Friday, July 02, 2010
The Best New God
The recent revelation that Russia had planted spies in America to try to uncover our secrets, and the follow-up revelation that those spies had uncovered "secrets" like you can sell your gold for cash by mailing it to someone, really says something about the way the balance of power and the view of good and evil shifts over time, requiring a reassessment of long-held beliefs, doesn't it?
In other words, let me see if I can't take that news story, conflate its importance and oversimplify it at the same time, then twist all that into some pseudomeaningful garbage to make a point that I was too tired to bring up at dinner. (i.e., business as usual here at The Best Of Everything.)
I will try my best, too, to work in a reference to Paris Hilton, because that can't hurt.
Those Russian spies -- and I think it's cute that Russia continues to spy on the U.S., given that we will gladly tell them just about anything they need to know, if they're willling to filter through all the other junk that we throw onto the airwaves and Internet and in those three magazines that are still being printed because nobody told them to stop -- those Russian spies were here for what, twenty years (Note: I haven't actually read any news stories about the spies, but I did see a blurb on CNNHLNUSRDA that one of them was considered 'hot'), and in that time, the best they could do was send home some memos raising the suspicion that McDonald's secret sauce was just 1000 Island dressing. Meanwhile, some kid with a MacBook is able to hack into an almost-serious vice presidential candidate's email as a joke. That says something about the way power has shifted in our world. Or at least, I'm going to say that it says something about the way power has shifted in our world, and what I'm going to say is this:
It's time to pick a New God.
Not literally, mind you. I'm not sure if I have that authority to call for a new Almighty Election.
Just a New God to play God for us mortals: to be the voice of God, to talk over certain previews and provide insight into conditions and occasionally to show up in a movie wearing whatever Godlike things we think he/she should be wearing, and do Godlike things.
Every generation gets their own God, the embodiment of what that particular culture and time thinks God should be. And by "every generation" I mean only those generations that I care about, i.e., the modern generations, because prior to modern times being invented, olden people didn't show God in the movies, and Olden People certainly didn't show God in the movies being, you know, a chick.
Or a black guy:
That would have been sacriligious. That's why, for more than 1,970 years, humans refused to portray their God on film as anything. (That, and because film wasn't invented until Thomas Edison accidentally spilled acid on Nikola Tesla, causing Tesla to go mad and invent a giant robot to destroy Edison's Menlo Park laboratory in revenge, an incident that was both remarkable and entirely unrecorded because film hadn't been invented yet, so nobody would believe William Randolph Hearst when he wrote about it and instead they accused him of trying to incite a war with Spain. That accusation stung so bad that Hearst then invented film, and cameras, and TVs, vowing that the next time Tesla attacked, he'd by God capture it on film and show those heathens. Sadly, Tesla died just weeks after that of an infection caused by his seeing the doctor for indigestion, the cure for which at the time was to remove the stomach surgically without anesthetic. Tesla's death left his greatest creation, the Animatronic Army Of Destructive Clone Robots, unfinished and inoperable...
... or did it? Tune in next week!)
Once we, as a species, realized that we could have God played by actors on film and not be immediately struck down by lightning, we set about rectifying years of having God be a voice over, by casting God as an elderly man who smoked cigars and told vaudeville jokes:
He also wore a sailor hat:
Which explains why Hef does, too:
Which in turn seems to hint that Hef knows something we don't. Are sailor hats magical? Is Hef God? Will Tesla's Animatronic Army Of Destructive Clone Robots be played by a bevy of women in bikinis holding machine guns?
God, I hope so.
Which brings me back to the point: God. That's the point. After George Burns made it abundantly clear to everyone what old white males had been saying for 1,970 years or so -- namely, that God is an old white male -- society seemed to be set with their God. We knew what God looked like and how he sounded and how he would, if necessary, cajole a supermarket manager into spreading His word through the miracle of making it rain in a car. We were done.
But then society had to go and shift. We put two old white men in charge -- George Burns, as God, and Ronald Reagan, as God's emissary here on Earth -- and thought we could wash our hands of things and go back to wondering how on Earth Ric Ocasek could land a superhot model as a girlfriend, even considering that he was a rock star at the time.
