Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wakanda: The Eye of a Newt




I began my last column, “Wakanda: ‘The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of,’”  with ‘The title is from the last line of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. It’s an appropriate quotation for wishful thinking.  In keeping with the denouement of "The Maltese Falcon," Black Panther is a lump of political lead painted black.’

Black Panther was produced and released as a "black" event, not as "entertainment" or as chiefly cinematic "art." The driving force behind it was politics, and "Identity" politics, at that. I saw that from the beginning and the SJWs ate it up. The film falls into the genre of super-hero fare, just as Shaft and Cotton Comes to Harlem as black films were.  (I remember having smidgens of reservations when I was much younger about the "Superman" I saw on TV; “Look! Up in the sky! It's a Bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!”), but I never developed a liking for Spiderman or any of the other Marvel-like comics or their heroes.

This is not to rule out all comic super-heroes, even when they appear in comic books. Some of them have a value as an introduction to heroic values. I read the Classic Comics of literature when I was younger, and also some newspaper comic panels. The latter did not usually feature heroes able to fly or perform reality-defying feats in pursuit of justice.

But a maturing person should leave these things behind to discover the  great literature that is their source, not ceasing to value their juvenile offspring, but answering the needs of a growing mind. Or they should at least eschew these fictional  “self-esteem” booster shots tp the psyche, such as Black Panther. Or they should discover “fresh” new movies, such as Agora, and the circumstances behind the fall of ancient Alexandria, Egypt, or learn the classical myths of gods and goddesses – Zeus, Athena, Mercury, etc. – the “super beings” who often affect mortals’  actions, and often their interventions are inseparable from men’s actions and thinking;  and from the stories of Odysseus, and Clytemnestra and Theseus, and other non-temporal or semi-godlike actors. The ancient playwrights were far more attuned to their works than most modern playwrights are. The ancient playwrights, and Shakespeare, Rostand, and Victor Hugo, were not copycats. 

Clytemnestra, John Collier, 1882

The thing that held me back in respect  to contemporary comic book mythologies  was epistemology; heroic actions had to be credible, believable, and within the realm of rationality and real human action. This is why all my novels are "real worldly," including the Sparrowhawk series. That Black Panther was billed as the "tribal adventures" of a black super-hero, turned me off immediately, because I knew it was a post-BLM venture and black power statement to capture black “identity”; as I ask in my column, why not a movie about a Hispanic "super-hero," or a Muslim "super-hero" (though Marvel is producing comics of just the latter)?  Don't leave out a single ethnic identity, Hollywood! Don't forget the Sioux , the Buddhists, the Navajos, and the Alaskan natives! They are all deserving of their own cinematic mythology and fictional countries! Why should blacks and Black Panther have a corner on the ethnic identity market?

One of the best discussions of Black Panther is by Sargon at this video link. He takes it apart root, twig, and branch. He says that one Time Magazine reviewer wrote that the film is about “the revolutionary power of Black Panther.“ Another Time reviewer, Stephanie Zacharek, wrote that Wakanda is “what America looks like when it’s allowed to be its truest, freest self. ” Which is not the most ideal projection or wishful dream of what America could be. Wakanda, after all, is a hereditary, tribal monarchy whose default siblings engage in mortal combat for the right to sit on the Wakandan throne. Shakespeare did it better in England and Denmark.

What about Wakanda’s shimmering skyline of towers? What economy supports them? Who works in them? Executives? Secretaries? Economic planners? Budget balancers? Power Point compilers? Boards of directors? Not a hint is given.  One sees a group of bazaars covered with corrugated sheet metal. Hardly the basis of a sound Wakandan dollar. The towers are just there as irrefutable proof that Wakanda is on a par with Lower Manhattan.

What technology keeps it all running?

Vibranium, the magic metal that fell from the sky. Does Wakanda even have a periodic table? Or is it just plain magic and Herculean urgings that bestow its inexplicable power that makes things go, aside from one or two of the rival kings consuming a vibranium-mutated herb and being bestowed with super powers? It vibrated?


The technological power of

 Vibranium in Black Panther
 Let’s just settle for the Three Witches in Macbeth. Is it the “Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog, adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, lizard's leg and owlet's wing”? It’s as good as three vibrating gay molecules.  This, Sargon says, is not “technology.”  It’s pure hocus-pocus.  Vibranium is Star Trek’s dilithium crystal for Wakanda. Aside from many other aspects of Black Panther, I suspect that, aside from story lines copied liberally or partly from Harry Potter and  Lord of the Rings and other well-known titles, the notion of dilithium must have been copped from Star Trek and redubbed. In the long run, we got Harry battling Lord Voldemort,  while heir presumptive of Wakanda T'Challa battles Killmonger.

But, to add it all up, Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon summed Black Panther best: It’s just a lump of black painted lead.

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