Posts Tagged ‘Super Hero’

Golem: The Hero Project

March 6, 2013

You know what they say about real estate: location, location, location.

Last year's fun, tucked away in a nice quiet corner.

Last year’s fun, tucked away in a nice quiet corner.

I guess I should have been excited about being given one of the prime spots at my little guy’s elementary school’s Multicultural Night.  We were right at the top of the stairs, impossible to miss—Israel front-and-center.  After brushing away the urge to suddenly discover my Slovenian heritage, I began setup for my second year representing the Jewish State.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely love the fact that the biggest school event of the year is one that celebrates the diverse cultural backgrounds of the school students, parents, and teachers.  The kids are given passports, and run around the school to different tables representing different countries.  When they have stopped in and participated in whatever that country has to offer, they get the requisite stamp on their passport.

I think the twist would have given me away

I think the twist might have given me away

It’s just that I was absolutely exhausted by the worry and work of tending to my big guy’s concussion recovery (he’s doing much better now, by the way).  Just putting things together and manning the table was somewhat daunting at the moment.  Now add to that a location that guaranteed the deluge of smart, inquisitive, and energetic K-5 kids and I was hitting myself for not bringing along that bottle of Plymouth to go along with the Play-Doh.

I remember being really spent after my maiden voyage at the Israel table.  Last year’s theme was holidays, and, as you might remember, we took advantage of the proximity to Purim to do Haman Hangman and teach kids about the “Hebrew Halloween.”  Trying to manage that again, but this time at the center of the storm, was positively daunting.

Great moment, but not much competition for Hansel and Gretel

This year, the theme was folklore and fairytales.  This is something that gave me and the other Israel table parents some consternation.  Israel itself is a young country, so the amount of folklore developed since 1948 is fairly small.  One could point to the bible itself as Israeli folklore (and, some might argue, fairytales), but that seemed out-of-sync with the vibe of what they were looking for.

Finally, we decided that there was such a rich folklore tradition within the Jewish diaspora experience that it was just too good to pass up.  It also gave the opportunity to teach kids about the concept of a people without a nation.  And, as a nerd, there was really only one story choice:

Golem.

For those unfamiliar with the story, here’s my excerpt from the activity sheet I put together.

Fantastic book to introduce kids to Golem. Click on pic to find out more.

Fantastic book to introduce kids to Golem. Click on pic to find out more.

Legend has it that in 16th-century Prague, Czechoslovakia, the Israelites were being threatened because a lie was spread that Jews were kidnapping Christian children. As a mob gathered to attack the Jews, the head Rabbi of Prague turned to a passage in the Torah that referred to an “unformed substance” or Golem (GOH-ləm).  Through a mastery of Jewish mysticism, the Rabbi formed a mound of clay into a large human-like shape.  Finally he inserted a parchment with the most sacred Jewish prayer, the Shema, and the Golem came to life.

Unharmed by human weapons, and growing larger and more powerful by drawing strength from the earth itself, Golem was a determined protector of the Children of Israel.  But Golem became so powerful that even the Jews themselves started to become fearful.  Eventually, the Rabbi would use his powers to return Golem to the earth, even though he came to treasure his life as much as any human being did.

Golem SwampThingCan you see why a geeky guy like me loves this story so much?  It’s essentially Frankenstein meets Superman.  Indeed, Golem has been featured in comic books from Swamp Thing to The Hulk, and in pop-culture hotspots from The Simpsons to the Pulitzer Prize-winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Resistance was futile.

Given Golem was formed from a mound of clay, it leant to a great activity for the kids—Build Your Own Golem.  Armed with a rainbow of Play-Doh tubs and paper plates, the kids molded their own heroes and brought them to me for me to mark with their name and their Golem’s name in Hebrew (or the best approximation my 6th grade Hebrew School training could approximate).  As the first little girl brought me her fire-breathing butterfly, I found that I needed to kneel down to more comfortably write on her plate.  I did not get up again for two-and-a-half hours.