But then the Berlin Wall fell, Saddam Hussein turned on us, we all got rich and then poor off things like Beanie Babies and this "Internet" thing and people, for some reason, went nuts over Nirvana and ascribed all kinds of significance to their music because the mumbling nature of it seemed more introspective than Nirvana's predecessors in the music world, the Bee Gees, even though Nirvana ultimately had exactly the same meaning and significance as the Bee Gees, but were less danceable.
Can you strut to "Smells Like Teen Spirit?" No, you cannot. I rest my case.
No, wait, I don't, because I was talking about God, and how, in the 90s, the shaking up of the world demanded that we pick a new God, as the Old White Man model wasn't doing it anymore. Old White Men had messed up the world, had sold arms to Iran or put fluoride in our water or something, and so we turned to the next most obvious choice, an Old Black Man:
And, speaking of things that I'll say really say something, it really says something that America was willing to elect a black man God in 2003, but had to wait until 2008 to elect a black man president. I don't know what, exactly, it says, but it says something. Discuss.
Okay, eyes back on me now. In retrospect, the choice of Morgan Freeman as our new God seems preordained (rightly so!). He'd been working up to that role for years. He was a principal in Lean On Me in 1998. He'd been a judge in Bonfire of the Vanities in 1990, then got elected president himself in 1998's Deep Impact -- so he beat Obama to that, too -- he's been a doctor, a detective, and a messenger, throughout his career, always on an upward climb until he got that final promotion in 2003 and became God, but even before that he was clearly auditioning for the role: he's been a narrator on 20 credited occasions, and generally his voice appears in narrations as the globe spins before our eyes -- so that we see the world from God's perspective and hear Morgan Freeman's voice while we do so.
Morgan Freeman was so perfect as God, in fact, that our society declared him as the only person to be able to play God -- and by our society, I mean "Stephen Colbert stealing my ideas without crediting me."
Yes, if anyone should have a piece of the space station named after them, it's probably me, since I way back when announced that "if you're going to have a God character, at this point, it has to be Morgan Freeman," leading Stephen Colbert to copy me a few months later. (But I'm not bitter; I like Stephen Colbert, whose name I suspect is actually pronounced Col-burt, not Col-bear, because sometimes he'll mutter to himself Come on, Col-burt. I like him and am willing to share his profits, say, 60-40. I get 60.)
Anyway, Stephen Colbert copying from me in the past is not the point today. The point today is that Stephen Colbert will have to copy from me again, because I'm revoking Morgan Freeman's nomination as God.
This is not a step I take lightly, trust me. My responsibility, the solemn undertaking that I am up to here on The Best Of Everything, is one I give serious consideration to while I'm driving into work in the morning and hoping that I have no appointments so I can spend most of the morning reading Doonesbury archives. I am very aware that what I say here affects not just Stephen Colbert's shows six months from now, but also a large part of humanity, some of whom will read my blog and comment anonymously and then when I get home will reveal that they were the person who commented anonymously and will act all mad at me for posting pictures of bikini-clad women, but who will then be embarrassed by the pictures they've downloaded of Landon Donovan. Sweetie's a great wife but she's not sneaky.
And I don't mean affects humanity indirectly, either. I mean affects humanity directly by potentially bringing about the end of the entire universe, as I nearly did one time when I revoked Paris Hilton's nomination as The Best Gossiple, only to have Paris go on a mad whirlwind of publicity-seeking that threatened to create a vortex into which the entire universe would disappear.
(Those posts are taken down now but you can read how narrowly we avoided total destruction in my book Do Pizza Samples Really Exist?, available everywhere they get the Internet.)
So if crossing Paris Hilton nearly destroyed us all, imagine how much more dangerous it can be to revoke God's nomination as God? I worried about that for nearly twenty seconds until I got distracted by the radio reporter saying that Led Zeppelin had probably plagiarized another song, making their entire career now suspect, and distracting me until I got in front of my computer to write this.
