themselves in their mind’s eye that gives them superior capability and virtual tights. It’s their tiny visualization of what freedom might be. But all it is is a narcissistic kicking over of the traces. They are not bound by any societal convention. They are just better than the rest of us. Somehow. Someway.

Good is defined as what they think, what they do, what they proclaim. There is no test of good beyond pronouncements and posturing.

Saddest of all, thanks to the educational collapse of our great nation, we have a generation of people in charge, with degrees from all the most prestigious schools, whose zero point is, well, comic books, Star Wars movies, and zombie fantasies.

They sneer at The Bible, though they’ve never read it. They couldn’t read a page of Shakespeare out loud without stumbling into silence over the vocabulary. They couldn’t identify, with a gun to their heads, the difference between a Bach fugue and a Mozart symphony. To them the universe is a melange of Grand Theft Auto, the Sopranos, and 50 Shades of Gray.

But don’t hold yourselves immune. We all have a zero point and the map, the really big map, is huge. If the Bible is your only source, you are a prisoner. If you think the Seinfeld Show is the best thing ever to appear on television, you are a prisoner.

Over the years, people have asked me to name the ten best of this and that — novels, poems, movies, songs, etc. I’m just now realizing, this late in life, that the right answer to such questions is ALL OF THEM.

I have chosen to spend my life as a sponge. So deliberately that I’ve even developed strategies for exposing myself to the most possible sources. Which includes all the comics from Spider-Man to Green Arrow, Tom Swift novels, Nancy Drew, Andy Warhol, Gregorian Chant, The Clash, quantum physics, the Seth Material, Picasso, Chaos and Complexity Theory, Information Theory, Enfield motorcycles, Stephen Hawking, Rimbaud and Eminem, Peyton Manning, greyhounds and deerhounds, Steven Jay Gould, Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, the Lipizzaner stallions, Max Shulman, Carter Thermo-Quad carburetors, Jimmy Stewart movies, Cynewulf and Dickens and Fitzgerald, Mike Schmidt, and sex and sex and sex, Shidooby.

Everything is everything. It doesn’t dissolve into meaningless nothing there-ness. It comes finally to make lovely sense. As long as you can spread yourself far enough across the big map.

What I’m struggling with right now. Leonardo, far beyond my poor powers, became nearly catatonic in old age. There was no one left to talk to. I feel like I’m the only one here who is talking. And so I become ever more reclusive.

Call me Archie. Watch me bleed out in a cartoon. I’m not complaining or feeling sorry for myself. I’m content with being alone if no one has a good question to ask. By most measures, I’ve already outlived my creative period. The time left to me is an unexpected bonus.

I picked Veronica btw. She was hot.

  1. Alfa’s avatar

    Although I find the announcement of what is happening in an Archie comic shocking, your essay is exceptional. A beautiful descriptor of what we all would like to absorb and accomplish.


  2. Peregrine John’s avatar

    It’s funny: I always preferred Veronica, too, but I eventually married more of a Betty. Well, more of a Darryl Hannah, but the idea is the same, if the hair more wavy.

    The data map is an interesting metaphor, and one I’ll keep handy. I’d been noticing a slow expansion of my views and knowledge into various little clusters of information, people, sundry connections, and lacked a coherent way to describe it that wasn’t nastily arachnid.

    I’d also noticed that a depressingly large number of people had intentionally walled themselves into their tiny cluster of knowledge, intimately knowledgeable about every pointless detail of the shallow spot they occupy, not even glancing beyond their transparent, imaginary walls to what the person right next to them might have to offer their view. Is it any wonder they have not the faintest conception of a big pattern to things, or worse, that they think their worn-threadbare little path is the whole thing?

    It is a strange thing to expand one’s perspective. Humility at the constantly expanding understanding of what is yet unknown lives alongside frustration with the tiny minds who stolidly refuse to expand a millimeter but think themselves oh, so much wiser than you.


  3. Winston Sith’s avatar

    What will the Norse-type neo-pagans think of Marvel giving their deity patron deity metal-plated breasts?



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