Thursday, June 8, 2006

From the what the heck were they thinking dept.:

This charming ad appeared in the new June 2006 issue of Previews. For those who don't know, Previews is the catalog of Diamond Comic Distributors, the United States' largest (and essentially only) distributor of comics and assorted crap to our nation’s dwindling number comic book shops. It is the Sears Wishbook of Dork, but instead of coming out just once a year, it arrives every month, providing thousands of individual opportunities for separating a fanboy from his money. Sure, a lot of fanboys just have a "pull list" of their regular purchases and the store puts aside their copy of, say, Superman every month. But that's strictly amateur hour. The real fanboys pore over the inch-thick catalog and fill out an order form that spans dozens of pages. Some of us used the catalog to seek out more experimental and challenging books that we might otherwise miss. The rest of the fanboys used it to wallow in geek as much as they could afford to. (Okay, I admit it, I did some of the latter too.) Every month, Previews featurs hundreds of comics, graphic novels, posters, dolls – I mean action figures, and even statuary. And, of course, T-shirts.

There's nothing new about T-shirts featuring variations on the Superman logo. I even bought one at Target. So there's nothing particularly exciting or special about this one, but in the breathless world of fanboy advertising, everything is an occasion for bombast.

The world of comics is an insular one and even in the professional ranks is populated largely by dateless suburban white males. But even that can't begin to explain the mind-boggling cluelessness of this advertisement. Some theorize that it was a purposeful effort to create controversy and raise sales with the resulting attention. But that seems at once both far too canny and far too stupid. Though populated with fanboys, the companies involved are hardly the equivalent of a strip mall comic book shop, the leading companies in their respective fields, and two of them are large, multi-million dollar corporations. Graphitti Designs is the leading maker of T-shirts, statuary, and other ancillary crap, Diamond distributes most of the comics in America and is run by a canny businessman and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and DC Comics is of course the first or second (I haven’t checked lately) largest comic book company in the US and is part of the Time Warner Hegemony. Of course, in big companies things get lost in the shuffle, and somebody wasn't paying attention – or somebody was and thought it would be really funny to lose his job next week.

What makes this screw up extra fun is that Superman is a direct descendant of the Nietzschian √úbermensch, his concept of a superior being that was perverted and idealized in Nazi ideology. Superman, of course, has nothing to do with Nazis. He predates Nazi Germany and was created by a couple of Jews from Cleveland. But they come from the same source, and in fact Superman is an English translation of √úbermensch, though Overman seems to be in favor these days, probably because philosophy professors don't want people to think they’re reading comics. The association of superheroes and fascism is one that's been explored a great deal over the last two decades by writers deconstructing the genre, with varying degrees of cleverness. Obviously, there's a lot of troubling overtones to a mistake like the one in the T-shirt ad, and someone either thinks they are far more clever than they actually are, or someone thinks they are far less stupid than they actually are. Whatever the case, look forward to some peons getting fired.

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