THIRD-RATE VILLAINS

A devoted comic book fan explained to me that the biggest issue with making a good series of films based on Batman is that other than The Joker, most of the villains suck. The Joker is #1 and once he's gone the drop-off to #2 and beyond is huge. Since the end of the Cold War, American foreign policy (and the military-industrial economy) has had the exact same issue.

The USSR was a great Villain. Americans and their elected leaders could turn the USSR into whatever they wanted, and the Soviet leaders were generally dyspeptic enough to confirm our fears. The (second) Bush administration certainly tried to turn al-Qaeda and then Iraq into the same thing but even people who go through the motions of believing it…they have to know. They must know. They have to know in their heart of hearts that despite al-Qaeda's capacity to execute some genuinely horrific attacks, it's just not the same. Discounting the 15-20% of the population who believe literally anything Fox News spits at them, there's no amount of squinting that can make al-Qaeda look like an existential threat to the U.S. (Oddly enough, the same people who claim that argue that Islamic terrorists are cave-dwelling camel fuckers, and the contradiction speaks to how implausible it is to conceive of them as supervillains. But I digress.)

Now we are going through the same song and dance with ISIS and the overwhelming lack of real interest in or attention paid to the current situation is indicative of how serious we perceive their threat. Sure, they can do all of the things that Modern Terrorist magazine recommends for groups with ideological fervor and minimal resources – maximum shock value tactics like execution videos and post-firefight blood and gore images – but let's be serious here. It's fitting that the group sounds like a third-rate Connery era Bond villain because even by the standards of terrorist/paramilitary organizations they're not terribly impressive. Despite the intense effort by the media to hype them into a suitably terrifying nemesis, very few people who aren't Senators from South Carolina or Texas honestly think "ISIS is coming, the end is near." I mean, what is the narrative? It was at least plausible to think that the USSR could (but wouldn't) launch a nuclear sneak attack in our sleep; is anyone putting the kids to bed with dire warnings that ISIS is going to swoop into the suburbs and blow up the three bedroom ranch?

They sure do pose a threat to private security contractors and certain kinds of international aid workers. That'll give the kids nightmares.

39 thoughts on “THIRD-RATE VILLAINS”

  • Monkey Business says:

    The fan can't be that devoted, because Batman's Rogues Gallery is one of the best in comics. Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Catwoman, Ra's Al Ghul, Bane, Poison Ivy… While Joker is unquestionably the best of the bunch, the rest of them aren't slouches either.

    The real issue is that DC has no idea what to do with anyone not named The Joker, which is a shame because they're great characters.

    Nerdy aside aside, your point stands. The USSR was a great villain, the Joker of international villains. North Korea, Iran, Al Qaeda, Islamic State… They're the B-List. Still good, but not great.

  • As s child, I actually DID have nightmares about Communists. Or, I should say, "Communists". I thought they were some sort of evil dinosaurs.

    My parents (Republicans at the time) thought it was the cutest thing ever to get me to say my greatest fear was Communists to other adults…

    But I turned out all right. Now I AM one!

  • Svnski: Bunny and Shonkie are just upset that it was Capt Eyebrows who got to play Wonder Shrub's Blunder Boy. Though they'd be more like the Corys in "Lost Boys".

    They also wish they'd been at the reins during the Ronbo and Ironknickers Show. Thus explaining why ALL of their policies are aimed at doing in three what they took 30 to accomplish.

    If China could be asked or if India could get its $#*+ together they could pose a plausible threat. However, I don't think they'd see the US as being in the game anymore—sort of like those parallel story lines showing a geriatric Bat Dude chasing a teenage villain with his cane and being mocked by the kid—and focus on an arms/economic race against each other while we play lackey or cabana boy to one or the other.

  • I can think of a few "liberal" bloggers who have promptly shit their diapers at the supposed threat of IS/ISIS/ISIL though. It's like 9/11 hardwired them into perpetual WATB.

  • The "You're simultaneously an ineffectual wuss and a hyper-dangerous threat to human [by which I mean white Christian] civilization" trope is very common among wingnuts. They accuse Obama of it all the time: You're a mom-jeans-wearing-islamo-fascist-weakling-terrorist! Back in the day when I used to blog regularly, I had a regular troll-visitor who used to make this move all the time. Finally I asked him how both could be true; how could I simultaneously be a "[bleeping] liberal [denigrating term for female body part]" and a dangerous traitor? His answer?

