||Issue No. 138||31 May 2002|
Interview: The Star Chamber
Politics: The Odd Couple
Media: Audiences Before Politics
International: The Off-Side Rule
Economics: The Fake Persuaders
History: Terror Tactics
Poetry: Food, Modified Food
Review: Spiderman Spins Out the US
Satire: England's World Cup Disaster: Star Hooligan Breaks Foot
The Locker Room
Week in Review
In Defence of Latham
Swans A Pathetic Con-Job
Spiderman Spins Out the US
Extracted from Red Pepper
I've seen the big screen adaptation of Marvel Comic's legendary superhero Spider-Man twice now and I'm left wondering if I saw the same movie that conservative US talk show host and film critic Michael Medved saw.
In an USA Today opinion article titled "Film Puts Best Spin On USA", Medved argues that the big screen adaptation of Spider-Man is a celebration of U.S. patriotism that counters the perception of the U.S. as a global bully in the world today.
Following the attacks of September 11 Spider-Man "remains the most quintessentially American of all classic comic-book creations - offering a revitalizing vision of national identity that's especially appropriate at this moment of danger and doubt."
This is a rather odd interpretation of the film since the barest tincture of right-wing patriotism as a theme is nowhere to be found in it. Marvel Comic's publisher Stan Lee and the rest of the Spider-Man production crew (to their credit in my opinion) set most of the movie's Manhattan scenery north of the World Trade Center area, mostly around the Times Square and the Empire State Building areas of the city.
The WTC is not once mentioned in the movie and the fact that the twin towers of the WTC are missing from Manhattan's skyline is a non-issue. Manhattan's towering skyline serves as Peter Parker/Spider-Man's own personal jungle gym throughout the movie and is filled with so many high rise towers that the missing twin towers is not even noticed.
If somebody had been hit over the head on September 10 of last year and went into a coma until Spider-Man opened, he/she would have no idea the events of September 11 happened while watching this movie.
There is a scene near at the end in which a group of citizens assists the crime fighting Spider-Man that was clearly inspired by the events of September 11. However, the person who was in a coma wouldn't have known what inspired that scene.
Also, the movie ends with Spider-Man swinging from the towers of Manhattan. Just before the ending he clings to a spire-topped tower with an American flag on it. The insinuation is that Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a representative of the United States, particularly the rescue workers who died on September 11. Fair enough and its done in good taste compared to the way most Rambo-style post-September 11 patriotism has been thrown in everybody's faces.
I too want my country to have a good image on the world stage. I just wish that the government of my country really did conduct itself the manner of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but it doesn't.
Medved's contention that Peter Parker/Spider-Man equals the conduct of the United States government on the world stage in this era is completely inconsistent with the actual historical record.
His embrace of the character is about as odd as the right's embrace of Bruce Springstien's very unpatriotic anthem "Born In The U.S.A."
The real kicker with Medved's analysis of the Spider-Man movie is his incorrect comparison of Spidey's arch nemesis, the Green Goblin, to Osama bin Laden.
Medved wrote, "Spider-Man connects with this point in our natural pageant because it reassures us that unlike the aristocratic, power-mad, nihilistic Green Goblins of this world (Osama, anyone?), we intend to use our potent options to benefit ordinary people everywhere. As Peter Parker's wise hardworking Uncle Ben pointedly reminded him - and the rest of us: "With great power comes great responsibility."
Earth to Michael Medved: The Green Goblin is the alter ego of Norman Osborne, founder and chief executive of a New York based Pentagon contractor, not a Saudi millionaire and Islamic militant, you idiot!
Unlike Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it is this American corporate executive/supervillain who irresponsibly abuses his superpowers throughout the movie.
Let's not forget that Uncle Ben Parker at the beginning of Spider-Man has just been laid off from his job and tells his wife May that, "the corporations are down sizing the people and upsizing their profits."
Sounds like the 68-year-old Uncle Ben has more in common with those activists opposed to corporate dominated globalization of the economy than the KVI crowd who listens to Meved and his ilk every weekday.
Uncle Ben has to sift through the daily newspaper ads to try and find work because he obviously doesn't have the financial resources to retire. I guess one could conclude that the American Dream isn't alive and well when a 68-year-old is still struggling to make ends meet for his wife and adopted nephew.
In fact, the portrayal of businessmen in the movie is so unflattering I'm surprised the film's producers haven't been put on Attorney General Ashcroft's shit list as "supporters of terrorism" yet. Every single businessman the recent high school graduate Peter Parker/Spider-Man encounters are immoral and untrustworthy scumbags, who abuse their power by taking advantage of the hapless working class teenager trying to make his way in the world.
