Archive for Pop culture

Depends On What The Definition Of ‘Mature’ Is

This whole Grand Theft Auto flap really pisses me off. If you haven’t paid attention, here’s a couple of paragraphs from USA Today:

The video game industry on Wednesday changed to adults-only the rating of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” a best-selling title in which explicit sexual content can be unlocked with an Internet download. The best-selling video game, which centers on gang violence, was being pulled from some shelves and slapped with a more restrictive “Adults Only” rating Wednesday after an investigation concluded that explicit sexual content could be unlocked on the game.

An investigation concluded this? Gee, that must’ve been some investigation by the ESRB, who apparently don’t even know how to use their own ratings system. All they had to do was look at the back of the game’s box:

Say, what’s that down in the corner there? Let’s take a closer look.

Well, I’ll be darned. It’s an ESRB rating! And it details all the potentially objectionable content included in the game, such as “blood and gore,” “use of drugs,” “intense violence,” “strong language” and … what’s that other one say? Oh, yeah, “STRONG SEXUAL CONTENT”!

Damn, I should be a professional investigator.

Now, I could go on an extended rant about the fine line between a “Mature” rating and an “Adults Only” rating, but I won’t. You can check the ESRB descriptions yourself: “titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older” and “titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older.”

I could dwell on the fact that these sorts of “news” stories lead the general public to overwhelmingly view video games as uniformly depraved, despite the fact that according to the Entertainment Software Association, 83 percent of all games sold in 2004 were rated E for “Everyone” or T for “Teen” (which is basically the video game equivalent of the movie world’s G and PG), but I won’t.

I could blast morally outraged parent groups for having a double standard (what about the sex mini-game in the M-rated “God of War,” or the explicit nudity and sex in the M-rated “Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude”?). Surely they’re not just picking on this game because the sex appears to be interracial, right?

Of course, I could also blast the politicians for being the opportunistic scum they are. Does Hillary Clinton getting her panties in a wad over this issue remind anyone else of Tipper Gore and her PMRC putting the smackdown on the equally innocuous 2 Live Crew back in the day?

But what really pisses me off about the whole thing is alluded to in Senator Clinton’s ridiculous statement (link above):

So many parents already feel like they are fighting a battle against violence and sexually explicit material with their hands tied behind their backs. We need companies to be responsible and we need rating systems that work.

Hands tied behind their backs?! I’d be interested to see how these parents managed to get their wallets out of their pockets and sign the $49.99 credit card slip to buy their kids a copy of “Grand Theft Auto” with their hands tied behind their backs the whole time. Maybe pulling off that Houdini-like feat helps explain why these no-doubt conscientious souls were too distracted to simply read the friggin’ content warning on the box.

Yes, Hillary, we need “ratings systems that work.” Perhaps in the future, games with “blood and gore” or “intense violence” or “strong sexual content” can be shipped in a box that has horns and a siren and a little mechanical arm that hits parents over the head with a mallet when they’re not paying attention.

Maybe what we need instead are parents who take a little personal responsibility for what they bring into their homes and expose their children to. If you ask me, saying that Rockstar Games “enabled pornographic material to get into the hands of children” is no different from saying McDonald’s force fed me hamburgers and now I’m a big fat-ass.

Bottom line: Anyone who is titillated by the puerile, polygonal simulation of sex in “Grand Theft Auto” shouldn’t have been playing the game in first place!

Who’s your hero?

Superman vs. Batman.

It’s one of popular culture’s more contentious debates — right up there with Big Mac/Whopper, Beatles/Stones and, of course, Ginger/Maryann — those definitive lines that, as followers of all things shallow, frivolous and otherwise trivial, cleave our collective ideology and separate Us from Them.

In this particular case, the real difference is one of motivation: Superman uses his powers to help people in danger (altruism); Batman’s raison d’etre is to give criminals what they deserve (revenge).

In recent years, Hollywood has done its part to tip the public scales in Batman’s favor, targeting our unfortunate capacity for human compassion with sympathetic portrayals of everyone’s favorite sociopath. Handsome leading men have updated the Dark Knight’s image, doing battle with deranged-yet-fabulous-looking supervillians in the tastefully lit alleys of ever-corrupt Gotham City. It all takes place (deliberately, of course) somewhere in the shadowy grey area between your own neighborhood and Superman’s day-glo Metropolis, which makes Batman just that much easier for us to relate to.

But what’s the real issue here? Which guy you can identify with, or which one’s the better superhero? Before you go pledging your undying devotion to the Caped Crusader, riddle me this, Batfans: Who would you want coming to your rescue?

Supernatural powers

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Superman is a genetically superior being from a distant planet whose powers aren’t even in the realm of Batman’s comprehension. Superman can fly; he has heat-vision, x-ray vision, microscopic vision and telescopic vision; he has super-human speed (“faster than a speeding bullet”), strength (“more powerful than a locomotive”) and hearing, not to mention an amazing resistance to hat-head. Batman, on the other hand, is a filthy-rich, earthbound Homo sapiens who could, I suppose, go up against a locomotive, but would probably come out of it looking something like Steve Buscemi’s character in “Fargo,” about halfway through being fed into that chipper-shredder.

