Tuesday, April 24, 2018

This Frightened, Wounded Animal Called Civilization (Black Monday)

Probably Regan.
I don’t want to write this entry. Putting aside that I don’t feel equipped to cover this subject (but then, when has that stopped me), real life events make me not want to cover this moment in history at this time. Specifically, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” was signed into law last Friday. So given that Black Monday was a moment in history wherein the stock market faced its largest decline in history due to a number of factors including certain aspects of business not being regulated, an event that damaged numerous nation’s economies, I’d much rather talk about literally anything else.

So instead of talking about that, I’m going to cover a minor theme within Kraven’s Last Hunt: class warfare! Now this isn’t a major theme of the text (hence why I’m covering it here as opposed to the Kraven’s Last Hunt entry), in fact it would be generous to consider it a subtext. But it’s there nonetheless and the text does make some acknowledgements to this concept, mainly in the opening monologue where Kraven complains about how the Lenins and the Trotskys ruined his childhood life as an aristocrat under the czar, thus leading to his parents dying slow, horrible deaths (Yes father, I shall become a capitalist). But that’s pretty much all that’s there explicitly.

The thematic elements then must come through the implications of Kraven killing off Spider-Man. With the plausible exception of the most recent run and the occasional parallel Earth, Peter Parker and the other Spider-Men has always been defined by their status as working class heroes. Within this story alone, we find Peter living in a bug infested apartment that can barely fit himself, let alone his wife. It’s Spartan in its design, contrasting with Kraven’s mansion, which is full of gothic candle lit corridors, extravagant bookcases, and an entire cathedral that exists solely so Kraven can have a casket for Peter to be buried in. However, there’s a hole in Kraven’s heart that all his wealth and power can’t ever fill.

Given this, it should come as no surprise that Kraven tries to fill said hole by shooting Spider-Man’s head off. Given the recent tax bill, we should be well aware how the rich and powerful feel about those who work for a living (at this point, I should probably start quoting Leonard Cohen songs or something [Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich]). In many ways, the history of the world can be seen through the lens of some rich person thinking to themself (ok, fine: himself), “How can I prevent everybody else from being richer than me?” But more importantly is the question of “How do I prevent the poor from killing me?”

For the latter, the answer is typically by scapegoating some other group of people: the Jews, the Queers, the Blacks, the Muslims, the Mexicans, the Orcs, etc. Now, I am not suggesting rich people cause racism. Nor is the rich and powerful immune to racism and attempt to purge the world of the Other out of a rational desire not to die (you can rationalize anything if you set your mind to it). What I am suggesting is that the people in power tend to prefer a narrative where the poor are killing each other to the ever growing in popularity meme of Eat the Rich. The tax bill is just another in a long line of alternatives to racism the rich have provided to solve this pressing concern: Kill the Poor and Get Paid for it too.

But at the same time, there’s this sense of obvious failure to these schemes of monetary and social gain. Let’s look at a famous example: The South Seas Bubble. Back in the 1800’s, England was in debt mostly due to its rather problematic need to declare war on... EVERYONE!!!! The debt was so large that they’re still paying it off. To solve this problem, England created a trading company that would go to the South Seas to get various spices. It would be creatively titled The South Seas Trading Company. There was just one problem: the South Seas was controlled by Spain, whom England was at war with. So end the war with Spain, right. Nope. See, England rather inexplicably had allies in this war who were none to happy England up and surrendered. Furthermore, without their allies to back them up and the fact that they surrendered, England was in no place to negotiate terms of trade. In the end though, they were able to get one ship to go to the Spanish ports of the South Seas… per year. The English people were promised revenues akin to the Honorable East India Company (which sent out fleets of ships per month). Rather than tell the people this was doomed to failure (if they did, the people would figure out how much in debt they were in and decide Eating the Rich was a good idea), the South Seas Trading Company lied about the profits they were making (in reality, losing) and was issued the ability to sell the equivalent of half the stocks in England and kept being made bigger and bigger instead of investigating this institution (unsurprising given King George I himself was governor of the South Seas Company). The Trading Company had their hands in all sorts of places from creating fake news stories about how the Jacobite pretenders to the throne were captured to getting Jonathan Swift to create propaganda for them to getting noted Whig Sir Robert Walpole and the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill locked into the tower of London. Eventually, like many a business too big to fail, the bubble burst, nearly taking the English government along with it were it not for the efforts of numerous politicians most inexplicably noted historical equivalent to Kevin Bacon, Robert Walpole. In the end, most of the important people managed to stay afloat.

