Thursday, October 05, 2006

We Could Be Heroes (for ever and ever)

Gentle Reader, what d'you say?

As I tend to stick to television and comics on this blog, I hardly ever end up talking about my other fandoms—-music, for example. As rabid as I am for the Amazon Princess, that's my rabidity for David Bowie. Seeing him live was one of the greatest moments of my life, and well worth the large amount of money spent. I love Ziggy Bowie, and Scary Monsters Bowie, Outside Bowie, and Reality Bowie. I love Suffragette City Bowie, although not so much weird synth-pop 80s Bowie. And of course, I love Heroes Bowie.

Rereading the lyrics to this song, I'm beginning to suspect that it's in some way about Kurt Vonnegut's dystopian short story "Harrison Bergeron." While that's neither here nor there, what is interesting is the dichotomy the song sets forth.

On the one hand, it says, "We could be heroes, for ever and ever," and on the other, "We could be heroes, just for one day."

Friends, must be choose? Must we be heroes *either* for ever and ever, or just for one day? What is the difference, and what does it mean? Even further, how does one even begin to define such an ambiguous, all-encompassing word such as "hero"?

All of this to say that last night, I finally scrounged up some time to watch Monday's airing of NBC's Heroes, and have since been singing this wonderful, complicated song by Mr. Bowie. By the end of this show's second episode, we are presented with several different visions (and revisions) of heroes, and the utter complications that heroism entails.

***spoilers for Heroes; tread carefully***

I was struck by the repetitive image of what I call the single-DNA helix strand: that weird loopy, armed snake-like image that is, among other things, a pool hose, a metal statue, the subject of a painting, the black spaces in a computer program, and quite possibly the laying out of a dead body struck through with arrows (but I couldn't tell for Certain). As reading and viewing are never isolated activities, and as both often lead to spiraling thoughts all on their own, I immediately jumped to the idea of genetic engineering.

Do you remember, Gentle Reader, the quiet but utterly fabulous movie Gattaca? The premise of the movie is pretty much, "you can do whatever you set out to do." In the futuristic dystopia the movie sets forth, genetically engineered babies are The Thing, and God-Babies (those born the old-fashioned way) are relegated to the lower classes and all that entails (poverty, little chance for career or educational advancement, etc.). Our truly intrepid young hero, played by Ethan Hawke, is one such God-Baby, but he doesn't let that stop him from his dream of going into space. It's Quite The Movie, Friends, and if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

What Gattaca, and Brave New World, and Anthem, and The Giver, and "Harrison Bergeron" and 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale and "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" and V for Vendetta and Equilibrium and every other dystopian tale teach us is that *you can't regulate humanity*. You cannot genetically engineer a master race, or determine class systems for every person on the planet, or even plan out whether your baby is born with green eyes or brown. To do so would bring about Disastrous Results. But even further, what these stories teach us is that we *shouldn't* want these things. We should not desire sameness and continuity. Chaos lends itself so well to creativity, and creativity? Well, that makes Life Worth Living, no?

Now, don't believe for a moment that This Humble Author doesn't see the greatest of benefits in genetic testing, and stem cell research, and yes, even genetic engineering. But I am first and foremost a reader, and books have taught me, again and again, that people want to control every aspect of their lives, and their children's lives (will no one think of the children?!), and that explorations in genetic engineering may lead eventually down The Dark Road of micromanaging lives. Once we start planning out the eye color, skin color, sex and gender (and yes, they are two separate things), and of course, talents, we start placing cultural, economic, social, and class capital on those very things. Aren't we trying to move away from judgment based upon skin color, gender, sexual preference, and whether I prefer chocolate cheesecake to raspberry (although quite honestly, I like both at once)?

That is to say, I have another theory regarding Heroes, and the genetic testing on these characters by either the mysterious glassed man or by Dr. Suresh. I think in short order we will find out that more of our heroes are adopted, or have mysterious origin stories (such an integral part to the hero development, no?), or are so very connected socially (even in a six degrees sort of way) because they are so very connected genetically. Why else would we keep seeing the twisted image, so similar to a DNA strand? Why else would we follow Dr. Suresh's research, and his son (who seemingly has no superpowers and, indeed, no common sense, because doesn't he know that when someone's trying to kill you, you don't trust cute girls with big guns who just show up out of the blue??)? Why else would we have some similar-looking characters (Claire and Niki; Isaac and Peter, for example)?

But also, I think what this show ultimately will come down to is choice. Niki Sanders is choosing a different path than, say, Claire Bennet or Hiro Nakamura. And while I commend Niki for saving herself and her son, I question her blind obedience to this mirror self of hers. It seems as if she's digging herself into a hole from which she will never escape. In the long run, this will lead her, inevitably, to the dark side. And I believe her son will become a major player to get her back.

And finally, I have one remaining theory that I'm not even sure if I can support it. But theories are, in some ways, opinions. Sometimes you just feel it; you don't need to support it. And I feel this one, just a bit.

What if Isaac's power is to make things happen? What if he dreamt everyone's powers into creation? Because if I read this right, everyone's powers are recent acquisitions. Something triggered them, no? And I don't know if I know what did it.


Mr. Bowie's "Heroes" tells us,

"We can beat them
for ever and ever
oh we can be Heroes
just for one day."

This automatically sets up a framework in which heroes must conquer, must "beat them for ever and ever" just to be a hero for one single day. What Mr. Bowie reminds us of is this: it never stops, this heroism. The fight for right and justice is a never-ending, tireless, sometimes thankless task. But for one day, for one single, beautiful day, you can be a Hero, and that moment can be relived, for ever and ever.

And *that's* the moment worth waiting for.

