Monday, February 29, 2016

All the way with Pengy.

One of the reasons I think I have always been so attracted to writing is that I take stories seriously---maybe too seriously.

When I was pretty small and the Underdog cartoon was on every morning, it affected me a lot. Underdog really seemed to be up against it all the time. The Electric Eel was his scariest enemy, with those mean teeth of his, and that he got his electrical superpowers by accident when escaping on an electrified prison fence---it was horrifying that the means of controlling this evil menace instead empowered him. The Flying Sorcerers were pretty bad, too, turning Underdog into a ball. Overcat was a mean bully of the worst kind. And everyone was sad when Underdog lost his powers and was going to be gunned down by Riff Raff.

Simon Bar Sinister was Underdog's arch enemy, and he was as relentless as any mad scientist. He used his Forget-Me-Net to make Underdog think he was an old lady selling apples (I forget what "she" was called; possibly Caitlyn). He made phone booths into mind-control machines, a plot line Robert Heinlein would have found chilling. And he used his Tickle Feather machine to prevent people from being able to vote, so he and his sidekick could elect himself dictator, two votes to none.

That last one seemed increasingly weird as I got older. Why was someone even able to run for dictator? It's not a typical office in the United States, thank God. And yet the incidence of thugs preventing opposition votes is all too real.

Speaking of elections, another storyline that was very upsetting to me was on the sixties Batman show, where the Penguin runs for mayor of Gotham City. A municipal ordinance allows convicted felons like Oswald Cobblepot to run (unlike in Illinois, where they become convicted felons later), and he makes a great show of it.

The Penguin proves himself to be an excellent demagogue, a real political fiend, throwing fantastic parties for the citizens and making ridiculous but crowd-pleasing speeches. Only one person has the popularity to stop the Penguin's rise, and that's Batman---so the Caped Crusader is obliged to start his own campaign.

Batman, being the cerebral and civic-minded chap he is, runs a dull campaign, focused squarely on the issues that concern the city. Hardly anyone shows up to his events. Meanwhile, the larcenous Penguin, all rabble-rousing showbiz fun, has the city in the palm of his wicked hand. Maybe the people feel that they know him, since he is kind of a celebrity---unlike Batman, who hides his identity. All Gotham seems to forget Penguin's history of grotesque villainy.

The two-episode story made me so sad I didn't even want to watch the second part. If the citizens of Gotham were turning their backs on Batman, I couldn't bear to see it. I remember actually leaving the room (or turning off the set) so as to not see Batman's feelings hurt. Hurt feelings were exceedingly important to me then.

It was not until ages later, watching it as an older, wiser child---maybe eight---that I found out that the citizens voted for Batman over the Penguin after all. He was boring as a candidate and he threw no parties with well-known pop stars, but they knew he was the better man, and they came around. Batman of course resigned immediately, leaving the city in the hands of her stalwart stewards. But he was satisfied that the people of Gotham loved him and loved their fair city enough to do the right thing.

I have no idea why I'd be thinking about this today.

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