Close your eyes and imagine the “American Dream.” Freedom. Equality. Opportunity. Did you imagine “Walmart?” I think this is the fundamental economic and political question of our time.
Amid all the debate about the political implications of Dark Knight Rises—its treatment of class inequality, the presence of Occupy Wall Street, the menace of Bane Capital—we’ve lost sight of some of the inherent strangeness of Batman. Why does it take a bat costume to fight crime? The answer given by the series is fairly simple. Bruce Wayne was traumatized by seeing his parents murdered. This trauma was linked to his childhood fear of bats, present at both his parents’ death and beneath the family mansion. Psychically, fear of bats equals powerlessness, and overcoming this fear allows Bruce to seek vengeance. So far, this is all straightforward reaction formation. But what if something stranger is at work? What did Bruce really see and hear in that alleyway when he thought his parents were being murdered? And why was he so preoccupied with the dark, furry cave under his house? The Freudian theory of the primal scene suggests another answer: like Freud’s Wolf Man, young Bruce caught his parents in the act of intercourse, (which, to a child, appears as a murder, complete with screams and blood), then spent the rest of his life to re-staging the scene in hopes of exorcising himself of the hold it had on his mind. Primal scene trauma normally leads to sexual perversity, exhibitionism, and voyeurism. Psychoanalyst Henry Edelheit notes that it also leads to a heightened affinity for animal-human hybrids and compound mythological beasts as figures of the intertwined parents. That’s pretty much the combination you’d expect in a vigilante wearing a latex cowl with pointy ears and driving a rocket-propelled phallus. This reading helps resolve a few of the discordant elements of the Batman myth—Batman’s fixation on childhood, the obsession with caves and wells, the nighttime scopophilia, his preference for the company of other fetishists, the vinyl, the suit. It might also restore something that has been sorely missing from the superhero genre—a dose of psychological realism. After all, being a citizen may take nothing more than a willingness to trust your own judgment as much as you do that of your fellows. But to be a hero, to devote yourself to public service, to throw yourself into fighting corruption and crime—does that take dedication and public-spiritedness, or perversion, exhibitionism and obsession?
Having recently begun working as a copyeditor, I’m training my eye to wince at errors—symbols that shouldn’t be together, like a comma before a parenthesis. When I haven’t found an error in a while I grow anxious, like an addict in withdrawal from an error-high. Accordingly, I occasionally revel in finding mistakes. If an error seems particularly rare, I begin to well up with pride. Before I get too giddy, though, I remember what my boss remarked to a colleague: “It’s not a big deal; it’s just adding a ton of hyphens. But as far as I’m concerned—I mean, puppies won’t die if this doesn’t happen.” It’s true, there is a part of me that knows that readers will understand the author’s intentions regardless of my efforts and that their puppies will be safe from my hyphens. Nevertheless, we copyeditors strive toward an ideal mandated by our house manual. This manual suggests a coordinated style, a certain way of outfitting English grammar, to ensure that errors and discrepancies in form don’t distract from the ideas at hand. Our goal as copyeditors and stylists is to sensitively adapt our standards to a particular text, making its underlying ideas as clear as possible. The thoughts we receive are already formed and organized. In most cases it has taken the authors years to craft them. In many ways my work feels like following politics—that I am only coming in after something has been decided, and that in the grand scheme of things my contribution really doesn’t matter. But, from time to time when I find an error, I have that relief of voting—that is, of participating in some small way. In copyediting I’ve learned that good writing is vital to the thoughts it describes: clarity is an execution of an idea’s intention. As a copyeditor I can accordingly help realize, and be in the service of, great ideas. All that is necessary is that I learn how to pay attention—caring enough to notice and speaking up whenever I do find a mistake, however small—as my eyes scan along. I can only hope that this thoughtful meditative attention continues on past the page, carrying me through the humdrum of living.
On June 13 Colin Powell was caught on camera singing the chorus to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me, Maybe” along with CBS ‘This Morning” anchor Gayle King. Charlie Rose looked on bemused, never a novice to eccentric shenanigans. Certainly silly but no national scandal, this ill-conceived karaoke selection highlighted just how damn addictive modern pop music has become to people from every social stratum. Sure, song lyrics have become streamlined for maximum repeatability—“Call Me, Maybe” features twelve chorus refrains within three minutes, all set to a relentless and sensory oozing beat. But that’s all carrier wave. What’s really so addictive, a real sinister display of genius, is that it sells a fictional experience everyone wants but almost no one can ever partake in. This comprehensive experience, hardwired into modern American culture, consists of a maximally fun reprieve from responsibility. The Animal House toga party. The Can’t Hardly Wait post-high school bash. The Project X bacchanal. Jepsen’s song captures all of these, and our attention, by offering adulthood’s quixotic wet dream, a retreat from responsibility and an escape into an adolescence felt to pass too quickly by.
