Thursday, March 23, 2006

What if the real world was more like comic books?

Okay, this news article about the FBI dropping the ball before 9/11 irks me so much I may vote in the next elections just to help kick out of office every bonehead who was a part of the rampant culture of incompetence that existed. Oh, some people were not directly associated with the system that allowed such a failure? Too bad, bunkie. You were an active part of the system as a whole and you didn't fix it. You had your chance. Maybe the next guy won't sit on his thumbs. I'm a firm believer that any large industrialized country, for example: America, has the resources to fix their problems (like porous borders) if they really want to. If they don't, then someone is taking steps to ensure that a given situation stays a problem. The only reason why any country allows billions per year in insurance fraud is because someone is getting rich off it. No business that allows such money to be falsely claimed stays solvent unless someone on the back end is getting wealthy by allowing it to happen.

Harry Samit, the FBI agent who arrested Moussaoui three weeks before the deadly airliner hijackings that killed 3,000 people, testified on Monday that agency superiors repeatedly blocked his efforts to warn of a possible terror attack.
As any reader of comic books knows, the lower-echelon grunts in the field are always correct in their suspicions and warnings of disaster. If the Pentagon librarian claims that Dr. Doom is going to sink Manhattan, then the brass better heed the words and call the Super-Buddies in to handle it. This type of anti-hero oracle is a tradition going back hundreds of years that popular media, including comic books, has continued to use and makes use of more often than I'd like. It's an easy, somewhat cliched plot device that creates conflict and suspense while moving the story forwards, even if it is in a predictable manner.

Die Hard, 24, Silkwood, the Bible and Jor-El's warnings to the science council in Superman's origin all utilized the story device. I doubt that there is any fictional series in existence that hasn't used the "I Told You So" premise somewhere in it's run. It even showed up in Star Trek: Voyager once. The cyborg Seven of Nine was convinced that there was a massive conspiracy of malfeasence on the part of the government. It was revealed that the seemingly related events turned out to be innocent and unconnected, because her initial theory was based on a fallacy. Inverting the plot device had the effect of making the whistle-blower appear unbalanced.

The reason it is used so much is that the basic conflict between subordinate and superior allows for drama. The observer is part-conspirator and is made to feel they are in on the secret. It also lets the reader or viewer identify with the character as an outsider...a rebel...even though the character may be an authority figure.

"Barfetta" MAD Magazine #183 (June 1976)

Month after month the foolish guys in charge never heed the warnings of their subordinates and they always come to regret their stubbornness.
"Sir, maybe you shouldn't release Etrigan from the binding spells to talk to him..."
"Silence, Lackey! Now, demon. Since I have just freed you I demand you answer my quest - AAAAARRGH!" (This actually happened in the Byrne series Blood of the Demon)

"Ok. On my order, wake up the Hulk with electric shocks to his testicles and focused gamma rays to the aggression-centers of his brain."
"Uhhh, maybe we shouldn't, Ma'am."
"Just do it! I'm in charge here!"

"Mr. Guardian...Sir? Hal's acting kind of...odd... lately"
"Riiiiiiight. Begone, short-lived one!"
Alien Legion #5 (v1, Dec 1984) is a good example of just this sort of story device.
Of course, in popular entertainment the protagonist always disobeys orders and after being hunted and branded a traitor for a few issues/chapters/hours manages to cut the blue wire just as the timer reaches zero to save the day.

Yet the FBI agent's testimony makes me wonder...What If?

What if Agent Samit leaked the memo to the press?

What if his superior did a better job?

What if the agent jumped the chain of command and yelled until someone listened?

What if the real world was more like comic books?

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