Friday, July 30, 2010

KaraokeFanboy Weekly #3: The "When the Walls Fall Down" Issue

KaraokeFanboy Weekly vol. 1, no. 3: "When the Walls Fall Down" Issue


I decided to do something differently this issue and precede the content with my video of choice, so perhaps you could listen to the music while you read. I'm not going to promise a Dark Side of the Rainbow experience, but if something you see happens to synchronize thematically with something you hear, I'll definitely take credit for it.


I spotted this piece of "urban art" a few weeks ago in downtown Phoenix and snapped a picture of it -- good thing, too, because it's since been covered. When I lived in Fullerton, I was wildly amused by taggers' monikers; around my apartment complex, punks dubbing themselves "TipC" and "Book" marked their territory all over the place, and I grew to appreciate the irony of their alter egos. Was their graffiti less gang-related and more social commentary, emphasizing the rampant drug use and illiteracy afflicting today's youth? Only their homies know for sure.

In this case, the message is clear: "2lavery" is a double-edged sword. On one hand, in the simplest terms, we define slavery as being forced to do something you don't want to do. Yet, perceiving it from another perspective, slavery is also being in a position where you can't do something you want to do. I presume the young person that tagged this fence hasn't been forced into slavery as we know it historically, yet he undoubtedly feels trapped by his surroundings, essentially enslaved to circumstance.

I don't necessarily condone rampant graffiti, but I can only imagine, in my own romantic way, that, to that young man, the hissing of that spray paint can sounded like the clanging of a sledgehammer against the bricks around his neighborhood, the strokes of those lines like the seams of a tunnel he's slowly but assuredly digging to escape. The truth is in his tool of choice. It's a spray can . . . and someday, maybe he will.


Ever since 2006, I've been following news that comic book writer/artist Frank Miller was producing a new graphic novel called Holy Terror, Batman, featuring the Caped Crusader against Al Qaeda. Despite my mixed feelings on Miller's latest works, I was looking forward to this one; his best (and arguably the best) Batman story ever, The Dark Knight Returns, contrasts Batman's world with the realities of the Reagan era Cold War, and I thought Holy Terror might parallel those possibilities in a contemporary context. Alas, according to Robot 6, apparently he'll complete the project sans Batman, replacing the Dark Knight with a new superhero called the Fixer. To paraphrase, Miller feels the story pushes Batman too far outside of the realm of his inherent character, which makes sense considering how different the comic book world is from the real world . . .

. . . which I thought was the point. Miller's taking the lazy way out, and I think I know why. In comics, at least traditional superhero comics, battles between good and evil always have a definitive end. If the Joker plans to poison the Gotham City reservoir, when Batman foils the plan and throws the Clown Prince of Crime back into Arkham Asylum, the story's over. In real life, our war against terror could go on generations . . . and Miller couldn't find a way to let an iconic character like Batman cope with that. If Al Quaeda attacked Gotham, and Batman pursued them to the Middle East and even confronted and defeated Osama bin Laden, it certainly wouldn't end the terrorist leader's evil influence in the world -- and Batman would have to live with that. Further, the reader would have to live with that, an uncomfortable prospect for any writer/artist hoping to make a statement on a contemporary issue.

Personally, I was eager to see if Batman would conclude that vigilantism can't combat terrorism, if he'd resign to America's perpetual occupation in Iraq as a viable, temporary solution. The Dark Knight has fought plenty of eclectic villains and won by deconstructing their dementia, but he's never fought an ideology with global influence. Now, with a new, throw-away hero in Batman's stead, Miller can do whatever he wants without fear of consequence, without shattering the context of a character's limitations. The Fixer can shoot bin Laden in the head, end of story. Even if Batman were capable of such assassination, he would know that it wouldn't solve the problem of terrorism overall, and now Miller is free of that burden. I'll reserve judgment until I read the story, but I'm certainly approaching it now with more reservations than before.

On long road trips to Comic Con or the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco, my small press partner Brent and I would often pontificate on what we'd do with landmark characters like Superman and Batman had we a year at the reigns of their respective comics. For Batman, we brainstormed a series of short stories emphasizing the weaknesses of his vigilante-style war on crime; one of my contributions was a tale called "Slaves and Masters," in which Batman combats prostitution. If Gotham City is really as bad as they'd lead us to believe, prostitution would have to be a rampant issue, yet I've never read a story that tackles it directly. In the end, Batman would realize that a pimp's psychological hold over a prostitute isn't as easy to break as the guy's jaw might be. While Bats saves one woman from the lifestyle, he certainly can't save them all -- the problem is too deeply rooted in the city's infrastructure, and indeed in history itself. At the end of the story, Alfred tries to console Batman and unwittingly challenges our hero to reevaluate their relationship . . .

ALFRED: Is there anything I can fetch for you, Master Bruce?
BATMAN: No, thank you, Alfred . . . Actually, there is one thing.
ALFRED: Yes, Sir?
BATMAN: It's just Bruce. No more "Master." From now on, just -- call me Bruce.
ALFRED: . . . Of course . . . Bruce . . .

The lesson, the one Miller is so deftly dodging, is sometimes we have to solve the problem at home before we venture abroad.


Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention what's been happening in my own backyard this week, namely the SB 1070 protests in downtown Phoenix. I've been reevaluating my mentality on the issue since the debate began months ago, and this week I realized that pundits and broadcast commentary have been analysing the issue in a terribly impersonal way. I certainly understand -- and often demand -- objective reporting, but the way certain news personalities talk about immigrants is the way parents sometimes talk about their children, like they weren't in the room. They're here. They're listening. They need to be included in the conversation, whether you condone their presence here or not. Acknowledging their plight to leave Mexico may just open the doors for a process that enables them to achieve citizenship legally and expediently someday.

Until that day arrives, I wrote a piece for the SB 1070-themed night at Conspire Open Mic last month (where I'll be the featured poet this Wednesday, August 4).

Immigrant Envy

I envy the so-called illegal immigrant,
because I've never so wanted to somewhere
that I'd endure the distinction: "illegal."
My very presence, a crime,
any participation, a threat,
the prejudice, preferable to where I've come from.
I envy his potential for perpetual appreciation,
the realization that any moment could be his last.
I've never had a dream so dire,
I preserved it through nightmare,
pursued it in every waking hour,
under high desert suns that rise and set like a pendulum,
ticking to kingdom come
or kingdom, come to me,
whoever gets there first.
I envy the illegal immigrant,
because I've never done anything so wrong
I had rights worth fighting for,
and I've never done anything so right
I was the only one left --
a man without a country,
outside legality,
fodder for pop culture punditry,
no family,
just fueled to the death by envy
to have what others were born with.
I envy him,
his ability to say,
It's totally worth it.


Check KaraokeFanboy Press for the latest in stuff I've self-published, and some local events I'm participating in around Phoenix.

Can't write anymore. I'm hitting the wall.
Russ a.k.a. KaraokeFanboy

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