If money were the source of my powers, then like a lot of people these days, I would be feeling far from super.
Of course, that’s not keeping me from shelling out a chunk of dough every other weekend to catch the latest blockbuster movie.
Judging from potentially record box-office revenues and long lines at the ticket booths, many millions of other Americans are also looking to escape the reality of these trying times through the fantasy of Hollywood.
But as I sat through yet another “Hulk” movie, I kept wondering if that two hours would have been better spent brushing up on impending congressional legislation. Maybe I should have donated that $10 to the presidential candidate of my choice.
Maybe things are so bad because we are paying more attention to CGI than to GDP.
According to a recent News Interest Index published by the Pew Research Center, more than 30 percent of those surveyed said they knew little about the economic policies of either John McCain or Barack Obama. And when it comes to saving the day - or at least making decisions that will affect our lives - it will be up to one of those two guys and not some fictional action hero.
Yes, we all need a break sometimes. I’ve had five cinematic breaks so far since May, with at least five more on the horizon before September. Hollywood has churned out more superhero films this year than any summer in the last few years, and what better way to retreat from the mundane than to soak up the heroics of godlike characters?
Which brings us to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
It’s hard to look at those two masters of cinematic escapism and not see parallels between today and the period when they rose to prominence.
Both “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” were being dreamed up by 1975.
That was when the United States left Vietnam in defeat. The year President Gerald Ford was nearly assassinated, twice. The year four figures were convicted in the Watergate scandal. The year the Weather Underground bombed the offices of the U.S. State Department. The year an oil-induced recession finally started to lift.
This year the nation is grappling with an economic downturn that may be a recession, two long and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a highly divisive and history-making presidential race and dire environmental issues ranging from natural disasters to climate shifts to energy scarcity.
I have little hope that the Hulk can smash my electric bill before I start pumping the AC to get through 90-degree days. Iron Man probably will not use his high-tech armor to ensure the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows for eavesdropping only on terrorists. Batman doesn’t strike me as able to keep at bay those farm-killing Midwest floodwaters. Hancock doesn’t know the first thing about balancing a government budget. And Anakin Skywalker, who returns in the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” romp this summer, can’t change the nation’s image as a global bully.
So why will I spend so much time and money on these guys?
Because it’s painfully obvious to me that even if I were fully committed and engaged in trying to change things, I still would be only slightly more effective than the fictional characters would be.
Oh, I’ll vote. I will donate to causes and campaigns. I will share my views in hopes of swaying people to my side leading up to Election Day. And I’ll invest carefully and buy merchandise regularly to do my part for the economy. But really, that’s about it.
The rest I have to leave in the hands of politicians, soldiers and businesspeople, and that ultimately comes down to having faith that those with power will use it responsibly.
The trick is not losing sight of the line between fantasy and reality. Our world contains awesome obstacles that cannot always be overcome by brute force. In our world, heroes and villains are not so clearly defined. And unlike what happens in Hollywood, our actions in our world come with real, sometimes dire consequences.
Given that reality, some serious fantasy seems quite inviting to this mere mortal.