Opus Four:

1. Superheroics and SMS (7/8)

2. Life in New York (7/8)

1. Superheroics and SMS.  You ever wonder why superheroes never capture any ordinary bank robbers any more?  Everyday burglars,
thieves, muggers, and the like just never surface in superhero comics
these days.
      But they used to.
      Yes, back when I was but a mere broth of a lad, Superman and Captain
Marvel captured bank robbers and other miscreants to a faretheewell.
      Alas, no more.
      These days, all the foes of superheroes tend to be super-powered
themselves.  Or they are monsters.  Or demons of some ilk, billowing
out from subterranean brimstone.
      Not an ordinary mortal among them.
      And the reason, I submit, for this curious myopia need not long
elude us.  If we reflect on Saturday morning television, we will soon
discover the cause: to wit, parental opposition to violence in all
its forms in entertainment ostensibly produced for their offspring.
      SMS.  Saturday Morning Syndrome.
      To properly understand the insidious effects of SMS, imagine what
comic book superheroics would be like if these testosteronic icons
fought ordinary people in their Never Ending Battle against Evil.
Naturally, a hero with super strength would pulverize an ordinary
person every time he bashed one with his fist. 
      Blood and gore and intestines dribbling all over the place.  Messy.
      Much too violent.
      Yet the genre itself depends for its moral and emotional force upon
some kind of violent action to resolve the conflict in the plot.  Why
have super-powered heroes otherwise?
      But those super powers seem much less violent if they are deployed
against beings endowed with similar powers.  If the superheroes are
matched by supervillains, then the violence they indulge in is less
horrific.  To parents.
      As for the monsters--well, they aren't human, are they?  And
violence is only evil if we can imagine children learning from
witnessing it that they can behave that way with their fellow beings.
 If they learn to inflict it on household cats and dogs, that's not
so bad.
      The best solution, however, is invisible violence.  Bolts of force
emitted from the palms of superheroic hands, for instance.  Since
kids can't imitate the action, it must be harmless.
      What fun.

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2. Life in New York.  I was in the Big Apple last September,
introducing my artist daughter to the wonders of Greenwich Village
and Chelsea.  We stayed at a little hotel just off Herald Square
called--right--the Herald Square Hotel, 19 W. 31st Street.  I'd
picked the place out of Frommer's book on New York on $75 a Day
(still impossible, book or not) because it had low rates ($109/day;
see?--quite a lot more than $75/day).  But turns out another benefit
resided there. 
      Getting off the elevator on the sixth floor, I noticed right away
that the pictures on the wall were framed enlargements of covers from
the old humor magazine, Life.  Ditto in our room.  And at the corner
of the hallway outside, a cherub with wings reposed on a cornice.
Odd, I thought.
      By now, you know what's coming.  The Herald Square Hotel was not
built as a hotel: it was build in 1893-94 as the headquarters for
Life.  Not only did it house the magazine's editorial offices (such
as they might have been): it also housed a certain number of the
personages who contributed to the magazine.
      The upper floors were warrens of apartments for the "bachelor staff
members," it says here.  They were also studios for the artists.
      Today, those apartments and studios have been remodeled into hotel
sleeping rooms.  But you can imagine, as I did, that the ghosts of
John Ames Mitchell, Life's founder, and Charles Dana Gibson, the last
owner and publisher of the magazine, walk the halls, looking,
perhaps, for their offices or studios, now somehow buried behind new
walls and partitions.
      Our room was pretty dinky.  In fact, you had to crawl over one of
the two beds to get into the bathroom.  But it had a television (with
cable) and an air conditioner.
      Outside (I should have noticed coming in) over the doorway, a gilt
sculpture of the Winged Life (the magazine's cherub mascot) is
sprawled over the entry, surrounded by harps and other instruments of
      Ahh, echoes of those days of yore when American cartooning was just

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