And that’s not even scratching the surface of the madcap schemes that made up the South Seas Bubble. What’s notable about these schemes is that a lot of them succeeded via luck and the ones that didn’t backfired. Putting aside the obvious failure of the situation that can be seen through the lens of hindsight, one could argue a subconscious attempt at sabotage where we typically argue in favor of genuine idiocy on the parts of people dumb enough to think they rule the world. And while the latter is typically true, it doesn’t disprove this subconscious sabotage. The damage done was only to the unimportant people.

You know, this talk of important and unimportant people is getting me thinking of a play I once saw for a class in High School. I don’t recall it’s name, nor the other play we saw that day, but I do remember a few details. It was a one-act play about a rich man about to have a party. He wants to have the invitations typed up, so he hires a typist to do so. When she arrives, the man is shocked that this woman was a former lover of his. They were to be married, but she inexplicably ran off without a word. Feeling a bit smug about their respective positions, the man introduces his ex to his current trophy wife, though the woman pays him no mind. He talks about his importance within society and how she is a mere typist who makes 10 cents (or pence, I forget which) per word. But she still acts like he meant nothing to her. Finally, he snaps and asks her directly why she left such a powerful, influential, and loving man. She responds that he never loved her, or even himself. For all his power and wealth and status, he wasn’t happy. I forget the exact details of her claim; though she does bring up how he didn’t earn the money he now has whereas her meager 10-cent per word gig gives her purpose. In the end, he’s disheartened to the point where the typist gives him weak words of encouragement, telling him the same sound bites of status he told her. He agrees and instantly forgets about the shocking revelation about the pointlessness of his life. The typist leaves, having completed her job, the man prepares for the party, and the wife contemplates being a typist.

At the time, I didn’t care for the play. I felt that it was a bit mean to the guy, what with me having the belief that all people are owed happiness. I much preferred (and indeed, still prefer) the other play we saw, about a man visiting an aging actress and having a conversation about performativity and aging that ended with the actress revealing herself to be full of life, comparing herself to Ariel (of The Tempest). But in the years since, I have grown a fondness for that play about the hollowness of capitalism.

To tie it back to Kraven’s Last Hunt, Kraven too has this unhappiness. For all his wealth and power, his ability to conquer the avatar of the Spider that haunts the world and killed his parents, his claims of fulfillment, there is still a lacking in him, something that prevents him from living with being fulfilled. When he reaches the greatest victory in his war with the Spider, Kraven’s only response is to kill himself.

Conversely Peter, who lacks the wealth that Kraven has, finds fulfillment not through a single goal, but through the act of helping other. Be these people career criminals in need of a casket and a place to bury the dead, a wife who fears for her husband’s safety, or even a cannibal in need of therapy to curb his urges. Peter doesn’t need the money to make him happy, but to keep a roof over his head, food in his belly, and medicine for his ailing aunt.

Peter has his off days, no doubt. The times when he’d prefer to just lie down and die or give up and never help another person. But when those times come, he always bounces back the moment he hears a cry for help (Wealth and fame, he’s ignored is a core part of his best theme song for a reason). Kraven has none of this, only wealth and power. Without that drive, without that need to show he’s better than some punk on the street, he acknowledges the uselessness of his existence and shoots his brains out.

But then the question comes: why shoot himself when Kraven could just attempt to use his resources to help others? After all, he does believe that every age, and indeed every person, has his or her own Spider to overcome. The text does provide Kraven a history of mental health issues, but speaking from experience what’s helped me in the long run is finding a new purpose in life when the old one’s done. Why not help them liberate themselves from their Spiders? Simple, because of the first question: How do I prevent people from getting richer than me? One of the easiest ways to do this is not to be altruistic with your money (this was an era where the mantra Greed is Good was the core belief of the 1% and Ayn Rand is Still Popular amongst that crowd [though I hear some of them have gotten into Nick Land since the election]). Fund an operation to destroy a single superhero once and for all, and then take its place as a grim crime fighter who brutalizes his enemies and gets results? Sure. Systematically help those impoverished by their Spiders? Are you out of your mind, that’s Socialist Commie talk!

As the years have shown, the rich believe that there are only two ways of living: getting richer or death. They refuse to acknowledge the possibility that they could be merely middle class or dare I say, working class. They’d rather die than change to such a radical degree. To be even compared to even the exceptional God’s Poor, is an insult they can’t bare. They’d rather die than be equal to the poor because they don’t want the world to change to such a degree that they have to acknowledge their own lacking. Then again, it’s probably more complicated than that.

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble.
Everybody knows what you’ve been through.
From the bloody cross on top Calvary,
To the beach of Malibu.
Everybody knows it’s coming apart.

(Next Time: …Death, and The Simpsons)

[Photo: The Black Monday Murders #7 by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker]

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