I confess I’m a fan of the television series, Big Bang Theory. The 30 minute program centers on scientists who are captivated by comic book heroes. Sexual gags aside, the program exudes a childlike innocence, not dissimilar, I suppose, from the curiosity a scientist feels when probing the mysteries of the universe. That capacity to wonder and to laugh, while not unique to humans, does seem to come to us factory installed — unlike darker aspects of our character, like suspicion and cynicism. When a baby laughs, we laugh, too, or smile, at least. The sound calls to our inner child. We remember the delight in surprise.
John Cleese, of Monty Python legend, says surprise is crucial to laughter because it reflects “…something in the human condition that you hadn’t spotted yet.” (“People,” The Week, October 6, 2017, pg. 10.) Of course, fear also depends upon surprise. The skeleton that leaps from a closet in a darkened room is an example. In my case, I live in constant fear of Donald Trump. Each time he conducts himself in a manner that is lewd, crude, or cruel, I suck in my breath. That he can talk cavalierly of censuring the press or beginning a nuclear holocaust strikes me as unimaginable in a leader of the free world. Yet, no matter how low he sinks today, tomorrow he will surprise me again.
But this blog isn’t about Donald Trump. What set me along this line of thought was an article by Devin Leonard. (Pow! To the People,” Bloomberg Busnessweek, October 2, 2017, pg. pg. 78.) In it, he explores the historic competition between Marvel Comic Books, creators of introverted heroes like Spiderman, and its competitor, DC, originators of less complex heroes like Batman and Superman. That Leonard distinguishes the two companies by the angst, or lack of it, in their heroes is interesting, but I’m fascinated by their similarities, particularly when we compare them to comic book characters like Little Lulu, Mutt and Jeff and Nancy and Sluggo, my comic book favorites.
Innocence is the tie that binds. Whether the story is about good triumphing over evil or children learning life lessons, comic book characters assure us that good exists. Take Lucy and Charlie Brown, for example. We laugh each time she holds the football in place for Charlie Brown to kick. We know she’s going to pull the ball away at the crucial moment. Her trick doesn’t surprise us. We’re waiting for it. What makes us laugh is Charlie Brown’s belief that Lucy can be trusted. We don’t think less of him because he is naïve. His faith is endearing. His faith surprises us with memories of our buried innocence. We all want to believe a better world is possible. That hope is a light no passing president can extinguish.
(Originally posted 10/24/17)