I know that revoking Morgan Freeman's Nomination as our God could cause problems, but it's a risk I have to take, because:
(A) Society has shifted again, requiring that we reconsider what it means to be God in our newfangled world of cell phones that don't work properly but we still think they're cool, neurotic harridans recording record albums, vuvuzelas, and the like, and
(B) Morgan Freeman's private life and the rumors about it gross me out.
A gross private life... allegedly... isn't much to worry about if you're Paris Hilton, or anyone else, really, and can actually help you become more famous or get a TV career or something.
But it's no good if you want to be God. We've got to have some standards here, don't we? We can't just let anyone be God, the way they'll let anyone run a Subway franchise. I mean, have you eaten at some of those places? I don't want the universe run with that lack of attention to detail.
So we've let Morgan go, and it's time to pick a new God, one that more accurately reflects the current ideas we as a people have about space and time and the afterlife and our role in the Universe and other things that, although important, generate less reflection from us, on a daily basis, than the question of whether Vienna really did cheat on Jake. And, as usual, it falls on me to do the choosing, because I don't watch The Bachelor, or other popular shows, and the shows I do watch tend to be cancelled quickly, so while I'm probably pretty out of touch with society now that I think about it, I do have time on my hands and it's my blog. So it's up to me.
And I've made my choice. My choice is Michael Keaton.
Michael Keaton is your new God for movies, TV shows, books, magazines, video games, voice-overs, and the like.
Once again, the choice seems obvious, doesn't it? Here's how my way of thinking went: About two months ago, I woke up one morning with this thought in my mind:
Whatever happened to Michael Keaton? Did he die or something?
I did what I always do in those situations: I went downstairs and got some coffee, ate some breakfast (probably a Pop Tart, but I'm guessing about that) and then asked Sweetie about it, roughly a week later when I remembered that I'd wondered that.
Sweetie claimed that he hadn't died, but that Michael Keaton was still around doing stuff, and being in movies, and things, but she couldn't provide any direct evidence of that, so I let it drop.
Then, the other night, I was watching a preview of the movie Toy Story 3, and Sweetie pointed out that Ken is being voiced by Michael Keaton:
And I thought "Huh. So he is still alive."
Then, today, I decided to revoke Morgan Freeman's nomination and replace him and the first thing that popped into my head was Michael Keaton should be the new God.
So you see? It all makes sense.
But he's got the pedigree. Keaton began his career as a lowly tree salesman before moving on to become a magical ghost (ah... see?) in Beetlejuice, then coming back to life as Batman -- and the first movie Batman, at that, then dying again and coming back as a snowman. Along the way, he's been an Everyman (Mr. Mom), a car, a president, and he'll be in Noah's Ark: The New Beginning as Noah, coming out this year. So he's clearly got the resume to fill the position -- especially considering how many times he's been killed off and come back to life. That's sort of a prerequisite for the job.
He's also only served once as a narrator, which makes a clear contrast between him and those other, prior Gods. George Burns, as an old man who chooses to come back to Earth and work his wonders through a grocer, and Morgan Freeman, as a distant, removed God who mostly speaks from on high and works through a TV weatherman and a congressman, are fine Gods for the way we used to do things: minimal intrusion, looking on from afar, letting things work their way out, that kind of thing. If it's a laissez-faire God you want, one who'll speak in kindly tones while baby penguins die, then those prior Gods are the ones for you, and your old-school ways.
But that's not the kind of God we want or need, now. We don't want a God to simply sit back and describe what's going on while we learn. We want a God who gets in there and mixes it up, and Keaton's lack of narration experience, combined with his hands-on activities, show that he'll be perfect for that. Would George Burns or Morgan Freeman have fed chili to a baby and then cleaned it up? Would they have snowboarded down a mountain as a snowman? Would they have been able to face off against Jack Nicholson's deranged clown? I think not -- they might have described what was happening, or found someone to do their fighting for them. But Michael Keaton, he got in there and did the fighting himself.
(And, I note, fought Jack Nicholson, who played the Devil once. Kismet!)(I'm not sure what kismet means but it seems to fit there.)
