Staring Problems; or, We Care-a-Lot
(Soundtrack: L7–The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum)
In Doom Patrol #26-29, Morrison & Case give us the secret origin of the Care Bears. That heart-shaped hole in Mr. Nobody’s chest? That’s a clue. And everyone knows Frenzy Bear, right? The founder of Care-a-Lot? Yesterday, I spoke glowingly of the Dadaist commitment to the expression of personality in the face of nihilism. Today, I’m going to be a little more critical of the Brotherhood’s position.
The way I see it, human beings have two fundamental obligations in life. One–to be as interesting as possible; and two–to achieve a modicum of self-mastery. The importance of the first is pretty obvious: in a universe without any overarching structure or moral law, people need objects to contemplate. We are all God(s) to one another. This has been implicit in radical protestant theology from the start. When you get rid of all mediation between the self and the Word, you are just begging people to reassess their relationship to the “traditionally loved and accepted” repository of God’s wisdom. Sooner or later, someone is going to get the idea that anyone could be speaking the Word–and from there it’s a small step to the notion that anyone could be the Word Incarnate (Morrison got into this a bit later with “The Word Made Flesh”). So that’s number one (“trickle-down empowerment”), and the Brotherhood of Dada get a big gold star here–but what about the second proposition?
This is where I disagree profoundly with Steven Shaviro’s interpretation of Morrison’s aesthetic. It’s not all about “self-assertion”. That’s the Brotherhood’s bag, and they’re the “villains”. In Morrison, “villainy” is not the result of “evil”, but of an inadequate epistemology. You can’t play all of the time. You have to work on stabilizing your Self. This has nothing to do with self-punishment or asceticism. If you can’t hold still long enough to pay attention to the Others in the world, then all of that fascinating flesh walking around will go to waste. You hear yogi-types ranting all the time about “expanding ego boundaries”, but really, what the hell is that? All it gets us is a bunch of people who think that they are the planet. Consequently, they annex the territory that they ought to be loving from afar. I call this “hippie aggression”. Fritjof Capra is their generalissimo. The Care Bears are his enforcers.
And that’s where the Brotherhood comes in. These are people who are so focused upon their own misfit nature that they fail to recognize all of the other misfits they share the Earth with. To a person like Mr. Nobody–everyone else is a well-adjusted sell-out with nothing to offer a visionary like himself. As soon as you forget that nobody understands anyone, you are in trouble. That’s the rule. The belief that you are an exception is what will drive you insane. You create an ideal world of perfect correspondences only to exile yourself from it. The imperfection of everyday relationships is not nearly good enough–so you abolish relationality itself. Soon, you are chugging laudanum, like Coleridge, and, if the opportunity presents itself, you will not hesitate to dunk a major city in the same visionary substance.
That’s how the painting ate Paris. Sure, it’s not exactly paradise within the confines of this construct either. There’s a great big horse to be dealt with, after all. (is it just me, or is Case’s horseman an homage to to Simonson’s “Last Viking” from Thor #342?) But this “fifth horseman” is called “extinction” or “oblivion”, and, as I stated yesterday, Dada is the antithesis of nihilism, so you know these guys are up for the challenge… This is where Mr. Nobody et al reveal their Care Bear colours:
I know! [how to help Crazy Jane deflect the monstrous onslaught] We all have super-powered energy to spare, don’t we? So why not join hands and send it to her! Let’s have a groovy love-in! Instead of fighting. We all join hands! Like ebony and ivory living together on a piano! It’s so embarrassing it has to work!
And it does! Case draws a beautiful shadowy “Care Bear stare” on page 17, and that horseman is toast. Self-assertion trumps nothingness! Dada is life without meaning, and the world within the painting is pure anti-matter. But what about living in the material world? Unfortunately, these aren’t “material girls”. Staring down oblivion is a fine thing to do, but not all the time–if you don’t pull out of it, you wind up staring into space (and probably drooling quite a bit as well…) The Dadaists make no move to leave the painting with the Doom Patrol (the “heroes” of this story, because they remain committed to both of the propositions that I advanced earlier). Interestingly, Mr. Nobody, although quite willing to agree with Frenzy that “it’s true. I’m lovable and wonderful”, shows some misgivings about his visionary self-exile. We’ll have to get back to that later. For now, I want to close with the image of Frenzy, released from a horrific life of poverty and ignorance, strolling happily through a dreamland filled with Beethoven birds. Welcome to Care-a-Lot my friends! We’re out to save the world.
Enjoy the Day!