Doctor Strange is the new normal: & three disturbing thoughts conservatives should be taking seriously about popular culture
Disney is the biggest money-maker in American show-business & the only studio that’s wildly successful in a time of strange technological changes. With movie audiences still decreasing & studios competing over fewer & fewer money-making franchises, there is still success to boast of or to study. At the core of Disney’s influence on America & the world is Marvel, the studio that finally succeeded in turning yesterday’s lovers of comic books into today’s apostles & avant-garde of a new genre of hero fiction.
At this point, what used to be a boy’s or young man’s game, comic books, is the defining movie genre & therefore movie-going or at least movie-viewing experience. This has transformed movies in Hollywood in many different ways: how many movies get made–fewer every year; the average price of a studio picture–constantly rising; who directs or stars in what–more & more prestige actors are bought for popular spectacles, signing contracts for any number of years or sequels; as well as what the popular taste will accept, demand, tolerate, or reject. One wonders whether these productions will not ultimately also take over the Oscars, hitherto a reliable bastion of unpopular spectacles.
The most recent such success is Dr. Strange, a new Marvel offering that boasts Oscar-winning or nominated actors young & old. Thus starts a new franchise within the Disney/Marvel franchise; thus will come new work for other franchises within that big franchise, announced, as usual, in a post-credit scene; & thus is created a new object of curiosity & anticipation for the American audience &, as soon as the inevitable sequel comes, mainly for the worldwide audience.
Dr. Strange is played by Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes on British TV, in an acclaimed series in which he keeps calling himself a high-functioning sociopath. Now, he plays another such, a neurosurgeon who treats people with contempt, attempts daring life-saving procedures on a lark, unfailingly, & ends up a hero with enormous powers. He has an incredibly luxurious apartment that looks like a penthouse; he’s chasing after a very pretty girl; he’s got exorbitantly expensive watches & an exorbitantly expensive car; & he hunts for new cases to improve his sterling reputation while driving his super-scientific car at shocking speeds up a mountainside, in the rain, dodging traffic. Then he dies.
The vulgar show of oligarchic excesses powered by modern science is no morality play, except in the sense that such characters are redeemed, or at least popularized. Death is not an option for such a successful man, whose will is also indomitable. Does that make him a tyrant? No, a hero! His lovely torso is exposed for the public to admire, consequently, in our latter-day imitation of the Athenian love of ephebs. Why should a neurosurgeon be a male model? Why not! If you want a fantasy of a man who acquires just about every power he hungers for without having to bother about almost any other human being, this is the ticket for you!
Is the effectual truth of this kind of spectacle that the many millions of people who want to see delightful, amazing computer-generated graphics have so submit in some implicit way to tech oligarchy? Is it that people who really do believe tech oligarchy is the future are made to feel more responsible for the security of other people, who, of course, have no say in it whatsoever? The beauty of the spectacle conceals many unpleasant things conservatives should face in this time of social and political turmoil.