We can be Heroes, Friends. For ever and ever, just for one day.


At 9:42 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks for pointing out that spiral image. I hadn't picked up on that at all but I'm going to look for it now.

I'm still giving Niki the benefit of the doubt. I think right now she's going along with what her mirrorself is leading her to do because she doesn't have any better ideas. Certainly she hasn't really crossed any big lines yet.

(The girl who helped Suresh... that wasn't her own gun, right? It was the one that the fake maintenance guy dropped? Not that I trust her either.)

This show seems to be taking a Marvel approach to superheroes. One of the links I collected of comparisons between DC and Marvel is to an article suggesting that the two approaches are

DC: imagine there were superheroes
Marvel: imagine people got superpowers

which is okay, except I'm not sure how they're going to sustain it in the long run. Because Heroes is currently doing something that even Marvel doesn't do: they're engaging in a long complicated plot that explores the characters lives separately, without, so far at least, bringing them all together so they can cooperate and save the day together.

We're only two episodes in, so it's too early to say what they're going to do, but if they ever do get the group of superpowered people together, I think the dynamic of the show changes. At that point the long meandering plot will have to change to a more episodic comic-book-style arc. Won't it? But if this doesn't happen, then... then I don't know how they can sustain the story in the long run.

The kind of storytelling they're doing now, good as it is, and as consistent as it is with the Marvel approach to supercharacters... I don't know how you keep telling superhero stories in that form. The closest thing I know to it is the 'Wild Cards' series (and it's not the first time that 'Heroes' has been compared to it) but 'Wild Cards', as a series of novels, could afford to be much more relaxed about what stories it told and which characters were in them. Even Marvel wastes no time before putting its characters in costumes and giving them codenames and having them sign up with a superteam in time to fight that month's villain; realism is one thing, but these comics have to come out and be entertaining every month. I suspect 'Heroes' isn't going to do that, but what's option B?

At 3:15 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Matthew,
I'm going to hit your post point by point instead of requoting, to save space. Bear with me!

1) The credit all goes to Mr. Reads, and our marvelous DVR player, which let us rewind and catch all of the images from the get-go. Glad it helped!

2) No, Niki hasn't crossed any lines, although I do find it interesting that mirror-Niki is *much* smarter than regular Niki. Perhaps that's why she's listening?

3) Now here's a thing I did miss (I got up at some point without pausing the DVR). Thanks for letting me know.

4) re: DC vs. Marvel style, I think you're absolutely right that the show is approaching this a la Marvel, but I don't know what option B will be, either. If I had to hazard a guess (so tricky 2 episodes in!) I'd say that first season will be dedicated to The Big Boom that we see five months into the future, and bringing all of these people together. Season two will focus on the disparities of the characters (the Nikis and the Claires, for example).

But that's how I would write it, and I haven't been published yet, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt ;)

At 8:42 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

I completely missed all the imagery. So I can't comment on that.

I do agree that it is likely that they are all connected in some way, perhaps a specific genetic connection or one based on some long forgotten mysterious injection. Less likely would be some kind of conditioning. Half the fun is seeing how all of this transpired. Imagine if blogs were around when Twin Peaks came on TV. That would have been I fun show to dissect. But I digress ...

I totally agree that personal choice will likely factor prominently. And while I like the idea of Isaac's power being to make things happen via dreams, I don't believe that if that is the case the logic follows that he dreamt up everyone's powers. That would discount to an extent the earlier theory that there's some genetic connection (which I am more inclined to believe). If you're idea is correct, there would have to be either some way to control the dreaming so that it impacts the specific few that have the genetic inclination for powers OR there would have to be a huge seed population of potential metahumans (to borrow a phrase from the DC universe).

But what do I know? The Bowie show I saw (at least 10 years ago) is in one of my top 5 worst concerts ever. Sorry. Why do I gotta be so contrarian?

And Matthews ideas about storytelling are very intriguig. I need to let that percolate for a while.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
You said, I do agree that it is likely that they are all connected in some way, perhaps a specific genetic connection or one based on some long forgotten mysterious injection. Less likely would be some kind of conditioning.

I think the genetic connection is the way to go; we'll see if they reveal anything tonight.

Half the fun is seeing how all of this transpired. Imagine if blogs were around when Twin Peaks came on TV. That would have been I fun show to dissect. But I digress ...

I couldn't even imagine the scuttlebutt around Twin Peaks if blogs had been around! The coffeehouse discussion was bad enough! :)

I totally agree that personal choice will likely factor prominently. And while I like the idea of Isaac's power being to make things happen via dreams, I don't believe that if that is the case the logic follows that he dreamt up everyone's powers.

No, the more I think about it, the more you're right and I'm not. I don't think he's dreamt up everyone's powers, but I do think he's a major player, no?

And how could you hate the wonder that is David Bowie??? I don't know if I can trust you anymore....


At 2:08 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

I agree that Isaac will be a major player ... unless the actor's contract comes up.

As for Bowie ... I was pretty surpised. It was an outdoor pavillion show and we got free tickets to the front section without seats where all the dancing was going on. This was the first tour he had done AFTER the tour where he declared he would no longer play his greatest hits from yesteryear. It was around the time of his Tin Machine days. Not to mention Nine Inch Nails opened and I think they've gotten worse as they've gotten more popular, so perhaps it didn't put me in the right mood.

And no, you should never trust me.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

I found last night's episode annoying and here's why:

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
I found last night's episode annoying and here's why:

Another one of those crazy weeks! It's been DVRed, and is waiting for us to watch it. I'll read and comment as soon as I do!
And fyi: you can never Badmouth Bowie in my blog. :)


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