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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ideas We Will Outlive




Can we fast-forward to the part where Trump dies in prison? This maudlin Punch and Judy show has gone on long enough.  It has now become clear that our President is on intimate terms with more wacky Muppets than Oscar the Grouch is.   

Other than perhaps ending all life as we know it BECAUSE HE CAN, the risks of the Trump presidency seem to be on the downside. At this moment the only real risk Trump poses to the future is that his tactics may be taken up by another politician, that Trumpism and Trump-Like figures could become a mainstay of the American political environment.

The odds are against it. Nixonism, Clintonism, Hooverism never took off, never became a going thing. Reaganism, Jacksonian and Kennedy-esque did. (There was also a craze involving Teddy Roosevelt which even Teddy Roosevelt himself could not successfully harness.) What does and does not stick has more to do with a memorable style than anything else. Like it or not, Trump does have a distinct and memorable style.



Sadly, HATE as a political philosophy will always be with us. This whole gloomy gob of right-wing puss is always looking for a stylish wrapper for its cartoonish slogan “Our problems are all the faults of others.” Adding Mexicans to the mix (thank you Victor Davis Hanson), is Trump’s only recipe augmentation. Evil exists and it will manifest itself anew to meet the times. The good news is that most of this stuff has a shelf life. Tonight our featured correspondent Mister Fun will give his take on  bad ideas which are on the way out.  In a way they are all tied to each other and, in a way, all of them are heading out the door for the same reason.  And in a way, all of these predictions are pipe dreams and magical thinking on the part of Mister Fun himself, which leads us to…



Disclaimer: Mister Fun’s statements, opinions, predictions, run-on sentences, variable verb-noun tense oppositions, rare alliterations (he promised to cut that out), philosophical pronouncements and venting of vendettas are his and his alone and do not represent Hil-Gle Mind-Rot Quality Creative Newsstand Fiction Unit, the Hil-Glea Wonderblog, its ownership, operators, employees, surfs or slaves. (Not saying that Hil-Gle has surfs or slaves, which would be an admission of guilt in certain quarters and something that Hil-Gle, as an aspiring international conglomerate, would never do—that is, admit or confess to anything.)  Hil-Gle is a good international citizen, obeying global mores and values as they are found, specifically in Liberia and the Central African Republic, which Hil-Gle may someday own outright—although this should not be construed as a forward looking statement for prospectus purposes. Mister Fun’s words as represented here come to him, as per terms of a one hundred year leasing agreement via undisclosed 3rd parties in the Virgin Islands, often in unmarked brown packages sent media mail. These words are generally found in a hermetically sealed condition and are then removed from their packaging at first with a set of kitchen scissors but eventually with Mister Fun’s teeth. He spits those words and hopefully not also his teeth out for you now.

1950s Nostalgia

The Skinny: A belief that the mid 1950s was the apex of American society, that people were far better off in this time period than in those previous or since. It has never been beat, in terms of music (Rock & Roll), manufacturing (1957 Chevy), overall standard of living and position of military power.

The Draw: Like Gay 90s nostalgia, which we have covered, the 1950s had a lot of design and popular arts firepower.  It has trends in almost everything other than architecture.  In reality, it’s not much of a break with other emergent trends—an extension of Art Decco in design, an offshoot of Rhythm & Blues in music, a continuation in mechanization. The unprecedented break is reverse urbanization, leading to the mass creation of homogenized suburbia. Effectively ‘mass homogenization’ is the buzz word for the era.

Its Flaw:  Like all nostalgia, it ages out. People who had first-hand experience of the 1950s are now climbing into their 80s.  And many of them may be more nostalgic for the 1960s. What people like about the 1950s was somewhat unequally present in the reality of the times. If you were poor, rural or not white, much of what was attractive about this era may have passed you by.  The political paranoia and mass conformity of the era were also not a boon to many.


Fascism/Populism/Nationalism:

The Skinny: All of these are various aspects of tribalism or localism and, in an increasingly more interactive and interwoven world, have no real place in the future.  All of them tout “A WAY” as a specific ideal end state. Proponents discount or denigrate impediments to reaching that end and squelch debate as to its worthiness. It’s a big version of “I’m right. You’re wrong. Move on.”

