Religious Freedom, and What Kind of Hero We May Need: A Footnote to Five more on Kick-Ass

This is a follow-up to a series I started last week, which begins here but is not for the faint of heart. This post as well is not for the faint of heart. The series, if you’re interested, began here.

Okay, I know it’s an old headline, but how does it happen that a Catholic Cardinal and the Mormon church agree on something… especially on this?

Okay, so, as a non-American… how does gay marriage threaten religious freedom in America?

Seriously. Set the histrionics aside, the screaming and shouting and wild eyes, and explain it. Because, frankly, unless “religious freedom” means “forcing everyone to follow [your] religion,” it doesn’t.

Is religious freedom equivalent to having everyone’s religious beliefs legislated? No, obviously not, because religious values conflict even within, say, the Church of Mormon. (One example of many.)

Is religious freedom equivalent to having the majority’s religious beliefs legislated? No, obviously not, or Mormons wouldn’t be fighting for it — they’re not the majority.

So what is religious freedom equivalent to? As far as I can tell, it’s equivalent to a secular unfreedom. It’s a misnomer, but not an accidental one. Religious conservatives have cynically taken the word “freedom” and glued it onto something else — onto the claim they feel that they have on how others live.

Which raises another question: is there an American comic book about a gay superhero, who goes about fighting for his people’s rights? You know: hunting down and defenestrating politicians (real or imaginary) and religious figures (imaginary or, preferably, real) who spread hate about homosexuals, catching groups of gay-bashers and stringing them up by their necks, that kind of thing?

If there isn’t, why isn’t there?

I was thinking about this when I got told a story recently. I could tell the whole thing, but basically, it was that a woman was attached by some and guys fended them off, but also held onto one of them when the others fled. She held on long enough for neighbors to identify him, and it turned out he was the local Chinese food delivery kid. (Big surprise. Not.) Apparently, the woman’s brother and father (with whom she lived) went out one night and paid the little shit back for the trauma he caused. I can only hope he is unable to walk again. I can only hope that he walks in fear every night, just like this young woman almost certainly does when she is alone.

I have to ask: where is the female superhero who acts as an the avenger for women like this, who goes around catching those pricks and stringing them up, when the law won’t do it? Where’s the comic about the team of women who castrate violent men who are “drunk” and can’t stop themselves from assaulting children? Where’s the analogue to Wonder Woman who goes about stopping those boy/girl fights we’ve all seen on the sidewalk (I see them with depressing frequency in Korea, anyway) and punches the boyfriend into oblivion, and then takes the girl to a psychiatrist for evaluation when she defends him against the superhero? Not, I should clarify, not necessarily because anyone sane on the left thinks that women ought to be forced to get psychiatric care when they stay with abusive men, or that rapists ought to be castrated or any of that, but because it introduces into the mainstream discourse a critique of The Way Things Are.

Certainly, Superman started out as something vaguely like this: he was a guy who went out and fought to defend orphans, tenement dwellers, and exploited workers, in the beginning. He didn’t become a nationalist figure, or rather, a metaphor for American military power and the defense of Pax Americana until later: at first, he was about the closest thing one could have to moderate American socialism not just embodied but also given big fists and big muscles and the power to crunch the rich and powerful if need be…

In short, Superman grabbed The Way Things Are by the lapels and held it out a window saying, “Really? Really, are you sure you wanna Be That Way?” He did it on a regular basis and he did it in front of teenagers, and some of those teenagers followed his example. Some of those teenagers marched in protests, rode in freedom rides. Some of those teenagers worked for social justice. And few could really continue to ignore the problems that Superman confronted — though, yes, he failed to confront them all. Superman didn’t beat up Jim Crow Law-enforcing sherriffs. (As far as I know.) He didn’t catch up a pack of KKK members and drop them in the ocean. But I think to some degree the kids reading about his adventures got the point.

There was a social ethics to early Superman which I’m not sure we see in the contemporary translation of comic book characters to film. Mainstream fictional superheroes are no longer kicking in doors, punching out slumlords, cracking down on crooked businessmen, or holding corrupt politicians out windows by their toes, not anymore. The superheroes I’ve seen lately have seemed more caught up in self-reflexive doubt about the vigilante enterprise which the superhero trope has become, or in defending the status quo, as cruddy as might be.

Even Kick-Ass, which I really enjoyed, had the heroes stopping petty criminals (okay), drug dealers (sigh), and crimelords (whom everyone hates except those who aspire to crimelordery, I suppose, or who kiss the asses of crimelords).

Of course, if we look to Hollywood, we’ll probably never see this kind of superhero. But I am wondering how many alternative comics tell this kind of story: a story that is explicitly political, that breathes life into the politics of the left. It seems it would be a useful response to the kind of apathy that the mainstream seems to have been jaundiced by, to the point where apathy is presented as some sort of political position. There might be tons, there might be none. I don’t know anything about it.