Let’s look at a few hypothetical situations:

  • Our hero is stranded alone on a deserted island. Superman flies home. Batman rings up the Batcave on the Batpager (better hope there’s not an emergency while Galaxy IV is out of commission) and waits several hours for Alfred to send a Batboat.
  • Our hero is uniform-less, say, gettin’ busy with Gwyneth Paltrow or something, when he’s suddenly attacked by his arch-enemy. Superman grabs Lex Luthor and spins him around so fast, his flesh rips off his bones from the centrifugal force. Batman is screwed, because his Batstuff is scattered on the floor next to his wadded-up bullet-proof cape and cowl; the Joker cracks, “So is that a heat-seeking Bat-missile, or are you just happy to see me?!” (Cue maniacal laughter.)
  • Our hero ties one on in Vegas and loses his entire fortune in a round of Guts. Superman returns to the Fortress of Solitude, sleeps it off and, nourished by the Earth’s yellow sun, continues fighting crime. A dazed, drooling Batman is pulled from the fountain in front of Caesar’s and, after failing to convince anyone of his situation (“No, really, I’m a superhero!”), spends the next few years reminiscing with Two Face in Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
  • Our hero is exposed to a nuclear blast, then shoots heroin with a used needle. Superman withstands the blast and is immune to disease. Batman’s radiation-proof cape helps deflect some of the damage, but in his weakened condition a virus finishes him off.

Basically, Superman can do everything Batman does and more, only without the expensive gadgets. Utility belt? He don’t need no stinking utility belt!

Mental Stability

In addition to his physical superiority, Superman’s a pretty centered dude. Batman, of course, is a lunatic. Here’s a not-so-unlikely conversation between the two:

Superman: “Hey, Batman. How’s it going?”

Batman: “Oh, man, I’m freaking out. My parents were gunned down in an alley and it’s making me feel all crazy and stuff. It’s all just so unfair, I feel like I’ve gotta go put on some tights and beat criminals up.”

Superman: “Your parents were killed in an alley? Gee, that’s sad. My whole freakin’ planet blew up. Now quit yer whining or I’ll burn your skull off.”

What with Batman’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, you never know what’s going to push him over the edge. He could end up behind someone with 11 items in the express lane and, next thing you know, he’s a subway freak with a sharpened screwdriver looking to get his name in the paper.

Superman, on the other hand, can cope like nobody’s business. Just in the last few years, he’s been stripped of his powers, killed, resurrected, engaged, dumped, engaged again, married and put in touch with his inner child. Besides, even if he went off his nut one day and committed a Super faux pas, he’s always got the evil twin thing going for him. For example, he might be feeling particularly displaced (“It’s a human thing, Superman, you wouldn’t understand”) and “forget” to put the earth back on its regularly scheduled course after moving it out of the way of an oncoming comet, thereby sending it on a collision course with the sun. All he has to say is, “Hey, it wasn’t me. Bizarro Superman did it.” (Could really come in handy when you forget to put the seat down, eh?) But, of course, Superman would never do such a thing because of his …

Moral Integrity

Superman grew up on a farm in Smallville, Kan., makes a meager living (along with his wife) as a mild-mannered news reporter and, as a stranger in a strange land, tries his hardest to fit in. He’s a family man who knows the meaning of hard work and the value of a dollar. Batman is a capitalist dog who exploits the working class to build his crimefighting toys.

The way Superman chooses to utilize his powers shows a far greater scope than Batman’s. Superman selflessly defends the entire globe against evil. (After all, he could pretty easily take over the planet if he wanted to.) Meanwhile, Batman skulks dramatically around Gotham City, cultivating intrigue, hoarding gadgets (You can almost hear him shrieking, “No, Robin! That’s my pot pie!”) and promoting his own cause under the banner of “justice.” I mean, if he’s so powerful and concentrates his efforts on just one city, why is it so hopelessly crime-infested?

And, I’m sorry, but you have to wonder about the motivation of a grown man who keeps a teenage boy (the current Robin is 14 or 15) around his cave, dressed in tight shorts, a mask and little booties. (You think the Bat-browser has the Hanson Web site bookmarked?) Humbert Humbert, move over — Jerry Springer would kill for this kind of deviance.


When there’s trouble, Superman is there!

Or: When there’s trouble, you gotta go up to the roof, fire up the Bat-signal, and wait.

Heck, even if Superman isn’t there, he can always reverse time (at least, according to the movie) and have another go at it. (“Do over!”) Even Batman couldn’t bankroll that trick.


If you’re still not convinced, here are sundry other reasons the Man of Steel (or Man of Energy, these days) is numero uno:

Superman was kicking Nazi butt in “dubbya-dubbya-too” while Batman was still a silver-spoon-fed mama’s boy.

Future Batman is nothing more than an old cripple who rules Gotham City with an army of Bat-Robots, while Future Superman is retired and gettin’ it on with Future Wonder Woman (See “Kingdom Come,” issues 1-4).

Superman has Krypto, the last dog from planet Krypton. Batman has Bat-Mite.

Jim Croce didn’t write “You don’t tug on Batman’s cape.”

Superman: Budweiser, “Exile on Main Street,” and Old Spice. Batman: Merlot, “Dark Side of the Moon,” and Drakkar Noir.