The Draw: It would be nice to have a few simple solutions to our many problems. Almost all religions uphold the same ideals.  There does seem to be an agreed on set of moral values, virtues, goals. Certainly there is a good and agreed on method. All of these are methods which feel best, which seem like the ways in which we conduct ourselves within our families. It’s time to dispense with the red tape and do what’s right!

Its Flaw: Too numerous to mention, so we will just go with the fatal ones. First, not all ideals are equally valued. Everyone has their own little pyramid. In an effort to enforce a specific ordering of values, the tribal types spend all of their capital scapegoating “the other” or pruning the masses of deviance. Second, red tape exists for a reason. Each rule and regulation has a mountain of human suffering as its parent. You ignore red tape at your peril.

Communism

The Skinny: The rich really do suck. There are no honest fortunes. Capitalism seems to only work for the few and the connected. Surely a more egalitarian distribution of the rewards of mechanization can be contrived to supersede the lopsided windfalls afforded to the financial sector.

The Draw: Egalitarian outcomes always sound good. Enforced fairness sounds good.  Bankers are just government-backed rich people toadies.

Its Flaw: There are all of three communist regimes left in existence. To the extent that they function, each does so to the extent that they are Capitalist. The most successful of these, China, makes its international living by pimping out its poor masses to foreign capitalist manufacturers. And a great big clique of know-nothing, do nothings (whose only talent is for conformity) gleans the cream of the worker’s labor. All in all, no real improvement over rule by the rich. For bonus points, the ones which still exist are held together by systemic murder. In our only example of a nuclear armed communist state collapsing, Russia, it simply became a totalitarian regime without an ideology. But no one can predict what happens when a nuclear armed communist state in the midst of failure will really act. And all communist regimes have failed. And none are successful by any measure. So sleep soundly, assured that the end of the world is likely to be the result of a nuclear armed Chinese civil war.

Mission Statement

The Skinny: A run on sentence, about the length of a candy bar’s list of ingredients, which proports to explain what a business organization’s purpose is, its product or service and the market segment it wishes to operate profitably within. At their best, Mission Statements were both focusing and reassuring, a long-form advertisement in the guise of noble purpose. At their worst, they were gibberish goulash suffering from too many chefs.

The Draw: Putting the superstructure of your business plan front and center is a good way of informing at least your own employees what you are out to do. The idea is to get everyone on the same page. It keeps your mezzanine finance unit from pouncing into online sub-prime auto consumer loans. It’s as close to commissioned poetry as the modern world provides.  

Its Flaw: Once contrived, printed, framed and hung prominently, most were never interacted with again. Almost all of them became embarrassments over time.  The fact of the matter is that a business’s sweet spot evolves over time. Your Fast Casual restaurant branches out into Drive Through or Fresh Sushi. None of them were honest, otherwise they all would read “We intend to operate profitably until we are bought out, merged or bankrupt. Whichever comes first.”


Corporate Values

The Skinny: Your business needs a religion. Why? Because many of your employees don’t seem to have been raised right. It’s a proactive listing of expectations, common virtues and things which will get you fired. Add some glop about how without customers you have no business. Season to taste and post in meeting rooms.

The Draw: This became an absolute obsession with large corporations. The Big Cheeses suddenly all decided that they were philosopher kings, that their positions were attained through some sort of virtuous cycle. Lords of the meritocracy spewed forth with such nasal noises as “Commit to Life-Long Learning” and “Always be growing.” (My own favorite was “Know your place.”) Despite the fact that most of this stuff was rather interchangeable and mundane, it gave the successful a platform from which to crow.

Its Flaw: Ethical lapses on the part of front-line employees have never ruined a company. The ethical lapses that smart are launched from the Executive Suite.  Most of these value regimes were thought up after an organization has been busted for a crime. Given that the values almost never apply to management, value statements are viewed as the dual track double stuffed eyewash that they are. Eventually most of these degraded into statements about pretending your mother was watching you.

Six Sigma/Quality First/Accountability

The Skinny: That which gets measured, gets done. You should provide the best product or service that you can. The end results of a process can only be measured on a step by step basis. Improving or removing steps will lead to a better result.

The Draw: An excellent method for sidetracking rivals for management leadership.  Created an entire class of people who had oversight responsibility without any actionable authority. Also allows managers the freedom to hide out in their offices reading charts and dashboards, as if they were rocket pilots. Proposed an entire language designed to obscure numbers and facts.