    Doublethink is a powerful thing.

  • Well, certainly not an existential threat to the USA but perhaps to their local enemies. And the great danger is not that ISIS specifically will build a terrible Caliphate or that they invade America. In fact I would not be surprised if this specific group were gone by the end of the decade. But what will be in their place?

    The real danger is that there will simply be a continually spreading area of failed states ruled by the changing local warlords.

    We know how it started, but how to reverse that process? That is what nobody really seems to have figured out.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    To maintain control of the feeble sheeple's minds you must be ready at a moment's notice to make ANY and EVERY thing into an existential threat to America and its precious Heartland.

    So, in recent weeks, they've switched from ISIS coming to behead us all, to some disease from the deepest DARKIEst part of Africa, which will kill us all by turning our insides into bloody goo.
    BE AFRAID!!!

    How these poor folks got this way, and live in a constant state of fear, hatred, and bigotry, I don't know.
    Check that.
    Yes I do!!!
    They're stupid and ignorant bigots who are suckers for grifters telling scary stories.

    Maybe Jesus will save them.
    I wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Oy…
    That should be 'feeble-minded' in the first sentence.

    I know none of you give a wet Hershey-squirt, but I do.
    Don't ask me why.

    Y kent oui haz "Edit?"

  • Well, when I see a story such as this, in which a dude got fired for complaining about his Comcast service (he doesn't work for Comcast, he made his complaint to them regarding their service, and Comcast contacted his employer to "discuss" the complaint) I begin to suspect that what Fox News and other right-wing mouthpieces want to do is get ISIS and other furr-eh-ners set up as the new villains so as to avoid getting that fate, as the ones supporting an oligarchy in which any poor schmuck can get fired for any reason and a new aristocracy is created in which 1% of the population controls 95% of the wealth and 100% of the political power.

    Also, Isis is the name of an Egyptian goddess. Some people have or have had cats named Isis. It's awfully hard to take seriously a bad guy with such a pretty name.

  • Oy…
    That should be 'feeble-minded' in the first sentence.

    I know none of you give a wet Hershey-squirt, but I do.
    Don't ask me why.

    "Feeble sheeple's minds" actually worked very well.

  • Hell-O, people! ISIS is easy for uneducated Americans to spell and pronounce, unlike al Qaeda, and it *only* functions if there is not much substance. If there were a substantial threat or meaningful body of information, it couldn't be spun and woven to suit the purposes of those who profit from fear in the news, politics, and military machines, on both the right and left sides of the aisle.

    Here's the gig, though: this weak spot we have, currently being exploited by the fear mongers, is real. Terrorism as a tool is one we don't know how to handle effectively, and it's one we don't have a clear philosophical response that can guide us. Yes, yes, victims of violence have the moral high ground, but the historical ways we've gone to war do not apply here. I think some of the fear of helplessness is the active ingredient, if you will, in the larger horse pill we are being asked to swallow.

  • Any melonhead would have long ago identified America as having narcissistic personality disorder with sociopathic tendencies. I mean, like pastor dad Stephen Collins, all one need do is look at all the underage or underprotected nations we have molested.

    And so, like Batman, having this batshit insanity to mainpulate and take advantage of, it is SO EASY for anyone who wishes to fuck with us to trigger our psychoses and neuroses.

    Shit, we ALMOST got the Soviet Union to bomb us on several occasions with our blind halfwitted fuckery. So, bin Laden had a very easy task to perform: "get 'em bit by a mosquito (Twin Towers) and watch 'em go apeshit wasting monies hosing down the room with DDT. Beautiful!

  • Australia has gone onto a "high" terrorist alert over this shit. They have removed all the rubbish bins from train stations in Melbourne. No kidding.

    Of course the reason for this is not ISIS, but domestic politics: the Federal Govt just handed down a budget so mean-spirited, so retarded and so hypocritcal that even Australians noticed.

    The subsequent drawn-out attention and public discussion had to be stopped, so we invented terrorism.

  • The real danger is that there will simply be a continually spreading area of failed states ruled by the changing local warlords.

    Alex, at first I thought you meant post-secession Texas…Florida…North Carolina…

  • "Now we are going through the same song and dance with ISIS"

    What do you mean 'Now?'

