Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Know Why the Caged Black Canary Sings

I'm old enough to have accumulated journeyman's badges in a number of fandoms over the years. I cut my NBA teeth on the Lakers/Celtics rivalry when it meant something, practicing my skyhook in the driveway decades before the term was appropriated by one Mr. Booker DeWitt. I'm just scarcely enough of pop/obscure film buff that I am happy to bore you to tears with a comparative analysis between the career arcs of Cedric Hardwicke and Alfred Molina. I'm conversant enough in tabletop gaming to know the important differences between GURPS and d20. But I can't tell you much about the starting lineup of the 2015 Heat, nor spew encomiums to Robert Wise, nor recount the details of the Horus Heresy. At least not without looking it up first. The Internet is great for looking smart to strangers over Twitter.

So it is too for comic books. I've been on the periphery of fandom since I was a teenager. I remember TMNT from when it was still a dorm room book mocking Frank Miller. I remember watching as the King of Dreams took John Constantine's nightmares of Newcastle from him. I remember how living wizard Alan Moore set the medium ass over teakettle with a pitch-perfect deconstruction that somehow got turned into a plastic, summer, popcorn film adaptation. Yet for all that, I don't think I could name a single graduate of Xavier's Academy for Gifted Youngsters who hasn't appeared in either film or video games off the top of my head. So you can imagine how it is the CW melodrama Arrow and its other licensed properties appeal to me. They're perfect for casual fans who know just enough canon to know the names Merlyn and Thawne, but aren't quite attached enough to get all bent out of shape by the Flashpoint arc or by what Wanda did in House of M.

I also remember John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen. In fact, I remember the 90s run of The Flash as being one of the best things on television at the time. In the interest of avoiding S1 spoilers for those who've yet to binge it on Netflix, I'll just say the show writers gave a continuity nod to the earlier iteration and it was clearly made in the Tim Burton-digests-Batman era of DC properties on screen. "Less campy than Adam West and Burt Ward" is accurate, if not particularly informative. The Arrowverse has a low bar to clear is what I'm saying here. And they've cleared it fairly well. At least for a superhero show made by a network whose demographic appears to be teenage girls.

It's that demographic that allows me to overlook the non-stop shipping. I understand how it might be important to some viewers which characters end up in romantic relationships with other characters. If I want just the punching, ma'am, I can stick with Daredevil. Or hope that the MCU jettisons Whedon (#sorrynotsorry). I have a harder time excusing other cinematic sins. For example, epinephrine is not even remotely a "close enough" substitute for lidocaine. Swords emerge from scabbards quietly. Pistols don't rattle. Grand jury hearings do not proceed in that manner. A boxing glove on the end of an arrow is incapable of knocking a grown man on his ass. You. Don't. Shock. A. Flatline. But for all these sins, they did get one important thing right.

Minor-to-negligible S3 Arrow spoilers follow.

There's an AA scene. One of the principal characters listens as an extra recounts how her boyfriend beat her up again when he was drunk. After the meeting, this principal character tells her father that she wishes she could use that information to sic the police on the abusive boyfriend. The father responds with a sentiment that any economist would instantly recognize: the moment you start sending cops to AA meetings is the moment the drunks stop coming.

In economics, we call this the "Lucas Critique." It's a way of saying that things that start out as measurements have a frustrating tendency to become targets. People adjust their behavior when they think someone's watching. If GDP is an international contest rather than simply a metric for the strength of an economy, vainglorious political elites have an incentive to build gigantic Potemkin cities, complete with uninhabited skyscrapers and empty roads. Corporations filing annual reports will gently massage balance sheet items of interest, squirreling disastrous unfunded liabilities or eventual goodwill damage quietly away in the comments.

Maybe it's just me, but I find it funny that a screenwriter who has no problem insulting the audience with the ol' "it's just a flesh wound" trope gets a very important social science point right and to do so with an economy of dialog that I have not endeavored to mimic in today's post.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?