So I have this confession: I managed a comic book store through most of my adolescence.
It was sort of like the Simpsons. Or that movie High Fidelity. (except that was in a record store.) Folks that were pretty low on the world’s pecking order came in and established a completely different pecking order. In the outside world, coolness was based on toughness, talent (in something useful), competence, money. Mostly, the folks who frequented the store were distinctly lacking in coolness. They were not tough, talented, competent, or wealthy. These attributes were so low in most of the customers that they could not be measured by any instruments known to man. As a result, the pecking order in that place had to be established based on different criteria. (Because we all know that we need a pecking order… If we stopped trying to figure out who was on top we might actually all start to get along.)
I should say at this point that I manipulated my way out of the pecking order. I didn’t do the right thing and squash it. The stereotype holds true: in those sort of specialized mom-and-pop stores, customer service means that you might wait until they left the store to mock them. My status as the guy running the store established me as some sort of nerd Alpha wolf.
At any rate, I observed the heirarchy that they established. It was not based on competence or toughness or money. It was based on treating every ridiculous and insiginificant detail of whatever comic book was cool like it was divinely inspired. It understates the case to say that the attitude was as if the characters were real. The real world paled to isignificance when compared to the importance of whatever revelation had just been unvieled in Spiderman, or whatever X-man had just been brought back from the dead, or what new fact about the Sanman’s realm had just been brought to light.
Ignorance was dealt with scorn. Disagreements that would be seen as insignificant matters of opinion by normal people were treated as objectively verifiable and critically important. And whoever was wrong had not only missed out on issue blah-blah-blah of title blah-blah-blah. They were somehow morally deficient. They were placed at the bottom of the heap by a group of people who normally inhabitted the bottom of the heap.
They had these Comic Book Conventions. Yes, they are everything you’d imagine them to be. Put these sad little people in a room with the creaters of the focus of these people lives. There were basically two different ways I ever saw this go:
Scenario A: The creator was some frustrated art student. He treated the fans with contempt. Questions about continuity, trivia, and details were seen as irrelevant. The fans drank this contempt like a fine wine, and chased after these guys all the more. They seemed to have this sense that the creator actually possessed all the answers, but just didn’t want to share. The fans seemed to believe if they were just persistent enough, eventually the artist would give in. (Anybody seen Misery?)
Scenario B: The creator was basically a grown up fan and seemed to relish the silly-seriousness of it all. He had answers worked out to the questions and apparent contradictions. He could quote issue numbers off the top of his head just like a fan. (Anybody remember Galaxy Quest?)
I got this image in my head today. It was a dialogue between a creater of some work of art (I don’t care what: an opera, a comic book, a movie, a TV show, a novel) and some over-the-top fan. (He probably lacked some basic sanitation skills. This is unfortunately another portion of the stereotype that my experience bore out as true.)
I have this image that the fan might open with some question about characterization. And the creator might ask “what did you think of it?”
And the fan might express curioisty about how the warp-field-gizmo-whatsit works. And the creator might ask “But did you like the story?”
And the fan might proudly ask for an explanation to the apparent contradictions that come to light if you watch the directors cut of one thing and contrast it with the Europen pilot episode of the other. And the creator might ask “But did it move you? Were you effected? Inspired by it? Anything?”
God is of course the creator of everything that there is. The creator of creators. The creator of comic books fans. The creator of comic books. The creator of stars. And belly button lint.
And as I thought about God as the creator, I had this realization: I haven’t really grown out of these ridiculous debates. I don’t read comics anymore, so I’ve changed the subject matter. (Actually, if you want to know the deep truth, every now and again, when I think nobody is looking, I’ll open up one of those old comics.) These days I don’t listen to conversations about who the toughtest Robin was. I’ve disengaged from conversations about whether Kirk was cooler than Piccard. I’m no longer interested in what color of Kryptonite gives Superman a wedgie.
These days the conversations I’m involved in are a little more likely to be about predestination or the nature of the trinity. But the thing is, It’s hard for me to imagine that God views them as much different than I now see those ridiculous conversations in the Comic Book store.
Before the doctrine police prepare there rebuttals, I’d like to say that there are a few– a precious few– of these conversations which might be important. I am not making the claim that all discussions about doctrine are irrelevant. But I am willing to be make the claim that almost all of them are.
It’s not that they are not destructive by themselves. But they are addictive to somebody like me. And then there is that pecking order… I have to say that the ghost of that old pecking order it comes back, every now and again. We’re a little more suble and sophisticated. Most of us are good at hiding it from ourselves when we’re busy dividing the world into the groups of cool kids and un-cool kids.
But I know that I still make judgements. Focusing on the things that divide us isn’t good because it focuses me on these things, and this is not where my focus is supposed to be.
Someday, I think the creator of the universe will ask me “What did you think? Did it inspire you?”
I hope I’ve got a pretty good answer ready.
This post was my entry into Marty Holman’s weekly blog Carnical, Monday Moments. Click here to check other great posts at the carnival.