    We are at war with ISIS, we have always been at war with ISIS.

  • Q: Could we one day live in a world without threats?
    A: No, no – we're not ready for that. It's far too threatening.
    Q: We need our threats. They're part of our way of life.
    A: But there are those who would take away our threats.
    Q: Because they hate our way of life.
    A: And they are the greatest threat of all.
    Q: Are they in China? Is China a threat?

    From of course:
    http://fafblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/q-our-threatiest-threat.html

  • My problem with the cold war positioning vs. current positioning is that in the cold war we did what 2 relatively equal sized nations had done for hundreds/thousands of years…we bitched about eachother, tried to get friends on our side, & avoided any direct conflict that would be catastrophic to either side. These are all fairly sensible actions.

    Now faced with a clear inequality in our "enemies" we're following the Israeli methodology of slaughtering any/everything in site and claiming the moral high ground at every opportunity. I shouldn't pick on Israel here as I'm sure that many regional 'superpower' nations have done this throughout the years (likely Egypt, Rome, Greece, certainly multiple Chinese dynasties, etc.) It was likely the default position from 0-1900 or so, but in a global world it should not be tolerated.

  • So is it art (comic books) imitating life (geopolitics) or the reverse? Certainly, there is something more than a little cartoonish about trumped-up external threats and the way the U.S. responds to them. The creation and hyping of boogeymen to instill fear is a rather old trope. Some say it’s as old as the Catholic Trinity, where the 3-in-1 conundrum wasn’t truly effective until Satan was invented to represent the dark side. Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate directed at Goldstein in the novel 1984 is a more modern version.

    Your analysis doesn’t go far enough, though. Although modern software and communications have made it possible for third-rate villains to adopt first-rate production values for their scare tactics, the real threat goes barely acknowledged, which is that we have become our own monsters — worse in many ways than any others out there. The comic strip Pogo observed this six decades ago with the memorable phrase, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  • My favorite Menchen quote:

    "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins"

  • I don't know about this. I'd say Al-Qaeda and its spiritual heirs were/are a quite successful existential threat.

    Al-Qaeda spent, what?, $2 million? blowing up the World Trade Towers & damaging the Pentagon, and the US has spent $2 trillion and counting trying to make itself feel better, and has deep-sixed its Constitution.

    I know. Al-Qaeda was just the virus. It's our own immune system that burned us up with fever. But it hardly matters. It's still an existential threat, at least until we get our heads out of where the sun don't shine.

  • Our wingnut congressman from the southern part of the state, Steven "I'm and idiot and happy about it" Pearce, stated this past weekend that ISIS was going to partner with drug cartels and come kill us in our beds. No, I am not at all kidding. This asshole is going to be re-elected, too.

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  • My thinking is that if ISIS (insert Archer joke here) were a real threat to anyone we or our "allies" in the mideast really gave a damn about, the Turkish and or Israeli armies or hell, Hezbollah even, would be kicking their asses RIGHT NOW. The "war" on ISIS is nothing but a figleaf to dismember Syria, a goal the US and British governments were unable to sell their legislatures or publics on about this time last year.

  • "The real danger is that there will simply be a continually spreading area of failed states ruled by the changing local warlords."

    I agree with Alex SL on this.

  • And you have to ask how many of those "aid workers," "contractors," and "journalists" were, in reality, CIA operatives. That's the way The Company has operated since it was founded.

  • Death Panel Truck says:

    When I hear "ISIS," I think of Joanna Cameron. Saturday mornings in 1975-76. Ya hadda be there.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    When I hear "ISIS," I think of Joanna Cameron. Saturday mornings in 1975-76. Ya hadda be there.

    I keep thinking of Sterling Archer, Malory and Cyril, myself.

  • Schmitt trigger says:

    In the early 70s, the rock group Steppenwolf had a hit record: Monster.
    You may want to search its lyrics, you'll see that the more the things change the more they remain the same.
    The government uses the same scare tactics to maintain control of the masses.

  • Major Kong Says:
    October 8th, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    "Current Israeli policy fairly closely mirrors our treatment of the Native Americans back in the day."

    No, we did the 'demographic adjustment' much faster. However, we had far, far, *far* fewer internal or external constraints.

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