By Fred Martinez
Steve Ditko, the original artist and co-creator of the Spider-Man comic, is the Greta Garbo of comic books.
Even after Spider-Man 3 Ditko is still refusing to give interviews after 20 years. He refused interviews for major articles about him by the Los Angeles Times and one of Canada's leading newspapers, the National Post during the cinema run of the original Spider-Man movie.
Ditko, however, explained his philosophy of art in a narrative on a 1987 video titled "The Masters of Comic Book Art," hosted by author Harlan Ellison. In his introduction, Ellison dismissed Ditko's plea that heroes in art and literature be measured by the moral courage shown in objective good vs. evil choices.
The artist now seems prophetic for saying in the show that if we glorify the anti-hero in art, then anti-life and violence will come into our culture. The anti-heroes of the Columbine-like killings in public schools and the Sept. 11 terrorists seem to justify his claim.
What our American and global culture needs are heroes as models. In the program, the artist and co-creator of Spider-Man says, "Aristotle said that art is more important than history. History tells how man did act. Art shows how man should and could act. It creates a model.
"The self-flawed and anti-hero provide the heroic label without the need to act better. A crooked cop, a flawed cop, is not a valid model of a good law enforcer," Ditko said in the program. "An anti-cop corrupts the legal good, and an anti-hero corrupts the moral good."
Spider-Man as a model for goodThe power of Ditko's art has in fact influenced youth toward good. In the Fall, 2001 issue of The Jesuit, a teenager named Pedro tells how he was inspired to go to college by Spider-Man's message.
"Spider-Man got his power when he was a teenager and wasn't sure how to use it," Pedro explains. "So his grandfather [actually uncle] told him, 'With greater power comes greater responsibility.' That's the way it is at Cristo Rey. We're learning to make the world a better place. We're going to go to college and give a whole lot back from what we've been given."
Some are saying that Spider-Man is even a type of Christ. In his essay for the video, Ditko seems at times to be describing Spider-Man as well as the second person of the Trinity. He said, "Early comic book heroes were not about life as it is, but creation of how a man with a clear understanding of right and wrong and the moral courage to choose acts even if branded an outlaw."
On the Internet, I found the testimony of a man who used Ditko's art to turn to God. Mark Dukes, now a deacon of the African Orthodox Church, said:
"My father wasn't around. My mother was a single parent. It was a vacuum in my life. Who am I supposed to be? How am I supposed to be?
"For me, Spider-Man really resonated. Spider-Man's alter ego was Peter Parker, who was a nerd. And I didn't feel like I was a cool guy either. Spider-Man was disliked and feared. Everyone thought he was a crook, but he was a good guy. No one gave him any respect but he continued to do good even in the face of all that.
"He would sacrifice himself, get beat up and then people would say 'Ahhh. Spider-Man! Run. He's going to do something to us!' And really he had just now saved the world. That is very saintly.
"For me, Spider-Man was a type of Christ. He went through suffering just to do good. And he continued to do it even in the face of everyone misunderstanding him and hating him."
Spider-Man, icon art and invisible realitiesDukes is an artist of Orthodox icons for churches, an artistic pursuit similar in some ways to Ditko’s own work.
Blake Bell, creator of Ditko Comics Web site, said:
"Visually, Ditko had what most people would consider a cartoony style, but his work was far more real than the ‘photo-realist’ comic artists that would appear on the scene in the following 20 years.
"His was more real because the visual laws defined in his universe were so real, so consistent, that one suspends disbelief to its maximum."
Icon historian Andrei Navrozov, in the June issue of Chronicles, agrees with Bell that art can either be about "gaining a deeper understanding" of reality by symbols or can "mimic" reality.
Perspective was first invented in 470 B.C. by Agatharchus as a means of "geometric illusionism" to mimic reality in stage sets for theater, according to the icon historian.
Navrozov said the "theater set is conceived as a fiction, whereas [an icon] is born as an attempt at truth of life, an attempt that in no sense compromises the integrity of the original [reality]. ... They are symbols of real life, not lifelike imitations of reality.
"There is no deeper conflict in history than that between these opposing views of art. 'Is art to serve reality and the individual under God or is it to serve [materialistic] realism and the masses under communism?"
Navrozov shows us that the modern battleground against God and reality is imagery and the imagination. Michael O' Brien, in his book A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind, said that the imagination is the way that mankind comprehends "God's territory" and his created "invisible realities."
The modern imagination, according to O'Brien, has lost "God's territory" by returning to its "pre-pagan split in consciousness," which is the Gnostic rejection of the "sacramental" unity of spirit and matter, the addiction to occult tales of will to power like Harry Potter, and the relativistic denial of good and evil with ends-justify-the means storylines.
J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is for O'Brien a prime example of a return to the Western Christian epic tradition of the moral imagination, which comprehends "God's territory" and his created "invisible realities."
O'Brien wrote: "The discernment of the right paths that must be taken, if good is to triumph, is dramatized in the myriad geographical, emotional, spiritual, and symbolic choices faced by the questers. In each of these, Tolkein's world is faithful to the moral order of the universe, to the absolute necessity of freedom. Middle-earth is a "sacramental" world, an "incarnational" world. ... Spirit [invisible realities] and matter are never portrayed as adversaries."
Western culture based on reality and GodThe Western Christian culture was rooted in this service to reality and God. Reality was the belief in the objectivity of things that are both material and spiritual. During the last two to five centuries, materialistic modernity has been the adversary of this spiritual and matter "incarnational" worldview.