A hands-on, activist God is what our times cry for. We want our leaders to do something. Look at the criticism of Obama's handling of the oil spill, of Bush's handling of Katrina: They didn't do anything. They just stood there and pontificated and bully pulpited, and we got madder and madder. Obama got the $20 billion set aside, which eased the criticism, but we'd have liked him more if he'd rolled up his sleeves and scrubbed a pelican. Bush, whose main role in life seemed to be to destroy as much of the United States as possible, got the point at times: He leapt into action whenever it seemed to be called for, climbing up the rubble of the World Trade Center, invading countries willy-nilly, abrogating freedoms, and was loved for it. When he did face critiques, it was for standing back, reading a story while we were under attack, hanging with Roger Clemens while Katrina ravaged the Gulf. (Note: I know that one's fake, but people believe it, so eventually it'll be true.)
We also don't want our Gods to be even-handed and fair anymore. The easy-going Gods represented by Burns and Freeman, Gods who would think things over and take their time assessing a situation, are no longer what we need. Our superheroes and leaders need to act now, and act decisively, even if what they're doing turns out not to be right or bends the rules a little. We want superheroes to endanger their own lives by racing through a city, and then to flaunt their flouting of the rules and then to maybe misuse their powers a little, too, all of which we'll tolerate if they end up saving us. We'll let Batman run off into the night, having killed a few guys, and we'll overlook massive amounts of destruction of both private and public property, if our heroes are sufficiently active and entertaining. Keaton got that: his Batman walked the fine line between brooding and madman, presaging Christian Bale's younger, more violent Batman, but providing the necessary backbone to that violence. Bale's Batman is a puncher; Keaton's is a boxer.
And, above all, in these times, we need a God that's a little bit unhinged. Freeman's God, Burns' God, they're hinged. They're in control, at all times, and everything's working according to their plan, a plan that unfolds methodically and sees every piece fall into line.
That's not the world we live in anymore, though: In our world, the Saints win the Super Bowl and England gets knocked out of the World Cup. In our world, countries form and dissolve and governments don't know who to recognize and lone gunmen get arrested trying to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and earthquakes rip apart countries week after week after week and Greece goes bankrupt while bankers get government-funded bonuses, all of it happening to the monotonous and ominous background buzzing of instruments we've never heard of. In our world, Lady GaGa flips off fans and gets her baseball seats upgraded, the Pope is a Nazi, and the oil companies find that the scientist they were going to call if they're in trouble is dead so they ask James Cameron for help, instead.
Everything's not just upside-down, it's off-kilter in ways that seem to require new dimensions to describe the manner in which our lives seem to defy understanding, and it doesn't seem anymore that life is progressing linearly or according to any plan. The play has broken down, and we need a scrambling quarterback who can improvise, one who won't be thrown off by something unexpected and one who can, with a cock of his eyebrow and a smirk, save us.
That person is Michael Keaton, who, let's face it, seems a little bit off. It's the way he cocks his head, I think, or the way his mouth never seems quite closed. He's just this side of crazy, but the side of crazy he's on is the side of crazy we are on, too. And Keaton manages the crazy: even at his most uncontrolled he's able to rectify the situation. He's managed to run a brothel out of a morgue, he's cloned himself and can be more than one place at a time. He saved our manufacturing from the Japanese and had fun doing it.
He's not fazed. He'll deal with it, and get it right. 220, 221, whatever it takes, he'll do it. He'll help us get rid of our Woobies and then he'll clear the streets of the Joker, and even if he ends up with a shrunken head instead of married to Winona Ryder, he'll take it in stride and keep going.
The world doesn't call for a God with a white suit, a sailor hat, and a gentle hand anymore. The world needs a God who's going to roll up his sleeves and get down in the muck with us, to help us make sense of the ever-increasing flow of information and problems and solutions. We've got spies who get their information from commercials and celebrities whose claim to fame was first that they had children, and then that they ignored those children. Heaven may be a clean white room, but we don't live there: we're stuck in a messy house with a runaway vacuum and an escaping washer, and we don't want it to rain in our cars, we want the water cleaned up and the house looking nice. That calls for someone different, someone new, to serve as our God and not just watch over us, but to have our backs. That calls for the man who, from here on out, should be filling the role of God in our entertainment: Michael Keaton, The Best New God.