Its Flaw: I am picking on a largely dead horse here.  This is a progression of the idea’s degradation. Six Sigma was remedial scientific, with Quality First being its overall goal. Accountability is the state of the idea now—and all it boils down to is blame. Its major flaw was that it is NOT TRUE. Quality is not everything and sometimes it’s not the most important thing. And sometimes quality cannot be measured.  That said, parts of the Quality First regime are valid, to the degree that they apply. The sin is in applying its methods to everything or making method a shrine unto itself.

Empowerment/Controllership

The Skinny: These are ideas in opposition to each other—and yet they are often both attempted simultaneously. Empowerment in the corporate sense is a dust off of the old Management By Objectives.  You hire good people, tell them what you expect and then give them the freedom to proceed as they like. Controllership is all about putting baby bumpers and training wheels on things. It’s about assigning dollar values to someone’s authority, about restricting access and withholding information.  In Controllership roles are narrowly defined.

The Draw: Optimally these two concepts should work together. You’re guiding someone’s progress, establishing firm goals and boundaries.  This pairing is usually not about operational efficiency, but rather an attempt to be attractive to all of an organization’s constituencies. Empowerment helps attract employees. Controllership attracts customers and investors. No one really notices the contradictions.

Its Flaw: It is not functional. All that happens is that you burn out your HR department. And its never uniform, compliance depending entirely on the managers directly above the front line. It’s too much to do and too much effort to make sense of. Every single moment spent mounting screen shots into an SOP is a moment hopelessly wasted.

Rock & Roll:

The Skinny: A splicing of up-tempo Rhythm & Blues and Country Western music forms. Rose in opposition to Champagne Music, a degradation of the Big Band Jazz form. Featured drums, bases, guitar and often a piano. Thrived through a number of periods of musical electrification, which it embraced in all of its nuances. Spawned numerous subgenres all slated at a tween to young adult market. The majority popular musical form in the developed world for several decades.

The Draw: Spoke to the emotional state of young people. Embraced its times.

Its Flaw: Its designed demographic lost much of its market power. Was more dependent on a “Music Industry” for creating interest in new acts than other forms. No new act in this genre has caught on in more than a decade. Largely supplanted by electronica, hip hop. Survives in nostalgia mode.


Mindfulness

The Skinny: Live in the moment and contemplate the moment as the moment is here. Remain at an even keel. Represent memory as a resource and not a confinement. Seek the best results for all.

The Draw: Treats stress. Legal. No known withdrawal symptoms.

Its Flaw: It’s Yoga without yoga.  Yoga itself is Buddhism minus theology. Mindfulness is Yoga plus something else other than Buddhism which is indistinguishable from Buddhism. There’s nothing wrong with Zen Buddhism. I’m a freaking ZEN MASTER myself. But it has its limits. At the retail level, Mindfulness is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair as a group study. In the let’s meet after class at the Mat Master’s personal dojo version, it’s that religion which is like Judaism that the Yoga Mat people have been attempting to push as a sideline for the past decade or so, only under a new name. I’m not sure that’s what the Yoga Mat Ladies are really up for. If you need something more from Yoga—let us say an actual religion with a worked out cosmology and whatnot—may I suggest something less alien, perplexing and malleable, like Catholicism or its evil twins Lutheranism, Methodism and Church of England. Your chances of being molested or taken are far less with these than with some bearded nonsense speaker who shares storefront space with a potter.

Culture Wars

The Skinny: Satanists in the popular guise of secular humanism (so called humanitarians) are out to drive God (in the specific form of the Trinity, but with a carve out for Jews and a weird exclusion for Islam) from the public square and replace the attendant values and structures (primarily the father led nuclear heterosexual family unit) of such with idolatry for homosexual socialist ape people. Actually an outgrowth of invective against Secular Humanism which all Christian churches have been promoting for decades, with an appended extremist superstructure.

The Draw: The advantage here is primarily to the political class, of a specific financial elitist stripe.  The Evangelical movement is inherent to the United States, achieving a majority of religious affiliates in suburban, ex urban and rural areas. As a whole, persons of this religious affiliation are a majority in the United States. But they are not a set sect, denomination or organization. Most are mom and pop single church affairs, with a few Mega Church denominations in the low tens of thousands. What little commonality these churches had was that they were largely apolitical, many advancing a “come out of the world” approach to current concerns. Like all Christian churches of the time, most touted the invective against Secular Humanism. Seeking additional voters to tap into, the wealthy water carrier Republican Party politically aligned with this amorphous crusade and its various permutations.

