New Year’s Resolution: Self-Care

Most New Year’s resolutions are about things we will do, things we will ask of ourselves.

But I am tired of pouring from an empty pitcher. 

My utter neglect of good and proper self care has negatively impacted me, my wife, and even my daughter, and it is time to fix that.

This is the year. This is the time.

I’ve been doing a good bit of research into self care,  and I’ve come up with some plans for different areas of my life.

I’ll be writing an ongoing series about my efforts this year. 

But for now, this is my public declaration. I will  take better care of myself,  starting now.

Three Reasons I Don’t Like the Third (“Modern Psycho”) Joker

​https://youtu.be/If2RbK9vUhU

If you’re not familiar with the Three Joker Theory (which isn’t really a “theory” in the comics anymore), the videos above and below will get you up to speed. 

Apparently, the three Jokers the comics are actually the first (sadistic master criminal) Joker and two versions of the third  (“psychopath”) Joker, the one from The Killing Joke and the New52 Joker (the one who cut his own face off).

Of course the Silver Age “prankster” “Clown Prince of Crime” Joker is missing.  He’s not grimdark enough for DC.

But that’s not really my complaint. Here are my complaints: 

1) Offensive, shallow, juvenile portrayal of mental illness

For 40 years,  the comics have been “exploring the psychology” of this “mentally ill killer” with little or no understanding of actual mental illness. 

Hey,  let’s have the joker cut his  own face off!  That’s crazy! 

And don’t talk to me about “super sanity.” Mental illness isn’t just some random shock value plot device that can mean whatever the author wants it to.

Constant portrayal of people with mental illness as violent, unpredictable killers adds to the considerable stigma they already gave and makes it harder for them to get help and function in society. 

 2) This Joker is no match for Batman without constant help from the writers  

As we see both The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke, “crazy” Joker isn’t really a match for Batman on his own terms, but rather requires the writers to make the various Bats indecisive and ineffective in order to succeed. 

In The Dark Knight, Batman is almost totally reactive and never drives the narrative.  It’s the Joker’s story. 

In The Killing Joke, Batgirl answers the door and just stand there in shock while the Joker guns her down. Batgirl. Not some random civilian.

Sure, it’s not always this way,  but it’s this way a lot, as best as I can tell. The Modern Joker’s superpower is being the writer’s power fantasy stand in, or mouthpiece to rant about everything they think is wrong with the world. 

Batman doesn’t need the Mobius Chair. I can tell him the Joker’s real name: Gary Stu

3) The Modern Joker is no fun 

In addition to being peurile and offensive, the modern Joker is no fun.

Did anybody watching The Dark Knight feel like the joker was having fun? Was that movie fun at all?  I would answer both questions with a “No.”

Heath Ledger gave a great performance, like a virtuoso tenor singing an unnerving, discordant song with lyrics we’d heard 10,000 times, lyrics that spread misinformation that actually makes life harder for people suffering from mental illness. But hey, what a voice.

I’m not saying we need to go back to the Silver Age prankster,  at least not totally. 

40 years of expectations make that untenable in anything but the most self-consciously retro context (like the upcoming Adam West/Burt Ward/Julie Newman animated movie).

To be recognized and accepted as the Joker, a Joker has to be deadly these days. For better or for worse, that’s the case. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a scary, deadly Joker who doesn’t spread harmful misinformation about people with mental illnesses, who is a match for “Batman at his best,” and who is still fun. 

You just have to go back to the first Joker, and maybe bring in some elements from the second. 

Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 Batman movie was clearly an updated first Joker: a savvy career criminal before he ever became the Joker, his “chemical bath” mostly just took away his fear and inhibitions, making him more dangerous and murderous without sapping his wits.

It took everything Batman had mentally to crack that Joker’s scheme. Even then,  defeating him wasn’t easy.  But at no point did it feel like the writers had to cheat in the Joker’s favor. 

Nicholson looked like he was having fun playing the Joker,  and I certainly had fun watching him. His soundtrack was by Prince, for pete’s sake!

