The New Age of Comics & Culture (Part 3 of 4!)
By Zak Edwards
October 26, 2012 - 13:50

Hello there and welcome back to part three of my discussion of the current comics and popular culture climate.  Here I want to look at the reactions to the 9/11 fiction I have been discussing in the other two parts, specifically the tropes that continue to resurface in contemporary fiction.  Part one can be found here, part two here.

Let’s first look at what I like to call the ‘Lost Problem.’  Ever since its meteoric rise in popularity, and especially after it finished, there have been a ton of television shows and comic books that attempt to replicate Lost’s success.  Almost all have failed, from FlashForward to Terra Nova to Alcatraz; only Fringe seems to keep going while replicating much of what made Lost popular, but only to extremely low ratings.  It seems the 9/11 concepts of overarching conspiracies, anti-heroes, and other elements of 9/11 fiction I pointed out before are being met with a general exhaustion and boredom.  In some cases, it is met with harsh criticism.  Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom, which opens up with a very 9/11 moment of harsh criticism of American culture, was described as “we once ‘reached for the stars’ and were ‘informed by great men’ and blah blah blah f*ckity blah” by Scott Tobias of The AV Club, highlighting the general boredom with these sorts of moments.  Whereas shows like The Newsroom would have been devoured before, unpacked for their willingness to point out things we all already knew and agree with, the rant by the protagonist in the opening moments here read more like a relic of the past, a cliche, than a political moment.  If we are to take anything away from these failed experiments, it is that audiences and critics seem to no longer care about these sorts of harsh explorations.  The reality that America is on the decline is widely known and, more importantly, widely felt by the entire world.  Now is the time for action, it seems, not to wallow in criticism.

This is where I see the change, the new look at the world we are living in, at least in terms of our existence through our media consumption, and it was pointed out to me by another article from AV Club writer Sean O’Neil (or, more accurately, reminded me of Grant Morrison’s discussions about the New Age) entitled “New Girl is the First ‘Post-Post-9/11 Show,’ Makes it Okay to Feel Again: You’re Welcome America.”  In the short article, O’Neil sarcastically points to the comments by a New Girl producer, who argues the show is a new concept because:

“The comedy in the past 10 years prior to our show had an edge to it. It was satirical. There was a cynicism about the comedy.  [New Girl] came along at the right time for—this weird alchemy that happened—is that we were willing for the first time to go, ‘It's okay to feel again.’”

The popularity of New Girl, coupled with its use and treatment of cynicism (namely the character of Nick, whose sarcasm and cynicism are quickly proven to be ways of blaming others for problems he can solve himself) proves that people are finding something here that excites them and interests them.  The show doesn’t wallow, it acts.  Characters learn every episode to look internally, to not blame the system around them but their own faults to solve their problems even as their character development remains necessarily static.  The show’s final acts work on a couple of basic principles: one, that the person is intrinsically aware that they can change, and two, they have a support network that can help them make change.  It is, in short, the exact opposite of the cynicism of 9/11: society can be good and help individual good people make positive change (which, for those of you who are fans of The Wire, the exact opposite thesis of that show).  If New Girl is indeed a form of new optimism representative of a move past the wake of 9/11, then perhaps we are on the verge of Morrison’s New Age or, as O’Neil’s sarcasm points to Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, we’re already in it.

Take for example Matthew Perry’s new show Go On, where a sports newscaster is forced to go to therapy after his wife is killed in a car accident.  Even in a few episodes, the show continually discusses the problems with therapy while underlining its usefulness.  The therapist, for example, actually has no credentials, just a long-standing relationship with Weight Watchers and Perry’s character continually points to the problem that the group therapy members are simply talking and never acting.  Of course, the show also highlights a need to confront your emotions and deal with them through discussion, but this desire to act over feel, like the rejection of The Newsroom, focuses on the chance to rebuild, to rejuvenate, and to be positive and hopeful rather than continually bogged down in the enormity of the present.

These shows point to audiences exhausted with being told we’re bad people living in a bad world and instead focusing on good people in a good world.  The impact, it seems, is a reinvestment in the good-bad dynamic, or at least an affirmation of the good and perhaps a productive ignoring of the past.  In the next segment, I’ll talk about this new period, it’s relationship to comics (finally talking about comics again!) and Morrison’s New Wave, and how comics are reflecting this change.  All exciting stuff!

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