As Joe Paterno was in the midst of denying any involvement in the Penn State scandal, it seems he was cutting himself a sweetheart deal worth millions. And now a debate rages over whether to remove his statue in front of Beaver Stadium. The statue is of Coach Paterno leading four heavily armored players into battle. Surely, Paterno was responsible for many achievements on the Penn State football battlefield, but now, thanks to this week’s independent investigation, we know some other things he was responsible for as well. Maybe, instead of taking down the statue, the trustees should simply add a group of young boys being trampled underfoot.
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“Terrorism” is a complicated term. It refers to the use of violence and terror for political purpose—usually with a disregard for civilian life. Certainly Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks were acts of “terrorism.” But then wouldn’t current US military drone attacks on Pakistani tribal villages, or the US carpet bombing of Cambodia in 1969, or the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, also be acts of terrorism? (Of course we were at war with Japan. But Al Qaeda is also at war with us). Or is it that a “terrorist” group must not be affiliated with a specific nation state? But in 2007, the US Senate passed legislation designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a “terrorist” organization even though the IRGC is directly sanctioned by the Iranian state. So what actually is a “terrorist?” More than anything, it seems to be a term of propaganda we use to dehumanize our enemies, which is exactly the sort of thing we’re always accusing “terrorists” of doing.
Most people see the crisis of the Euro as an imminent political problem. The collapse of the common currency area would be a blow for European unification, and the project of a democratic, integrated Europe. But the real disaster has already happened. A wave of cheap credit and foreign money eroded the competitiveness of the peripheral countries, and Greece, Spain and Portugal are saddled with a currency that’s much too expensive to ever make this imbalance right. In these conditions, the Euro has become what gold was to the Great Depression—a rigid standard that maintains investor confidence while preventing shattered economies from recovering. Since the peripheral countries can’t devalue their money, they have to devalue their labor, by letting wages fall. But this turns out to be impossible, and with declining revenues and mounting unemployment the peripheral countries have entered a deadly spiral. Cash injections haven’t rescued Spanish banks and default hasn’t saved Greece from indebtedness, while youth unemployment in both countries has crossed 50 percent. There doesn’t seem to be a way out: exiting the Euro would cause collapse, but keeping it only prolongs the misery. In these conditions, democracy itself is fading. Against the power of the European Central Bank, as one analyst wrote, the only choice is between bargaining and pleading—and in the recent Greek elections, pleading won. Deprived of any other means of protest, it’s time that the Greeks registered their dissent some other way. For instance, on the Euro bill itself. They should replace the bridges and archways and other symbols of integration on the bills with something more fitting, like Procrustes’ bed or Prometheus’ chains.
Everyone knew that the Supreme Court was going to rule on the constitutionality of the healthcare “mandate” this week. What people may not have known—although Chief Justice Roberts’s argument for upholding the law depends upon it—is that the Affordable Care Act does not include a “mandate,” at least as the term is understood by most of the world. When I hear the word “mandate,” I imagine coercion: the Conscription Act of 1917, for example, mandated that young males sign up or else face prison. What the healthcare bill actually stipulates is a new tax, from which people can gain exemption by purchasing health insurance. Why, then, has this tax become known as a mandate? Well, it’s not exactly news that the American media fails to keep the public informed. But part of the story has to be the absolute refusal of American politicians to acknowledge that sometimes taxes have to go up, and not only on the rich. If our leaders really want to help the man in the street, they could start by trusting him with the truth.
In a recent article on standardized test preparation programs, test prep guru Anthony James-Green confides that “a student’s test scores have nothing to do with the student himself—instead, they have to do only with the steps taken by that student.” Welcome to the world of standardized test preparation, a billion-dollar business proliferating by the day. Welcome to the world of Robin Singh’s Testmasters, Karen Dillard’s College Prep, and the vast, omniscient overlord known as the Princeton Review. Here you can shell out $1250 to subscribe to our exclusive intellectual regimen, proven successful by students past and present. Here you can purchase practice book upon practice book to ensure standardized victory. Hell, why not go for broke: there’s the $1000 an hour bargain to meet with master Singh himself. Together, you may conquer the LSAT, MCAT, GRE, SAT, and every other three or four letter acronym of academic doom. One cannot put a price on the future, the philosophy goes. That being the case, we are presented with three possible conclusions: a) high-stakes standardized testing, both as a practice and as a measure of intelligence, is invalid, b) test preparation centers siphon the funds of upper middle-class parents not to teach students or make them, you know, smarter, but to bludgeon them with strategic tactics and loopholes, and c) such centers therefore skew the results and disadvantage students who don’t have access to such services. Naturally, the correct answer is d) all of the above.