Any recommendations?

6 thoughts on “Religious Freedom, and What Kind of Hero We May Need: A Footnote to Five more on Kick-Ass

  1. “Okay, so, as a non-American… how does gay marriage threaten religious freedom in America?
    Seriously. Set the histrionics aside, the screaming and shouting and wild eyes, and explain it. Because, frankly, unless “religious freedom” means “forcing everyone to follow [your] religion,” it doesn’t.”

    Thank you. It means a lot to me that someone besides me is saying this.

    As an American, I’ve reached the point where the phrase “religious freedom” is now a trigger for almost automatic suspicion. In many contexts these days, it means little more than “our freedom to impose our religious doctrine on you”, from the point of view of the person speaking.

    And allowing gay marriage (or any other recognition of non-“traditional” intimate relationships) does indeed threaten that. As does the vocal but still fairly small minority of us who have either found the courage to call that fraud what it really is, or have simply been pushed so far beyond their tolerance limits that they have nothing left but to speak out.

    1. Bunch of great comments here.

      Bruce: you’re welcome, and yeah, I hear you.

      William: Wow. And makes sense to me. In some ways, I might say that about SF, except I am not sure it could be resuscitated so most of us who think this way are trying to do with from within the system.

      John: Wow, thanks for that link. That documentary deserves its own post. Sometime soon!

      Junsok: Wow, you really do like Chris Rock. Well, but so do I, and his point about gay marriage and gays fighting to join the mainstream is funny, but right. All those comics you mention sound fascinating, except the last Superman film, which I saw once but seem to have blocked out since it sucked so very badly. (Refreshes memory.) Ugh. You know, I wish someone would make Tom de Haven’s book It’s Superman! into a film. That would so rock… done right.

      Oh, and the last Batman film bored me, I’m sorry to say. Not sure why, maybe I just was in a mood.

  2. Why there are no comics doing what Supes did back in the 30s:

    1- The American industry has been reduced to two companies and a couple of hangers-on.

    2- Those two companies are now dependent upon a shrinking collection of 40 year old baby-men who want tits, explosions, and a Hollywood movie version tailored to them.

    A Spider-Man who kicks the crap out of a shitbag like Rush Limbaugh is a Spider-Man that won’t have the idiot fans of that shitbag paying ten bucks to see his movie.

    To put it another way: It’s time for the genre to die like it should have done in the 1970s. Then maybe it could be re-introduced in a way that might be timely.

  3. Here’s a hero for you. It’s been a year since her death while trying to secure religious and political freedom in Iran, and now there is a documentary detailing her life from HBO. But you can watch For Neda directly from Youtube for free since it was the world-wide source of her last moments while peacefully protesting against religious tyranny.

  4. Personally, concerning gay marriages, I defer to the smartest man I know (though not personally), Chris Rock. “If the gays want to marry and be miserable? Let ’em.”

    About comic books, which I do know more about, of the “Big 2′”s superheroes, the character that IMO reflects politics the most is Batman. In 1939, Batman was a pretty cruel guy; if I recall correctly, he casually let criminals die.

    Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (late 1980s) was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand (and Miller went on to write a more explicit politically-oriented comic book: Give Me Liberty). It’s interesting to note that in Miller’s book, while Batman espoused a libertarian philosophy closer to what would be called “the right”, he was paired with Green Arrow (a classic leftie) as his ally, Reagan was made to look like a senile coot, and Miller made Superman look like a naive yes-man. (He also made it perfectly clear that Superman was a wimp, and Batman was waaaaay cooler than Supes) In short, Miller seemed to be trying to claim libertarianism philosophy (along with eye-for-an-eye non-humanist view toward crime, punishment and foreign policy) for the left. (Though I may be overinterpreting Miller’s intent).

    Mark Waid took Miller’s seeds and expanded it in “Kingdom Come” (early 1990s). The world is overrun by grim-and-gritty psycho superheroes and villains, and the only safe city in the US is Gotham City because Batman held it as a 24-hour everywhere surveillence police state with robot cops and Batman as the benevolent dictator. Batman is also the only character who has a clue about what is really going on, and what to do to solve the problem.

    Also, whenever DC tries to make Catwoman into a heroine rather than a villain, they usually have her be the defender of weak women being preyed by male predators (e.g. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns)

    A rather strange case, closer to what you may be looking for is the fourth Superman movie. (First, let me emphasize that it is a really really really BAD movie regardless of your political leanings). In that one, Superman decides he has to guarantee world peace, so he takes away all nuclear weapons from every country on Earth. Needless to say, Supes learns better by the end of the movie.

  5. Oh, and who can forget that wonderful line in the last Batman movie… “Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.” A fantastic reinterpretation of the Book of Job, with Batman as Job, Joker as (what else?) the Devil, and Gotham City as God.

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