Saturday, September 20, 2008

Waking from the Nightmare

Two nights ago I had a dream, and it went like this: it was election night, 2008 and Pennsylvania and New Jersey went Red. John McCain became the President of the United States. How could such a thing happen? I asked myself this, and my dream-voice said something about how unemployed folks in these states had moved elsewhere looking for work, so could not turn out to vote. As is typical for a dream voice, what it said makes absolutely no sense now, looking back, but at the time it was incontrovertible.

It doesn't take a Freudian analysis to clue you in that I have been not only thinking too much about politics lately, but also that I have been worrying we might lose. The loss I have been dreading is not a reasonable loss -- the loss of a candidate who is fairly beaten on issues of great difficulty and complexity. Rather, I have been dreading the lossa on a cheat, a loss caused by a technicality. While there was a time when I could imagine how an intelligent and informed individual could have voted for McCain, that day passed when someone sat him down behind a closed door in some luxuriously appointed summer home in Maine and said, "John, we can make you President. But you're going to have to get with the program."

Now, the only way I can imagine the GOP winning is through the manipulation of one of their many cheat-levers: voter suppresion through house foreclosure lists, the fear of terrorist attacks prompted by endless viewing of 9/11 footage, illegal refusal to obey subpoenas in corruption probes in the full knowledge that nothing will be done till after November ... and by then it will be too late. Once the Republican machine is vindicated with another for years in power, they can take their hands off the wheel and let 95% of America grow poorer and less secure, saving their efforts for the white-tie crowd, their base.

The news since the Democratic Convention has not been good. Palin, who as far as I can tell is nothing but a tinpot dictator who wraps her santimonious smugness in the name of Jesus, dominated the country. But then something marvellous happened: right after Palin embarassed herself with Charlie Gibson (Gibson! Who woulda thunk it?) we got the combination punch delivered by Saturday Night Live. Yeah! I know! Saturday Night Live! Christ, has anyone watched that show since Mike Myers left? So far, the two sound bites I will most remember are, "people have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power," and, "I can see Russia from my house!"

But then something else happened. Then our financial system started to melt down like styrofoam in a microwave. Now, I don't claim to be an expert on this particular topic. But there are some things I have been able to figure our about it: firstly, the long run of house foreclosure was a major factor in the collapse. Second, our government is spending about a trillion dollars to socialize our banking and insurance industry. Third, none of the people who are responsible for this disaster, in any of their myriad financial institutions and government offices, will suffer any punishment of any kind. Fourthly, the rest of us are still screwed. Finally, we are gonna win.

John McCain is a resourceful guy, but there is no way that he can get out from under the hammer of an unpopular President from his own party, while the economy is tanking. There's not a whole lot else that matters. Obama's eloquent and inspiring speeches, SNL's judgement day rise from the dead, mooseburgers, 9/11, and POWs are all ultimately irrelevant. This is Bush vs. Clinton with the roles reversed and the dial turned up to 11. The national nightmare is over, it's just too bad we had to crash Wall Street and stick the American taxpayers with a trillion dollar bill to get there. And now Obama has the hard job: he won't be able to just pat us on the head and comfort us with a soothing, "There there. It was all just a dream."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Secret Origin of Doctor Comics

It's all Darren's fault. Really, it is.

I don't need to tell you that the only kind of nickname worth a damn is the sort someone else gives you. Shoeless Joe. William the Conqueror. The Gubernator. Okay, maybe if you become Roman Emperor, you can name yourself Augustus with a straight face, but the rest of us are doomed to accept whatever name we're given, while hoping desperately that said name is not "Arseface."

I got the "Doctor J" label at my local game store. I always liked it, because I actually remember Julius Irving and Larry Byrd duelling it out for fruit pies in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. Now, I wasn't a real Doctor yet (and I certainly was no basketball star) but the guys considered that a minor detail; there was another guy named Jason around, and I was distinguished from him by virtue of being over-educated.

It was Darren who decided I should be Doctor Comics, and he even introduced me to some of his very clever friends in this way. But I was reluctant because -- contrary to what you might think -- I am neither the sole nor the most distinguished PhD specializing in comics. I look at the work of people like Marc Singer, Charles Hatfield, or Gene Kannenberg and ask, "Shouldn't one _them_ be Doctor Comics?" (Sorry, Amy; you have to actually read comics to be Doctor Comics.)

But, you know what? They didn't get the name given to them or, if they did, they did not have the chutzpah to claim it. Well, emboldened as I am by the bulletproof shield of the dissertation, I do claim this name which is mine by right, granted on the field of battle. Doctor J is dead; long live Doctor Comics.

Obama's "Billy Martin"

Some writers on dKos have begun voicing a suspicion which my inside voice first began to articulate at the Democratic National Convention. As we heard speaker after speaker -- Hillary, Bill, Biden, and Obama himself -- praise McCain as an honorable man, we got a universal sinking feeling. Surely, we were not going to get the same level of respect from the GOP; Obama's nice guy stance just meant we would all finish last. Again.

But now I cannot help but wonder if the Obama campaign wasn't giving McCain the Billy Martin: a second chance, a chance to play fair, a chance to do the right thing before a can of righteous whoop-ass is opened. And, like Pacino in "Ocean's Thirteen," McCain said no to the Billy Martin, his campaign turning from predictable levels of exaggeration to the flat-out lie. Now, we're starting to get a new tone from the Obama campaign: not "McCain is an honorable man who just doesn't get it," or even, ""McCain is a liar," but, rather, "McCain used to be an honorable man, but now he's sacrificing his integrity to win the White House." There's a kind of resigned sadness to this message -- a tone that says, "We didn't want to say bad things about John, but he's made us do it." And that -- a moral high ground that still allows Obama to pull no punches -- would not have been possible without the Billy Martin.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Three Feet High and Risin'"

On Thursday, the MLA job list was posted. My first pass turned up 54 jobs, none of which mentioned comics. However, academic honesty forbids me from pretending I could teach Anglo-Saxon or the history of the English language, so limiting my search to Renaissance or Ren/Medieval posts reduced my haul to 32 positions. These are the jobs to which I will apply, and I was encouraged to see so many.

Admittedly, I have my work cut out for me between now and December, but better that by far than a dearth of opportunities.

"Charlie, I'd have to say ... World Peace."

Am I the only person who, watching our potential Vice-President answering questions from a talk-show host, was reminded of nothing so much as the Miss America personal interview round? But as I think back on it now, I realize the comparison breaks down under stress. After all, these are women who travel the world as ambassadors of good will; Palin has never left North America. They offer encouragement, praise, and a sincere smile; Palin tosses glib insults and condescending sarcasm with a sneer. Miss Congeniality pleads for world peace; Palin suggests war with Russia. Calling Sarah Palin a "beauty pageant candidate" is an insult to beauty pageants.