Its Flaw: Several, however we will stick to the fatal ones.  The fight against Secular Humanism is illogically extrapolated from Christ’s teachings against materialism and hedonism, comfort and worldly goods. Humanitarian ethos and Christian ethos are identical, one having heavily inspired and influenced the other. The humanitarian ethic is the Be Attitudes reworded, making this a distinction without a difference. As initially construed, Secular Humanism was the churchman’s cudgel for use against psychology—not science, not ration and not modernity in general. Most priests now embrace and even practice psychology today. The extrapolated fights against foreign philosophy, abortion, birth control, woman’s equality and liberalism writ large have not been winners, either for the Republican Party or the churches. Moreover it has enabled literalists, bigots and classical iconoclasts.  The modern Evangelical Movement is repellant, losing more voters than it attracts. Thanks to its ascendance we are approaching a non-religious majority in the United States. Good work, guys!

It is what it is

The Skinny: Learned helplessness as a imposed condition. The speaker would like to cut off debate or restrict resources. The net cause of the problem is not to be addressed—or not to be addressed here or by you. Let us surrender to the inevitable and get on with the work around.

The Draw: Not everything is open for freaking debate.  Very few business decisions recquire ratification by consensus approval.  Some people, especially the dickless, go on and on about crap that either can’t be undone or happened in the distant past. Uttering words are always better than resorting to force and “It is what it is” is a fairly neutral way of acknowledging bad news and setting another direction.

The Flaw: Although the construction does follow the rules found in my HOW TO ACHIEVE GREAT BIG HUGE OPULENCE (found on the HIL-GLE website), the statement suffers from overuse by the overly smug.  A few moments of explanation as to why you have eliminated, curtailed, postponed, reversed or bypassed something important are usually in order, even if you are the Old Testament God. Unless fixing the underlying problem does indeed involve the use of a Time Machine, then the expression of this phrase should be avoided. 

Flat Organization

The Skinny: Something of an outgrowth of Six Sigma, this is an organizational structure which functions without what was once called Middle Management.  The structure has limited enterprise-wide departments and functions largely without secretaries. Most flat organizations are centered around specific customers or specific deliverables (products or services). Most operational managers will also have a production oriented role. For example, a factory’s production manager—the person above all of the people working making stuff in the factory—will split this responsibility with a role providing production forecasts.

The Draw: In any downturn, the first employees to be shed in the corporate structure are the Middle Managers, role administrators and purchasing agents. Why operate with them in the first place?

The Flaw:  Several. We will focus on the killer two. Human nature has not changed. For every five employees you need a designated shepherd. For every ten employees you need a sheriff.  These numbers can be multiplied by 2 to 10 depending on how similar the employee’s roles are.  If you have 10 people in a department, all of whom have distinct roles, you need two people who are familiar with all of the roles and one person who can be called on to wield necessary authority. This arithmetic came to us from the Romans—and they probably stole the idea. Violate this math and you are NOT MANAGING. Most flat organizations are controlled by their HR Departments, and not well. As a Six Sigma augmentation, many organizations routinely fire their bottom 10% performers every year.  This seldom translates into any type of reality, since most flat organizations cannot retain employees in front line roles.
 Flat organizations discourage the type of people you want to retain. A well motivated employee gives something extra to his/her work. For these people work is “their thing”, their primary interest, a part of their identity.  While it is wonderful to have people who just show up, do what their told and then pick up checks, any enterprise of note is driven by careerists. Without these people you go nowhere. Such people require encouragement, tokens denoting worth. Flat organizations limit the number of tokens that can be awarded, often causing the careerist to seek another pool to swim in. In point of fact, most flat organizations will inflate over time, creating distinction in roles and manufacturing jobs simply to keep good workers. But the orthodoxy drives a lot of good people away unnecessarily.



Proactive

The Skinny: Preemptive action generally designed to accomplish a task well ahead of deadline or to ready a contingency strategy in case of a failure in planning or to cut off the cowboys at the pass before they can get to Dodge City and rob the bank. Being engaged in a far-sighted and hyperactive sort of way. Not just prepared, but permanently coiled and ready to strike in any direction at a moment’s notice.

