The Long View 2004-08-02: Hellboy & Friends

I greatly enjoy Hellboy as well, and I second John's endorsement.

Hellboy & Friends

Over the weekend, the Department of Fear and Trembling raised the threat level for certain finance-related buildings in New York, Washington D.C. and Newark (New Jersey). This was the most specific warning the Department (otherwise known as the Department of Homeland Security) has given since it was organized. As The New York Times noted this morning, the measure has met with surprisingly little skepticism among the political class, including all but a few partisan Democrats. Under other circumstances, it might have been possible to argue that the Administration was seeking to counteract the bounce in popularity that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry would normally expect after last week's Convention in Boston. However, it has been apparent since Thursday that there was no bounce. Maybe, like the Watergate Break In, the Administration is giving hostages to fortune by taking superfluous but dangerous steps to ensure reelection. I would not bet on it.

The one voice of unalloyed skepticism I have heard in the mainstream media is that of Larry Johnson, an anti-terrorism consultant, formerly of the CIA and the State Department. On National Public Radio's Morning Edition today, he accused Homeland Security of "irresponsibility" and "grandstanding." To the extent that terrorist activity may have occurred at all, he suggests that the terrorists were just testing our security systems, to see how they would react. The Administration is crying "wolf," he says, and will have to pay for it in lost credibility when a real threat arrives.

There are lots of things one could say about this analysis; starting, perhaps, with the observation that it sounds like the FBI's pre-911 philosophy of allowing terrorist conspiracies to proceed almost to the point of consummation, so as to make a better legal case. However, it may be enough to cite this excerpt on Slate from a piece by a Larry C. Johnson (apparently the same person) that appeared in the The New York Times of July 10, 2001, entitled "The Declining Terrorist Threat":

None of these beliefs are based in fact. ... While terrorism is not vanquished, in a world where thousands of nuclear warheads are still aimed across the continents, terrorism is not the biggest security challenge confronting the United States, and it should not be portrayed that way.

Incidentally, shortly after Homeland Security raised the alert level for those three sites, the State of New Jersey did the same for several counties, including my own Hudson County. Jersey City in particular has some conspicuous financial-service industry buildings on the Hudson River. However, I have not noted dramatic increases in security measures, except for the black helicopters, which we are used to by now.

* * *

Moving on to pleasanter topics, I highly recommend the film, Hellboy (Two-Disc Special Edition), based on the Mike Mignola character from Dark Horse. It's got everything: bits of Satanic eschatology, such as the notion of starting a new eon by opening a connection to another world; references to the Occult Reich mythology, which probably shouldn't be encouraged (see here for a sober view) but which makes a great backstory; and there is even a New Jersey location, since the secret headquarters of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense is in, or under, Newark. Like The Addams Family series and films, Hellboy uses all those gothic trappings to tell a fundamentally edifying story. Ron Perlman's Hellboy is a big, sulky adolescent whose heart is in the right place, ethically if not necessarily anatomically. What's not to like?

Still, there is a bit of mismatch in the story's premises. Rosaries and relics "from the Vatican" work in this film to ward off evil, as has the Holy Hardware in horror stories since Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, the evils that BPRAD confronts are Lovecraftian. You might almost call them Kantian monsters; they do not come from the Id, but from the Noumenon, the unknowable region that is much more fearsome than Dante's neatly charted Hell. We have been given eschatological assurances about the defeat of Satan, but against Cthulu what hope have we?

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Speaking of the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a document entitled "On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World," which I gather condemns feminist ideology. From the reports, the document seems scarcely controversial: feminist ideology substitutes gender conflict for class conflict; it inhibits traditional family formation; and the denial of gender differences has served to normalize homosexuality. There are feminists and homosexual activists who would not quarrel with these characterizations.

Something I quarrel with is that the official document is not on the Vatican's site yet. Critiques and condemnation of the new document littered the Internet within a day of the document's announcement. What has not been available is a systematic defense, or even the text itself.

The Vatican has existed in something like its present form since the Roman Senate took a long lunch about AD 600 and never came back. You would think that the Curia would have learned something about newscycles by now.

* * *

Finally, Hell and the presidential campaign met most wonderfully in a short item that appeared in yesterday's New York Times:

IF you think that today's staged political conventions aren't what they used to be, you're not looking back far enough. Pitt Harding [a Democrat and Milton scholar at Jacksonville State University in Alabama] argues that the gathering in Boston was quite similar to the first and greatest convention of them all: the assembly of the fallen angels in "Paradise Lost."...When the devils convene in Pandemonium, a hall even more chaotic than the FleetCenter, their base is energized with rage against the militarist they blame for unfairly defeating them and ruling dictatorially. There are deep divisions in the party - some want all-out war with God, others are doves - but Satan unites them with two classic techniques [: soaring rhetoric and] a scripted convention. Satan doesn't want any surprise votes or divisive debates on the party platform.

Then there is Satan's closing pledge to the delegates, before he leaves for Earth to solicit the votes of Adam and Eve:

"I abroad
Through all the coasts of dark destruction seek
Deliverance for us all."

Would that Hellboy had been selected to blog from the floor.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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