On Monday evening, the Ohio State Buckeyes won the first-ever College Football Playoffs National Championship. As great as that game was, and as exciting of a victory as it is for Buckeye fans, such as my wife, the football game itself was only part of what drew people to watch ESPN. Many were drawn to their TV screens in order to watch the premiere of the trailer for Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the next big superhero blockbuster to hit the silver screen.
With the recent successes of movies like Man of Steel, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America, and the success of TV shows like Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, and The Flash, we are, indeed, currently entrenched in the era of the superhero, comic book movie. Marvel and DC Comics are both pursuing an aggressive slate of upcoming projects like Avengers, and next year’s Batman v Superman movie.
Recently, Stephen McFeely, one of the writers of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, told The Hollywood Reporter that he often gets asked questions of why comic book movies are prevalent nowadays. His response to these questions is:
"In some ways, we’ve become a genre that you can do well now given the world of computers and perhaps it’s also just a time in the sun. You went to the movies in the 50’s and 60’s you went to a western. So at this point, you’re going to a superhero movie. It’s taking over that same black hat, white hat myth-making surface.”
While I would certainly agree with McFeely that todays visual effects have the power to bring the worlds of the comic heroes to life in ways that earlier generations could only dream about, I would have to say that modern technology is not the only reason people flock to comic book movies and shows.
Day in and day out we see on the news and read online about horrific events taking place across the world and close to home. In this, the information age, we are more inundated than ever with knowledge of just how much evil exists in the world. Evils that we might choose to ignore at times, but evils nonetheless that do not go away just because we cannot handle them.
The superhero genre gives us a temporary escape. We immerse ourselves in worlds that are also full of evil but, at the same time, feature heroes who keep that evil at bay, make the world safe, and foster the feelings of freedom and protection that all people dream about. DC and Marvel are producing movies and TV shows about extraordinary individuals who are saving the day from unspeakable evils because that is what we need right now. We need heroes, marvels to behold and to inspire us.
In their oppression in Egypt, our ancestors sought a similar hero to free them from their burdens. This week in our Torah, Moses emerges as that wonder. Finally agreeing to be God’s messenger, Moses, along with his brother Aaron, are instructed by God to proceed to Egypt, confront Pharaoh, and demand the freedom of the Hebrews. At the same time, God also knows that it will take more than a mere demand to convince Pharaoh. As such, God tells Moses and Aaron that Pharaoh will need convincing:
The Eternal One said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, ‘Show your marvel,’ you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh.’ It shall turn into a serpent.
Our heroes were issued the challenge, “תְּנוּ לָכֶם מוֹפֵת (t’nu lachem mofeit),” “show your marvel.” God knew, just as we do, that it takes a marvel, a wonderful or astonishing person or thing, to initiate true change in the face of oppression.
This weekend, our country devotes itself to honoring one such marvel of recent history, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was the epitome of a hero who stood up for what he believed in, inspired others to join his cause, and proved that equality was a goal for which many had strived. Dr. King’s work and his words still echo to this day as a call to action against many of the troubles our world faces today.
In the face of renewed feelings and tensions concerning racial inequality, we hear Dr. King say:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
And in response to those who have acted violently in protest, we implore as Dr. King implored:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
In the face of renewed global terrorism we consider Dr. King’s words from a 1967 speech at Marietta College:
"When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.”
And for each and every time we hear about a terrible tragedy, we seek comfort from Dr. King’s charge:
“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”
In our broken and hurting world we maintain our hope for a brighter future, but hope, alone, is not enough. Rabbi Tarfon taught us:
לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמוֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה.
Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena—
“You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.”
(Pirkei Avot 2:16)
It is up to each of us to bring some hope back to the world, to be that light unto the nations that our prophets urge us to be. We all have the power to be everyday super heroes, to bring reality closer to the world of the comic books, to make our fantasy play out in reality. All we need is someone to inspire us. So now I challenge the world, our country, our community, and you:
“תְּנוּ לָכֶם מוֹפֵת”
(t’nu lachem mofeit)
“Show Your Marvel!”