The Draw: Proactive is the fairy dust sprinkled on hedging and options and credit default swaps and other financial instruments. Outside of finance it means you’re really smart and you read up on things and can swoop in whenever your big data finds you a nice juicy fat worm to eat. It also means that you have disaster plans. You are telemetry god!

Its Flaw: The hell you are.  Man plans, God laughs. The more you stock up on fire extinguishers, the greater your likelihood is of being hit with a flood. This may come as a shock to some, but PSYCHIC POWERS DO NOT EXIST.  Also risk mitigation is profit suppression. Being prepared to navigate around reasonable and known hazards is not a particularly rare talent/skill set. Claiming that you are able to do more than that is horse crap.

Meritocracy

The Skinny: This is the Divine Right of Kings in new clothes.  The rich, the powerful, the successful and the beautiful would like to inform you that they are equal parts worthy.  Achievement within the system is part of an unbiased set of rational measures. We are better than you by a true yardstick. None of us got here by blowing or knowing anyone. We have obtained our status fairly and are the products of an organization capable of exact measurement. Know your place and lick my booties.

The Draw: Fun to say. One of those aspirational ideal ideals. For those in power, a justification for all sorts of unfairness. Related to the once fashionable “It’s like high school with money.”

Its Flaw: To put it mildly, it is an overestimation.  It denotes an organization which has entirely overestimated itself and is likely to be dismissive of outside ideas.  Many organizations are run by cliques of like-minded people and function perfectly well.  But once you’ve determined that you’re perfect, you’re done.

Coming Soon!



Monday, April 1, 2019

No April Fool



Hi Interweb!

How’s it going! I’ve been doing a bit of writing, although obviously not here. That does not mean that I’ve forgotten this blog nor its attendant website HIL-GLE dot com. No sirree, not at all. Quite the opposite.

As promised many moons ago, HIL-GLE is about to go through a major replate and expansion. We have about 300 pages completed and are now inching our way to launch. The majority of these pages are dedicated to the new Streamlined Edition of Weird Detective Mystery Adventures. We have expanded our listings well beyond those found in the previous edition and the text has been extensively rewritten and reformatted for greater clarity and ease of play. All of this is part of a long-term plan to relaunch the game in print.



At this point I am thinking that we will be live by August, but it could be sooner. We also are planning on a pair of web novels for posting on these pages. And I have a whole bin of subjects to blog about that I have compiled over the months. Life incidents not intruding otherwise, I am hoping to make a dent in the stack. We may also revisit some of our other continuing topics, such as the Flying Car (two more have been “invented”) and the Electric Car.

Certainly current events have provided more than enough fodder for the dedicated blogger to feel prompted by. As recounted earlier, HIL-GLE is now a registered, card-carrying member of the Resistance. The experience has been an eyelash or so less than satisfying, although control of the House is nothing to sneeze at. I’m not sure toting a protest sign and rubbing shoulders with anti-fascists pushing for the legalization of prostitution contributed much to the cause. I am ready to resume my protesting, weather and proximity of protests permitting.


It’s been easy to relax one’s focus during these past few months.  Many hopes have been pinned on the legal process doing what the political process seems incapable of—removing the Orange Thing from office. Barring a reversal of fortune predicated on an attorney named Barr’s lack of reading comprehension, it looks as if the big probe struck out. That’s not good news, no matter how you slice it. The groundhog sees two more years of Trump, unless he massively overplays his hand.

If I were the Republicans, I would just settle for giving each other hickeys and blowing wet kisses at the opposition and call it a day.  Gloating is well within the norms for this sort of victory, as is the loud postulation of superlative hypotheticals. Break out the Emerging Republican Majority and all the other blow up dolls and party favors. All good fun and possibly deserved. Unfortunately, it appears as if the euphoria has turned sinister, if this recent missive from Trumpland to my secret identity can be believed:



Dear HIL-GLE’s Secret Identity,

President Trump has been vindicated, but now justice must be served.
It’s time to go after the witch hunters who allowed this illegal attempt to overturn the 2016 election to happen.