Both Batmanthe Animated Series and The Batman kept their Jokers fun while keeping a surprising amount of menace for a kid’s cartoon. B:TAS even explored deeply dysfunctional and abusive relationships via the new character, Harley Quinn. 

So it certainly is possible. I just don’t think anyone at DC is interested in anything but pop psychology grimdark at this point. 

Come on, guys: Why so serious?

All Things Right and Good

You’re going to reach a point (We all do)

Where you must decide whether you will be right or good.

I know, Jesus never found Himself in such a spot

But he was God made flesh. You and I are not.

And when I reach that point, I want to say:

“I don’t know if this is right.

I don’t know how it fits in with systematic theology

With moral law, with moral codes

But I know how to be good.”

I’ve learned the hard way that right, like rights,

Can be abused, can be abusive:

  • Right and wrong (who decides?)
  • Legal and illegal (who makes the laws?)
  • Winning the argument
  • Contempt for the loser
  • Insiders and outsiders
  • orthodox and heretics
  • Moral panics
  • “They deserve it.”
  • “They would do the same to us.”

These are tools of domination. These are acts of violence

They’re labels and weapons the powerful use to maintain their supremacy

Be it white or male or hetero/cis.

It’s all the same. Power. Money. Control.

The rich men who wield it

The rough men who enforce it

The abuse and domination of women

And the blood of dark-skinned people

And anyone different in religion, sexuality, or creed

The enslavement of millions in for-profit prisons

And the torture of the few with neither trial nor hope

We can be right.

We can be in control.

We can hold the moral high ground

Or we can be good.

Or we can love as Jesus loved.

But we cannot serve both God and mammon.

America: New Jerusalem or Nova Roma?

624px-Flag-of-USA

Which one is America? The shining city on the hill, or the iron-fisted empire?

From a secular perspective, it’s clear that America is an exceptional nation. In technology, medicine, and research of all kinds, we’re world-class. In military might, we are the clear world leader.

We’re wealthy, strong, dominant. Our culture and language penetrates far beyond our borders, and people want to live here so strongly they’re willing to sneak in and live as fugitives.

But what does that mean to those of us who are both Americans and Christians?

What does it mean for the genuine desire among so many American Christians to get back to when America was a Christian nation, a godly nation? What does it mean for the equally genuine belief that America was never a godly nation?

What does it mean for us as citizens of a democracy? What path do we choose? Where do our allegiances lie?

If you see America as a city on a hill, even one that is somewhat fallen, then you see it as a special nation. A nation favored by God and destined to bring the world closer to Christ. In this mindset, it is vital to fight to preserve traditional American values (because they are closer to that original city on the hill) and to fight to enshrine Christian values in the laws of America.

On the other hand, if you see America as more like Rome, a powerful empire that is both good and bad, prosperous and brutal, you feel a separation. It’s not that America isn’t a great nation. It’s that great nations serve the powerful, and sometimes leave destruction in their wake. Jesus didn’t call us to dominate, but to serve.

America was built on African slavery and the destruction and conquest of the Native Americans. But without America, Hitler may have conquered the world. Without America, democracy may never have spread to Europe and beyond.

Evil is wrapped around good, like wheat and chaff. It’s like this in every nation, but the powerful ones especially.

Those of us who are skeptical of the culture wars, the attempts to force America’s laws to conform to our ideas of Christianity, aren’t just lukewarm or wishy-washy. We aren’t all sellouts to popular culture.

We have serious problems hitching our wagons to an Empire as bloody as Rome ever was. We have serious problems fighting to restore America’s morality, because American morality isn’t Christian morality.

We know that people get hurt, our witness gets clouded, and our hearts grow harder when we speak in language of disgust, of enmity, of power.

And we know that power brokers and politicians lap it up. Dollar-sign men who never feared God will speak with the tongues of angels, praying down brimstone, to get our votes.

Worse, perhaps, are the politicians who believe it – uncritically, unquestioningly – that we are right, that God is on our side, that we are justified.  And that those who doubt, or defer, or question are weak and contemptible. And anyone who stands against us deserves whatever they get.

So, America, who are you?

The great empire?

The beast?

The city on the hill?