I would be interested in a study of how contemporary serialized superhero comics effect invested readers’ brain chemistry, how people deal with the existence of a narrative, running in parallel to their own lives, possessing higher stakes, as I assume most readers are middle-class enough that their lives are somewhat stable, consist of ups and downs, peaks and valleys, acts of horrific violence meant to make the acts of heroism that follow seem greater, almost in replication of the highs and crashes of drug use, the greater amounts of spectacle and raw sensation necessary to bring one back to a state of “normalcy,” an imagined childhood state that nostalgia is felt for.
I know that there are not actually that many people who read these comics. I know that the majority of the people I see everyday, riding the bus, looking unhappy, probably don’t. But the pattern playing out makes me feel sick to think about, even from my distance. These narratives of hero and villain, subsumed into an overall horror of cyclical violence, can be found in the news as well, if you are invested in partisan politics. The highs are increasingly rare- if you are left-leaning, please recall the slight relief you felt at Democrats election at the conclusion of this past election cycle, and then remember the pit of despair you now live in, at all the ways your civil liberties continue to dwindle.
Narrative surrounds us. Storytelling alters consciousness. The stories that are sold to us should be held up to the light of inquiry, for their possible narcoticizing and addictive effects. I am downright certain they do not all serve the function of making us more empathetic to our fellow man. Or woman: It is pretty crazy to see the way misogyny enforces itself, either via violent/sexualized imagery in comics or through the way revulsion and misunderstanding of women’s bodies dictates political discourse.
What’s interesting, also, is how hard it is to write plot, when encountering all this history, all this backstory of events that brought us to where we are today that cannot be undone, how hard it is to find a place to start a story that will come to a conclusion. I discovered this in college, trying to write fiction: I did not know, really, how people acted to bring about change in their lives, too large are the systems we are stuck in, too dumbfoundingly false the Horatio Alger myth. I found it hard to find a job, hard to do anything that could theoretically bring about an improvement in my life. Plotting fiction, having multiple characters interact with each other, all serving their own interests, felt machiavellian and sinister, an impossibility anathema to my character. I talked about this with another student who had the same problem, writing stories where things happened. I am past this point now and can sort of tell a story that almost has a plot. I have gotten jobs through friends I’ve made, and sort of felt accomplished; and now I think in terms of characters, and hold the new people I meet at a distance even without me consciously knowing I’m doing it, trying to probe them and figure out who or what they are, trying to be a human being, while they in meta-awareness see themselves in third person and are reticent to have the strong and present voice that is the fount of American literature and personal charm. Perhaps we feel limited by the self for all the multitudes we contain.
Yet still somehow I walk around and look at people’s faces and feel like I maybe am a little bit less defeated than most, and think that maybe it’s because of the edifying qualities of art, music, film, comics, self-expression, genuine communication, that through these routes I am sometimes spoken to like a human being, these things that feel like gifts even though I have to pay for them, on these margins where there is not enough money at stake to address me merely as a consumer, a hole to fill with slop and pills.