Kellyanne Conway, Steve Scalise, and Jim Jordan are all calling for Adam Schiff -- the congressional Democrat who led this witch hunt -- to RESIGN.
The rule of law in America is at stake.

If unelected government agents can get away with colluding with the losing political party and the mainstream media to wage a two-year-long witch hunt against an innocent man based on no evidence, what will become of America?

This time it was President Trump -- the most powerful man in the world.
But next time, the Deep State could choose to go after you.

Justice must be served. Adam Schiff, the Pelosi lapdog who replaced Devin Nunes as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, cannot serve one more day in Congress.

He must RESIGN -- and if he refuses, then he must be expelled from the people’s House.

This is either silly or a classic example of overreach. By “unelected government agents” the Trumpsters mean the FBI, Justice Department, IRS and other cop types. They could also mean the mailman, but the mailman has not been tossing Trump’s pals in the pokey.

If we can’t trust these FBI, Justice Department, IRS cop types, I’m not sure who Trumpland proposes we do trust.  Their demand to refashion the whole shooting match in their own image seems a tad self-serving, to say the least. If this DEEP STATE was so powerful, one wonders how MAGIC TRUMP was ever elected in the first place. I am sure that all of these things will be explained to me, in exhaustive detail, once the DEEP STATE finally gets around to COMING FOR ME. In the mean time I will continue to dress in non earth tones and eat sensibly.

As odd as Trumpland’s missives have been, they pale when compared to a 24 page letter I recently received in the mail.  Fraud In My Mailbox has been a theme in this blog, mostly consisting of run of the mill trolling for geezers using various color of law pretexts. My latest treasure uses the rare Secret Society of Supervillains tactic, posing to initiate me into the hidden wisdom of the ancients through membership in their clandestine cult. No human sacrifices, but it was pretty flamboyant otherwise. And at 24 pages it was fatty as far as long form lies are concerned, outside of the format of the investment prospectus. A quick check of the interweb showed that it was well debunked—which is what you get for being so long-winded. I may still post parts of it, since it did contain some interesting flourishes.



Speaking of cults, not one, but two of the mega cults here in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago have recently imploded. Cults are more common than one might believe, and they all have a discernable life cycle. Since this life cycle has not been covered to any degree, I may make it a subject of a new post. The two cults in question, Harvest Bible Chapel and  Willow Creek Church shared a lot of demographics in common and both essentially failed at the same place in the life cycle.

Our In Box remains jammed, in any case.  A new posting on trends we are likely to outlive will be live here shortly.





Saturday, December 8, 2018

Comic Book Dystopia: City of the Living Dead


City of the Living Dead: An examination of Dystopia in American comic books.



In our last posting on Dystopia, it was stated that global fictional un-utopia came in two flavors: Literary Dystopia, which is an exercise in a big bad idea playing out on an individual (1984, Brave New World) and Pulp Dystopia, wherein whatever it is that went wrong is treated more or less as scenery (Mad Max, Hunger Games).  While Literary Dystopia adheres to the plot conventions of Horror, Pulp Dystopia cleaves to tropes found in the Western, Romance or Fantasy genres.  That Pulp Dystopia has such flexibility is one of the reasons for its current popularity.  My own contention is that there is an attractive democracy to Pulp Dystopia, a world devoid of celebrities and distinctions in class. I believe that Pulp Dystopia and Fantasy are occupying the same popular space that Westerns once did.

Attempts to tie this new Pulp Dystopia back to the actual Pulp Magazine era are dubious.  The pulp magazine form had faded by the time 1984 first hit the literary world. The other powerhouses of the dystopian form also came to us from the world of lit fiction. Our pals in the Sweats (linear descendants of pulp magazines, slick paper photo offset periodicals plying pulp genres) were still rolling off White Slavery and Nymphomaniac World War II tales at the time Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 were setting the pace in hardbound form. Real contributions to Dystopia were made in paperback, such as A Clockwork Orange, but there is next to no connection between this and the world of pulp in terms of authors, editors or publishers.  (1)

When it comes to popularizing Pulp Dystopia, I am laying the blame squarely at the feet of movies (Mad Max, Logan’s Run, Blade Runner, Japanese Animation), role-playing games (Gama World, Shadowrun, Morrow Project) and video games.  That said, I may have cut the other spawn of the pulps, comic books, somewhat short as far as covering their contribution.

