Eastern Philosophy In Superheroes

By | Tuesday, August 07, 2007 Leave a Comment
For as long as I can remember, I haven't had any real goals. Not that I'd consider myself aimless or directionless, but I've never considered planning out my life towards any particular conclusion. I'm able to move forward largely by just trying to do/be better than I was yesterday. I'm not moving forward so much as I'm moving not backwards.

Last night, I was talking with my wife and she brought up the possibility of dissolution if our marital therapy doesn't go well. The idea made me quite upset because, frankly, my brain is simply not able to wrap itself around the idea of our not being together. But after I calmed down a bit (sometime earlier today) and was able to think about her statements in the context of some of what she's already said in therapy, it started to dawn on me that the crux of our problem is there. She's uncomfortable not being able to see an end point in any of this; she needs something to work towards. Whereas I can get by just working away from something.

I've never really thought about it precisely in these terms before, but she has a more Western mode of thinking while mine is more Eastern. She's looking at the destination; I'm looking at the journey. That she has a traditionally Western philosophy is no surprise -- her growing up here the heart of the United States. What's curious, as I reflect on it, is that I would take a more Oriental approach without having ever been to that part of the world, or studying it at any great length. (Although I did use the word "sensei" once in high school and impressed the heck out of my social studies teacher. Of course, it's the same high school where I once used "uncanny" in casual conversation and completely baffled the other students.)

By now, you're probably asking yourself, "How does this all relate to comics?"

A while back, I postulated that some of the differences between my wife and I could be seen in the fiction we chose to read. My never-ending battles versus her happily ever-afters. It further occurs to me that comics -- well, the serial comics that I grew up on at any rate -- have what's essentially an Eastern philosophy. What are the life goals of Superman? Or Batman? Or Spider-Man? On the whole, they're generally pretty vague "make the world a better/safer place" ideas but nothing realistically achievable on a long-term scale. For the most part, they go out on their superheroic patrols, night after night, with the immediate goal of thwarting whatever bad guys are out committing crimes that night. You don't see them take up long-term goals because, effectively, they're static characters and can't change that appreciably while still maintaining an audience. (At least, that's the conventional wisdom.) It's the journey that matters because, frankly, there is no destination.

My wife, by contrast, reads novels that provide very definitive character arcs, so that a character like, say, Harry Potter, can and does evolve over the course of a book (or several) and he can look towards an end goal. Even in the first Harry Potter book, there are references to Harry becoming the next wizard leader (or whatever the terminology in the series is).

And maybe that's where my problem lies. I've focused so exclusively on specific media that espouse a certain philosophical bent that I'm too far removed from the mainstream. Even your "typical" comic book fan goes to see movies and watch television. But I'm too far out of touch on so many levels because of, in part, my media choices.

Of course, saying that, I should note that my past media choices did not realistically include all aspects of a medium. Comic books can be -- and many indeed are -- more grounded in Western philosophies, but the mainstream superhero comic as perpetrated by marvel and DC was the entirety of the medium, as far as I was concerned when I was 12. In the past year or two, my horizons have broadened considerably within the medium and my recent decision to effectively drop all the marvel and DC books from my pull list reinforces that.

There's more than a fair chance that I'm reading WAAAAY too much into this, but it seems a little serendipitous that I find that I need to change my reading habits for myself at the same time I need to change part of my outlook for my wife.
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