Location, location, location.

knee_padsAnd while my hamstrings are still recovering some two weeks later, I have to say I am so very glad I didn’t let my fatigue (and self-pity) get in the way.  I wish we had been a little less crazed, as we weren’t actually able to do the photos and videos of the kids as I had hoped.  But both their creations and their answers to my questions were absolutely fascinating.

As you might expect, there were plenty of the “boys will be boys” crowd that just wanted to talk about the cool ways that their Golem could destroy things.  When I noted the fact that those powers could be used just as easily for evil as for good, most responded, “Well they just use it to kill the bad guys!”  When I challenged them to think about one way they could use their power to do something other than to destroy, I got a lot of quizzical looks and “Can you just give me my stamp now, please?” But I also got a lot of good thinking.  Lightning bolts that could light lightbulbs and controlled storms that could spin wind turbines, to name a couple.

And then there were the “outside the box” notions of heroism.  A winged Pegasus that spread friendship with a flap.  A tree of life that provided food for the hungry.  My favorite was a little girl with a pretty pink Golem.  When I asked what powers her hero had, she shrugged her shoulders shyly.  Her Dad wrapped his muscular arm around her shoulders and urged her to answer.  “Is your Daddy your hero?” I asked.  She grinned and nodded her head, looking up at him for approval.  “And what makes him your hero?” I continued.  She pondered for a moment, and squeaked, “He loves me.”  This time, it was my turn to grin.  “Love, my grandmother always said, is the greatest power of them all.”  We named her Golem Ahav—love in Hebrew.

folding chairWhether you go with Golem or just a “build your own Super Hero” project, I cannot recommend this activity enough.  I would have loved to have done this in a classroom environment where the kids get to build, discuss, and share their designs, and more importantly, their thoughts on heroism with each other.

Just make sure you’ve got a chair.

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Is This Knight Simply Too Dark?

July 30, 2012

I’ve been waiting a while to write anything about The Dark Knight Rises and the tragedy in Colorado, simply because I wasn’t sure if I had anything productive to add to the conversation despite this being in my topical wheelhouse.  Indeed, this great piece from The Onion really encapsulated my intense frustration at the fact that the hyper-political histrionics around the sacrosanct status of the great and glorious gun in our society makes it impossible to have a civil conversation about it.

Those darned scientists trying to infringe on my freedom!

I guess all I have to say to the conversation around guns in light of what happened is around the ridiculous “slippery slope” argument.  Decrying sensible measures to make guns in our society safer (mandatory safety locks, tracking bulk ammo sales, assault weapons ban, barring straw purchases) as a back door effort to “take my guns away” is akin to saying that mandatory seat belts and air bags is obviously a path toward the government trying to ban the automobile.  The vast majority of we who do not like guns get the fact that many good, upstanding Americans do like them, and consider them an asset.  I strongly disagree, but respect the fact that I am in the minority in this country.  So can we just get past the “cold, dead hand” crap and have an honest conversation about how we can just make these things safer? I really wish we could.

Now let me pivot and leap into the cultural abyss here, as of all the pieces I’ve read on all this, Peggy Noonan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal is to me the most provocative.  In it, she makes an interesting case for Hollywood’s cultural demise putting Batman front-and-center:

Did “The Dark Knight Rises” cause the Aurora shootings? No, of course not. One movie doesn’t have that kind of power, and we don’t even know if the shooter had seen it. But a million violent movies have the cumulative power to desensitize and destabilize, to make things worse, and that’s what we’ve been seeing the past quarter century or so, the million movies. Each ups the ante in terms of carnage. Remember Jack Nicholson’s Joker, from 1989? He was a garish, comic figure and he made people laugh. He was a little like Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook in the old TV version of “Peter Pan.” You knew he wasn’t “real.” He was meant to amuse.

Compare that with Heath Ledger’s Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Night.” That Joker was pure evil, howling and demonic, frightening to see and hear. If you know what darkness is, you couldn’t watch that Joker and not be afraid. He looked like the man who opens the door when you get off the elevator to enter Hell; he looked like the guy holding the red velvet rope. That character was so dark, and so powerful, he destabilized the gifted actor who played him. Ledger died of a drug overdose six months before the movie opened.

