Monday, April 28, 2008

The Exegesis: Where Is Your Tribe?

I spent an underwhelming weekend at the Pittsburgh Comic Con (actually held in Monroeville) and got to thinking about the comic book nation and my place in it. Or more accurately, outside of it. Conventions are gatherings of a very specific sect, of which I hold the unenviable position of heretic/ex-communicant. And there's less room for Synchromysticism in the body of this sect than there is in the Southern Baptist Church. I've noticed that a cranky, Randi-like skepticism seems to be the dominant weltanschuang among the fanbase these days.

Our Gods Wear Spandex was very well received in many quarters, but the mainstream of comics fandom was absolutely not one of them. On the whole, active fans loathe anyone analysing what interests people in the genre. The highly personal and intimate nature of the medium tends to create the illusion in the fan that he is at the center of the comics universe, which is one of the reasons you'll see a host of socially-isolated guys in their 30s ignoring one another with all their might on Wednesday evenings at the comics store. But those guys are getting older and are not being replenished by younger fans. And comics sales are once again beginning to fall.

Joltin' Joe Linsner seems to be a locus point for funnybook heretics, and I was able to commune with like-minded folks by sticking close to his orbit. I also followed my golden rule in situations like this and looked for the most individualistic person in the room and had a very nice talk with a charming young punk rock artist named Alexis, who sold me a hilarious t-shirt that my wife and son immediately fought over when I brought it home.

But after two days of wandering around trying to find something that really buttered my toast, I skipped the con and took a detour to the amazing Half-Price Books, which is one of the best book stores I've been to in my life. After wandering through the fading powers of comic and sci-fi nostalgia, I was electrified by the Metaphysical section of HPB. For bargain prices I picked up Suns of God by Acharaya S, The Cosmic Code by Zecharia Sitchin and Gods of Eden by Andrew Collins. I've seen these books online or at Borders, but buying them literally across the street from the convention seemed like a political act.

The best hardcore show I ever went to was held in someone's basement. There were maybe 15 people there and it was one of the most exciting nights of my life. The early days of Boston Hardcore centered around the Media Workshop, a dump of a loft in a soon-to-be condemned building. Once the shows moved to the big clubs, all the jocks and the poseurs showed up and the ritualized violence of early hardcore punk became the everyday violence of the strong preying upon the weak. Counter-cultures all seem to have the same arc- they emerge fighting for survival, then inevitably attract the semi-initiated, or the flat-out uninitiated. At this point, they either mutate into what they started out in opposition to, or they wither and die.

There's a new counter-culture emerging- a tribe, if you will- but it's doing so at such a snail's pace that it seems totally inert. But it may be the slow pace of this evolution that might be its salvation. It may sound insane, but I think something outside of human agency is directing this. Synchromysticism is one manifestation of this process, but is not the only one. We're seeing humanity lumber towards a crisis point, when the basic commodities of modern life are being tapped by more and more of us. Some people might prophesy a Soylent Green type world, but these are usually idealist/liberal types who ignore the basic lesson of history- wars always begin when the granaries begin to run low.

If you believe as I do that all of Creation is essentially a sentient being, and we are component cells of the planet we live on, then it makes sense that this organism is going to activate certain individuals in times like these, in much the same way the immune system activates white blood cells. If you believe all of creation runs on the microcosm/macrocosm principle, then this idea is something that can be easily tested.

What I think is going to emerge is a culture that spreads this message- the Universe is a being, not a machine. Everything is connected, everything works in an unimaginably complex yet laughably simple fashion. Syncronicity, Synchromysticism and all the rest of it are simply amusing object lessons of universal principles in microcosm. The Universe is either generating them or inspiring individuals or groups to generate them to speak to us in a language the entire world has come to understand.

The people whom the Universe uses to express these ideas may well emerge into a new tribe. Or if it all goes wrong, into a priesthood. In my view, this tribe should present itself to the world as curiosities, the roadside attractions of the Information Superhighway. If you choose to answer the call of this tribe, the solemn vow to never take yourself too seriously should your highest calling. The archetype of the Holy Fool should be what you aspire to. Your smile should be your sword. Tell the world about the amazing joke the Universe has been playing on us- sending these trickster demons among us to make us think we're living in a machine, or in some sadistic proving ground. Make fun of the politicians and the preachers and the profiteers, because they're the biggest fools of all.

But just be aware that your lot will be that of all the carnies and actors and fools of history- you'll always be seen as troublemakers and ne'er-do-wells. But the people who move the world forward are usually unloved in their time.

And I'll be there- always the outsider- to egg you on.