Shortly after Peter Parker is endowed with his superpowers (after he is bitten by a genetically altered spider), he sees an ad for a three-minute fight contest for $3,000. He wants to put the $3,000 towards buying a car for the purpose of impressing his love interest and next door neighbor Mary Jane Watson.
After Peter Parker/Spider-Man beats the shit out of "Bonesaw," played by professional wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage, he goes up to the office of the fight promoter to collect his $3,000. The promoter only gives him $100. His reason for short changing Peter Parker $2,900? He was offering $3,000 for three minutes, and Spidey pinned Bonesaw in two.
After Spider-Man dons his spandex costume for the first time and starts a personal war on street crime, the publisher of the Daily Bugle, the fast talking, cigar chomping publisher J. Johan Jameson, offers a $3,000 reward to anybody who can photograph the mysterious vigilante. The aspiring photographer Peter Parker has no problem photographing himself. Jameson at first offers Parker $200 because all of the photos are either "crap" or "mega-crap".
After Parker protests Jameson ups the ante to $300, the standard freelance fee. So the lesson learned by the young Peter Parker is that even the respectable "legitimate" businessman who publishes the daily newspaper is as much a scumbag as the seedy fight promoter. Like the seedy fight promoter, Jameson doesn't honor a contract when he has the power to get away with it.
Then of course there is Spidey's arch nemesis, the supervillain Green Goblin, the alter ego of Norman Osborne. An eminent scientist and founder of top Pentagon contractor OsCorp, Norman Osborne/Green Goblin is the quintessential archetype of the greedy American capitalist.
Self-centered and rich beyond the average American's wildest dreams, Norman Osborne is divorced and has a strained relationship with his son Harry, Peter's best and only friend at the public high school. Harry starts attending after he flunks out of every fancy private school his father gets him into. Needless to say, Harry the heir has difficulty living up to the high expectations of his self-made genius father.
Meanwhile, OsCorp is in a bitter struggle with its arch-rival, Quest, for a lucrative Pentagon contract. Events aren't going Norman Osborne's way. Osborne's top scientist disagrees with him about the readiness of an OsCorp patented strength-enhancing drug. The Pentagon appears to be favoring Quest in a majoring bidding war over a contract to develop a new aerial combat glider. The OsCorp board decides to sack Osborne as the chief executive of the company he founded in order to pave the way for its sale.
So how does Norman Osborne/Green Goblin deal with his problems when things don't go his way? He does it the way the United States government goes about its foreign policy: Assassination and bombing.
Osborne/Green Goblin fires his top scientist for disagreeing with him about the readiness of the strength-enhancing drug by basically executing him after he successfully tests the drug on himself.
Osborne then steals the company prototype for a combat glider that the navigator controls with a specially designed green body suit, and becomes the Green Goblin. The Green Goblin then bombs a Quest pilot while he is in the middle of a prototype demonstration of a flying machine before a group of Pentagon generals.
The Green Goblin makes his first appearance in Manhattan when he thwarts the announcement of Norman Osborne's forced resignation from OsCorp by the company board at a company sponsored event in Times Square. The Goblin chucks a couple grenades at the balcony where the OsCorp board has gathered to observe the festivities and assassinates the entire company board.
I suppose the Green Goblin could argue in his defense that he was bombing a legitimate military target since OsCorp is the top Pentagon contractor. He could also state that he profoundly regrets the deaths and injuries of any civilians below in Times Square from falling debris.
Fortunately for the citizens of New York, Peter Parker happens to be on the scene photographing the event for the Daily Bugle and manages to save a man and woman who were both about to be crushed by falling debris after the Green Goblin began his bombing. Parker quickly tosses off his civilian clothes and Spider-Man and the Green Goblin have their first public slugfest.
Yes, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is the quintessential American working class hero who does amazing things while battling the forces of evil in New York.
This battle of good vs. evil features the alter egos of an orphan raised by financially strapped, working class relatives versus an egotistical corporate executive. The parable of class conflict is as American as apple pie.
I think most people outside the United States would agree that the Green Goblin represents U.S. foreign policy in action, whether its the most recent Israeli rampages in the West Bank, the non-stop wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the attempted coup against Chavez in Venezuela, or the stepped up aid to the murderous military and para-militaries of Colombia, etc, etc, etc.
It is precisely these realities of U.S. foreign policy that leads much of the world to resent us, not envy us, as Medved and his ilk would like the public to believe.
No it is not the sense of justice that motivates Peter Parker/Spider-Man that best exemplifies the U.S. government on the world stage today. It is the arrogance and greed of the lawless bomber Norman Osborne/Green Goblin that provides a parable of the U.S. on the world stage today.
I nominate the Green Goblin for U.S. Secretary of Defense.
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