Hard to argue with Noonan’s description

Okay, so let’s dismiss the irrelevant and unsupported claim about TDK’s Joker being part of Heath Ledger’s demise.  Noonan makes a great relation on the two iterations of Batman’s most iconic enemy.  For while I recently allowed Gus to watch Batman Begins, as desperate as he is to see the sequel, I said that he’d need to be at least 13 before I even considered letting him watch the Bat battle the Clown Prince of Crime.  Indeed, while I believe TDK is a fantastic movie, it is so incredibly dark that I still believe it merited an R-rating.  I would personally rather my son see a movie like Jaws at his age, as what makes something adult is not just about the body count or the blood.  To me, more importantly, it is about the underlying psychology of where that blood fits in.

My plan is actually to allow Gus to see Dark Knight Rises in a year or two and skip over the second film.  Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is really two stories with a middle chapter which doesn’t have all that much to do with the book-ends.  The villains’ intent, motivation, and execution in films 1 and 3 are intertwined, and while the scenery is more realistic and intense than you see in most Super Hero films, both are still very big and broad action films at their center.  Destroy Gotham.  Big, strong villain in a rather goofy mask doing dastardly things.  Hero comes in to save millions.  Been there, done that.  Frankly, I thought Noonan’s reaction to TDKR is more a hangover from film 2, which is, indeed, a different animal.

Ledger’s Joker is to the Super Hero genre what Jigsaw is to Horror.  As the Saw films started a trend in horror toward the “torture porn” films from the more over-the-top slashers like the Jason Voorhees’ and Freddy Krueger’s I grew up with.  It turned the violence from silly to celebratory; from an cathartic romp with the Id into a vivid guidebook down the inky pit of our own souls.  To me, Saw and its copy-cats crossed a very real line.

Nolan did the same thing with his Joker—making The Dark Knight more of a noir, psychological thriller like Se7en than it was like Batman Begins.  It was a fascinating premise and really the Joker at his most frightening, pulled from comic classics like the Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.  How do you handle a villain who’s only motivation is, as Alfred says “to watch the world burn”?  It was a brilliant and terrible walk down a morally ambiguous path.  And, as Noonan points out, the more realistic flavor of the madness could feed the motivation to those souls where the darkness is already seeping in.

I feel like Noonan is overplaying her hand a bit, as the incidents like those in Colorado are sporadic and, frankly, pale in comparison with gun deaths by suicide, drug-related homicides, or accidental shootings as we consider which cultural issues are of priority to tackle even within the sub-category of gun violence.  And within the Super Hero genre, for every Joker, we have a Red Skull, Loki, and Lex Luthor that are played purely for the same kind of campy, diabolical fun as Ming the Merciless was generations ago.

But I do think it merits consideration for Hollywood and the MPAA, not to mention the video game industry, to put a new prism on evaluating the content not just for the events as they transpire on the screen, but the context.  Because just because the blood doesn’t splatter, that doesn’t automatically make the violence “harmless.”  For films, games, and TV shows–especially the Super Hero (and Super Villain) genre—really do have the power to tap into the American psyche, for good or for ill, like no other.

And, I think I’ve read somewhere, that with great power comes great responsibility.

The Tale of the Pink Ladies

June 26, 2012

I’ll get back to the battle for Middle Earth shortly, but this “moment in sports” is just too good not to share.

Love the goof-ball team pic. The Mets fan in me must remind you that the “A” is for Arlington, not Atlanta

It was Gus’s first summer baseball tournament this past weekend, and after the highs (2-2 with a home run!) and lows (some tears shed from a rough pitching outing) of the Arlington Thunder’s first game, we zipped out with his pal Jack for a quick bite before game two.