  1. Nice post.
    Especially the last section.

  2. Really nice thoughts, and inspirational. I love the universe-as-organism comparison. I picked that up from the third Dune novel. And i've had all kinds of thoughts about comparing different parts of reality with different parts of an organism. When you see things from that perspective, it really helps to answer alot of questions. And raises many, many more...

  3. Hey nice post. a couple years ago at the big San Diego Comic Con, I saw a guy selling "Addicted To War" a great comic book analysis of militarism. I asked him how sales were, he said "Lousy; comic book fans generally are into fantasy, not reality" which i thought was sadly true. I've always been a charming outsider too, trying to charm mainstream thinkers into challenging their own trips, often i just end up annoying them.

  4. I know exactly what you mean the Randi-esque "skepticism" in comics land. It's unfortunate, as comics seem to me to be at their best when they're about deep mysteries. But I have to say,It's difficult for me not to see the second half of the post as a wish-fulfillment scenario; The amorphous "we're all "inter-connected" with "Gaia"" line, and we must defeat the big-bad other ( as though a machine-like universe and a "sentient energy" universe are the only options), because we're the "chosen" ones, but we need to do it in ways that are "cool", so we can still get laid and have a good time.
    I'm not saying that I have it all figured out, but I do know that supposed inter-connectedness doesn't square with my personal experience, or my knowledge of human behavior and history. The real schism with me is in this view of life as being on a terminally progressive evolutionary path vs. a cyclical one, which seems to answer a lot more questions than the afore-mentioned.
    This world-view, to me, necessitates a certain level of willingness for confrontation. I'm reminded of your line on the Grassy Knoll podcast about not needing to listen to guys like Alan Watt because they "fill us with fear" and that we essentially need to "adapt" to all of these changes brought on by the elite. Yeah, we would need to adapt if these changes were a part of some grand evolutionary design, but if you don't buy into that view, thier is indeed a reason to be fearful, a reason to shout and fight be very unpopular with the guys at the bar.
    I guess what I'm getting at is that the terminal/evolution worldview seems ready-made for absolute relativism, for casting all principle into abstraction; after all, if "Gaia" knows what's best, who are we to argue?
    I do agree with you that these arch-materialists are demons.

  5. Another great post. I think I know what you mean about the arche-skepticism in comics today. The old definition of the cynic -- knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Seems to fit many of the creative types (I AM talking to you Mark Waid) who you would think have such deep knowledge and respect for the medium, but only seem to cynically undermine it in their actual work. In the end, though, I just don't know how you can be a fan of superheroes and be such a skeptic. As your work well explains, the genre works at a primal level of emotion and inspiration. You can't be a comics fan and not get misty eyed when you see Clark Kent fly for the first time, or when Bruce Wayne's parents are killed. I don't know if a lot of today's "fans" have really lost that emotional connection or are simply hiding it, but it can't persist for long. Us real fans, no matter how irrational we know it to be, still want to believe a man can fly.

  6. Cheers, guys. I think the impulses that motivate comics- that I wrote about in Spandex- are still valid and worthy. Maybe they're just looking for a new place to express themselves.

    And Luke, don't give in to despair. There's a lot of fear mongering out there and not a lot of viable solutions being sold along with it. There are forces at work that are more powerful than any conspiracy.

  7. Speaking as one of those in-their-thirties comicbook fans, may I say that I thought OGWS was one of the best books I've read in ages. You made compelling arguements about the mythic undercurrents existing in the engines driving each major superhero character in the genre, and brought connections to my attention I never would have thought to have made otherwise. If you ever attend any conventions in Canada I'd be proud to shake your hand sir.


  8. re: the food / crops running low = war!; exactly why I reckon the real champs of our time, the true 'counter-culture' (though such labels don't exist there, but whatev.) are the guerilla gardeners, ALF, ELF, the cloudbusters, the biodynamics people, the permaculturalists, the leyline mappers.....the ones that are homing in on the real root causes of all problems and directly addressing them.

    I've often found that when it comes to fictional representations of facts, the most vocal or opinionated of the fanbase do indeed seem to be the least aware of the true science behind anything; they tend to talk in very authoritative tones about solid concepts of mechanistics and other hard sciences, and - for example - would make claims like 'UFOs can't be real because they don't conform to our current known methods of physics';

    they're the antithesis of real science, because they decide in advance of any open investigations of the subject matter whether it's plausible or not - based upon some recently discovered principals of physics (but ignoring many others).

    I get the impression that lots of them think that the fiction came first, then the things it is based upon. They don't seem to realise it's the other way around.

    It's very strange, that the most immersed in entirely virtual worlds are often the least informed about the true nature of the reality they exist in, that their passtimes are created in.
    Anyone would think they'd died and returned already, and brought back the proof of What Lies Beyond, given their Meh attitude.