This "incarnational" reality was rooted out and refilled with the lone materialistic science and "realism" in art worldview in which reality was contained only within material objects that could be tested or seen.
Spiritual (invisible) realities like God, love, beauty, responsibility and free will were neither seeable, material nor testable, so they were not within modernity's realism.
Modernity attacked the primacy of realistic philosophies such as Thomism and realistic symbolic literature like Dante's spiritual epics and Shakespeare's dramas contrasting persons who were symbols of the conflicting real worldviews of modernity and the older realistic philosophy.
Hamlet's "To be or not to be?" illustrates what the two cultures were in conflict about. In our time, Bill Clinton ("What is the definition of is?") is the symbol of modernity's denial of "to be" or objective truth or falsehood.
Modernity, in its desire to stamp out the Christian culture, dislodged Thomism realistic philosophy and realistic symbolic literatures with Pavlovian behaviorism as well as the materialistic reductive studies and application of art, which represented only material acts. Such as Freud's deterministic reduction of all symbols of the mind to represent only the physical acts of sex and Picasso's sexual anti-art.
This cramped reality of only the materially seeable or testable led to rootlessness and alienation, which was so unbearable to modern man that there was a reaction. According to philosopher Allan Bloom, Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy of disbelief in all reality, seeable or unseeable, material or spiritual, became the language of the American reaction.
Friedrich Nietzsche's values philosophy led to the subjectivity of all concepts of objective truth, which included good and evil.
Many will remember when President Reagan called the USSR "the evil empire"; he was roundly criticized for violating the new language of "beyond good and evil." This language of value relativism allows for neither the words nor the symbols of evil and good.
Nietzsche's anti-reality philosophy of "God is dead" led to the anti-heroes of politics and art.
In society this led to the denial of the concepts of absolute truth and the law of identity in reality by modernist artists such as Pablo Picasso and by politicians such as Clinton. This rejection of good and evil in turn led to the degrading of women and sexuality.
In the case of Picasso, E. Michael Jones in Degenerate Moderns says:
"His break with the traditions was an index of his hatred not only toward the spiritual values of the West but toward the human body and spirit that the West prized as good. In the end, the only thing that Picasso portrayed realistically was the woman's crotch. Modern art had returned to its roots, and the gaping crotch was the only thing now that could keep the aging Picasso in touch with the real world."
Spider-Man the hero On the other hand, the hit Spider-Man movie may be a sign that our society wants to go back to the culture that Nietzsche, Picasso and Clinton rejected—a culture that was able to see the objective reality of God, love, beauty, responsibility, free will and the honorable hero.
In the climax of the movie, at the top of a bridge, the Green Goblin's hand holds up the woman that Spider-Man loves and in the other hand he holds a cable with a tram full of children dangling at the other end. Then the villain lets them fall to their deaths. As he does this, he gives Spider-Man a choice by saying, "You can save either the girl or the children."
Spider-Man, almost miraculously, saves both. For some, this is symbolic of the need in our society to return to the Christian tradition of men retaking the heroic responsibility of showing love by committing both to his woman and the fruit of their love through "better or worse" for life.
As our hero slowly lowers, by the cable, his love and the children to safety, he is repeatedly knocked around by the Green Goblin.
The Goblin taunts him to let go and save himself, which would mean the deaths of those he is lowering. But as the villain zeros in for the kill, Spider-Man is ready to give his life for others, as another hero did 2,000 years ago.
With the help of New Yorkers, Spider-Man saves his love and the children and defeats the Goblin, who finally begs for mercy. As our hero is about to give him his hand, the villain sends his high-tech vehicle to kill Spider-Man from behind. Spidey avoids the vehicle and it ends up killing the Goblin.
This is the Christian message in a symbolic nutshell. God will forgive anyone no matter what the offense, with only one exception. The only offense God can't forgive without destroying our free will is one's choice to reject mercy. By the Judas choice, one freely sends oneself to where God is not, which is the definition of hell.
Clinton the classic anti-heroThe Democrats and their public relations agency, the media, are at the other end of the symbolic spectrum, as real-life anti-heroes who use the seduction marketing trick of association to sell lies.
Years ago, in Catholic books, association meant personal relationships with good or bad companions—friendships that led to either depravity or honorable lives.
‘Association’ now means creating the false impression that a product, place, thing or politician is like the symbol he figuratively stands next to. Nike shoes are "good" because stars like Michael Jordan wear them, or toothpaste will make you popular because that's what happens in the commercial.
It's a con job to sell products and politicians. Sadly, the shadier part of our economic culture is based on this tactic. This shallow magician's trick, as with all lies, leads to meaninglessness and despair. The selling of pornography to the masses by associating it with constitutional freedoms would make our founding fathers turn over in their graves.
Pornography is not only bad, it is also an empty evil that can only mimic reality. It's men having imaginary relationships with glossed-over images of what was once a picture of a real woman, betraying her most intimate self and future relationships. The emptiness keeps multiplying.
Porn is not symbolic of real life, but a lifelike imitation of reality.
As Navrozov said, "There is no deeper conflict in history than that between these opposing views of art. Is art to serve reality and the individual under God or is it to serve [materialistic] realism and the masses."
The marketing and selling of pornography brings us to Bill Clinton, who, despite promises to the contrary, disrupted the "obscenity prosecution" of Ronald Reagan's task force, which had the porn industry in "serious trouble in the late '80s and early '90s."
Instead, Clinton lived like a presidential X-rated soap opera star for the $10 billion per year pornography industry.
Our society was willing to accept a degenerate like Clinton as an anti-hero. And as Ditko said, "[A]n anti-hero corrupts the moral good."