In the raging, never-ending debate on whether or not superhero films qualify as art, it seems like we’ve finally ran out of voices to weigh in. Legendary director Martin Scorsese started the war when he compared Marvel movies to theme parks, and seemingly ended it with a somber op-ed in The New York Times, in which he talks about the elimination of risk in cinema and the terrifying reality for new filmmakers.
But this week, we were offered a new perspective in this now months-long debate, courtesy of the archives. A fan site devoted to Watchmen scribe Alan Moore called Alan Moore World dug up a 2016 interview between Moore and a Brazlilian writer and editor named Raphael Sassaki for the latter’s book, Folha de São Paulo. Near the end, the apparently-prescient Sassaki asks Moore for his thoughts on the impact of superheroes in modern culture.
Moore, characteristically, doesn’t mince words, starting by saying, “I think the impact of superheroes on popular culture is both tremendously embarrassing and not a little worrying.” He adds that he believes that while fit for children, superhero movies seem like they’re trying to serve “different needs” for adults.
“Primarily, mass-market superhero movies seem to be abetting an audience who do not wish to relinquish their grip on (a) their relatively reassuring childhoods, or (b) the relatively reassuring 20th century. The continuing popularity of these movies to me suggests some kind of deliberate, self-imposed state of emotional arrest, combined with an numbing condition of cultural stasis that can be witnessed in comics, movies, popular music and, indeed, right across the cultural spectrum.”
Later on, he continues his thought of how privilege and perspective affects the writing of comic books, saying superhero creators “have never stood up for their own rights against the companies that employ them” and “would seem to be largely employed as cowardice compensators.”
“I would also remark that save for a smattering of non-white characters (and non-white creators) these books and these iconic characters are still very much white supremacist dreams of the master race. In fact, I think that a good argument can be made for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as the first American superhero movie, and the point of origin for all those capes and masks.”
If you think about Scorsese’s Times op-ed, Moore’s thoughts are even more interesting. Scorsese addressed the appetite for superhero movies in supply-and-demand terms, writing, “If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.” Moore puts the blame more on the viewers, and their deliberate, “self-imposed state of emotional arrest.”
Moore and Scorsese’s views on the problem with superhero movie-makers are closer—that one of the biggest problems is the limited perspective of the creators. Scorsese wrote, “All the same, they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.” Of course, Scorsese didn’t call superheroes “very much white supremacist dreams of the master race,” but the lack of diversity in superhero movie-making isn’t a hard argument to make.
Closer to the end of the interview, when poor Raphael asked what Moore thought Watchmen’s lasting impact on comics is, he said, “Frankly, I don’t think about comics that much, I don’t think of Watchmen at all, and the lasting impact of one upon the other is really no longer my concern.”
Tell us how you really feel Alan!
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