One burger later, we found ourselves with a little extra time on our hands (they don’t call it fast food for nothing).  As we wended our way out of the parking lot, just past the pediatric dentist which either had a volcano or the world’s worst abscessed tooth on its roof, was the familiar red bull’s-eye of Tar-zhay.

“Ooh, please can we go?  PLEASE!?!” the boys erupted in unison.  “Why in the world would you want to go there?” I asked, mentally ticking off the bathroom cleaner, kitty litter, and fresh underwear on my shopping list.  “For the toys,” they said, completely incredulous.

And so we headed in, their bodies pulled directly into the vortex of playthings on the far side of the great maze of consumerism.  After the requisite boy teasing (“Oh, you want this Hello Kitty purse!”  “Well, you want this Teletubbies play set!”) Jack settled into the Nerf weaponry section, deciding whether the projectiles looked more realistic in a solid palate or in camouflage, while Gus was staring-down the super-hero figures (Never, EVER, call them dolls…Seriously.).

For while Lord of the Rings is still his major fiction passion, I finally broke down a week ago and allowed him to start watching Batman Begins, the first of the Christopher Nolan trilogy.  For while The Dark Knight, and from what I am seeing, The Dark Knight Rises are extremely dark, very adult tales, I felt that the first film was, while certainly not cartoonish, is a story an 11-year-old could handle.

Indeed I felt the realism of the film might actually be useful in offsetting the fun, but desensitizing levels of violence in other Super Hero films he had been watching lately, most notably the new Marvel movies like The Avengers, Thor, and Captain America.  Indeed, I found that, at least for Gus, giving him more context actually helped him put the violence in better perspective than the “harmless” violence in the more comic book-style movies, just as Lord of the Rings helped him with processing what happened to his cousin on 9/11.

Bane’s looking a little stiff

Needless to say, Batman Begins is now his favorite of all the Super Hero films, and he looked lustfully at the five-figure Batman/Catwoman/Bane figure set selling for a robust $22.99.  He had a gift card sitting at home from his birthday party, and when I told him I would spot him the money and just take his gift card when we got home, the box left the shelf at the speed of avarice.

After a big win in the second game, we trekked our way back home and celebrated together with a Chinese dinner.  Of course, our table at Asian Kitchen became a battleground as Gus and Jack created their own Dark Knight Rises plot, which consisted mostly of guttural noises as the five figures beat the unholy hell out of each other.

Our table was actually in a fairly high-traffic area, as it nestled next to a large tank which housed two gorgeous serpentine white fish.  Children and adults like would stop by to look at the undulations of these lovely creatures.  The boys would take the occasional peep up to answer a question or take a bite of food, then it was back to Gotham with a vengeance.

That is, until they came.

I must admit to having a Sandy t-shirt in elementary school, though I liked Frenchy, too.

Four platinum pigtails attached to two beautiful young ladies bobbed their way toward the tank—toward us.  Dressed in matching magenta summer jumpers, the Pink Ladies’ approach immediately triggered my son’s girl-dar.  “Quick, hide the toys!” Gus commanded, as Jack had his back to the approaching storm.  “Huh?  Why?” Jack retorted.  Gus’s huge blue eyes widened in an urgency that bordered panic.  He nodded his head toward the Pink Ladies as subtly as possible for an 11-year-old boy, which of course looked more like a muscle spasm.  Jack swiveled his head, and I could swear it just kept turning, Exorcist-style, back into place.  And, in a flash, all evidence of Bane, Catwoman, and Batman were gone.  Just two boys sitting politely with their hands resting under the table.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.  Move along.

“Uh, pretty cool fish, huh?” Gus blurted as the Pink Ladies stood mesmerized by the spectacle.  “Yeah, they’re beautiful,” said the taller one, a small smile creeping on her face as she glanced down at the table.  The boys looked at each other, their arms moving toward the center of the table as if seized by a magnet.

About ten seconds later, the Pink Ladies made their way back to their table.  And about ten seconds after that, Bane and Batman battled once again.  And if ever there was a clearer battle between the boys they are and the men they are becoming, I have not seen it.

Me, I’m rooting for both sides to win.