Comic Books have been parading dystopian themes since their inception. While researching another project I ran into a slew of titles with a dystopian bent.  As a whole, the comic book presentation of dystopia peaked in the early 1950s, which indicates that it is breathing the same air as Literary Dystopia. Both the comic book version of dystopia and Literary Dystopia emerge at the same time and seem to have the same historical influences.  While not exactly conforming to the later idiom of Pulp Dystopia, the Dystopia found in comic books is very distinct from the co-emerging Literary version. 

In our last posting on dystopia, we traced the earliest emergence of Pulp Dystopia to a cycle of novels appearing in the character pulp Operator Number Five.  This series, known as The Purple Invasion, was a late 1930s imagining of the WWII to come, albeit involving a fictional nation invading the United States.  Much of the early comic book dystopia follows something along the same lines. Nearly every escapist action character took his or her turn at ending the paraphrased coming war.  Comic book anthologies were replete with eight to ten-page Armageddons wherein a singular figure is instrumental in the defeat of some Asian or European dictator. Even Superman took a turn at this, in fact several. That certainly is a form of Pulp Dystopia. As opposed to going through the horror process of learned helplessness, the superhero attempts to solve the crisis. But this may be defining dystopia too broadly.



There were several superheroes who fit the Literary Dystopia mold of being trapped inside a pervading big bad idea, mostly set in the future. All-American Comics featured Gary Concord, the Ultraman, the superhero policeman of a world-wide government.  Power Nelson was situated similarly, the sole superhero cop in a future world plagued with fantastic disruptions to civil order. Both Power Nelson and the interstellar dystopian Spacehawk wound up plopped down in 1940s America once real-world WWII became eminent. (Sorry about your future setting, the publisher needs you here now.) Super American took this concept one stage further. He lived in a future where everyone was a superman. Having lost some sort of draft lottery, he was sent back through time to aid the WWII Allied cause. Once the real war was under way, a lot of the paraphrasing and dystopian themes went by the wayside.  One can argue whether WWII constitutes a dystopia itself (two racist totalitarian nations attempt to enslave the world), but the stories which play out do not follow either Literary or Pulp Dystopian formulas.  (2)



Literary Dystopia does not pick up steam until after WWII and is largely inspired by the aftermath of that conflict.  Mechanization had advanced to the point wherein an unprecedented amount of control over the populace could be exerted by authorities.  Technology was now such that we could blow ourselves out of existence.  With the fascist, racist, totalitarian empires defeated, half of the world had been enveloped by atheist, collectivist, totalitarian regimes.  That’s a lot of angst.

Literary Dystopians broke the mold for popular novels.  Not much action. Characters are uniformly Alice in Wonderland types. Backstory is ladled on. And then it plays out like a horror story. Breathing the same air, in 1947 comic/pulp publisher Fawcett released its own dystopian work.



Or at least it looks the part. At first glance, Anarcho Dictator of Death seems to be some sort of arty expansion of the comics form, a “Complete Novel in Comic Strip Form.” Fawcett was one of the Golden Age of Comics Big Three sales leaders, a true innovator and top-quality operator. The Saint Paul-based firm was highly connected and very politically active. (3) Even before WWII had ended, Fawcett was sounding the alarm about communists through its spokeshero Captain Marvel. The firm seldom missed an opportunity to defend the free enterprise system or decry evidence of creeping socialism.

Taken in the best possible light, Anarcho Dictator of Death is a warning that the peace we have won requires defenders, that the peace is precarious and that there is a need to be vigilant against lingering forces of global division.  But that is cutting this work way too much credit.

This is an unmarked superhero comic.  Had Fawcett been interested in sending out a serious warning as to the return of fascism, they would not have waited three years after the war in Europe’s conclusion and might have used a higher profile hero--Captain Marvel, or more appropriately, Spy Smasher. (4) Instead Comics Novel features Radar, a back page non-entity which had been running as the last slot feature in Master Comics since 1943.  

In my opinion Radar isn’t on the cover because he has no sales draw.  The Radar feature does have an interesting backstory.  This superhero was commissioned at the request of the US Government, its purpose to promote a Wendell Wilkie global good guy government version of the United Nations, complete with its own anti disrupting the new world order police force. (5) Radar’s origin was featured in the 35th issue of Fawcett’s top selling Captain Marvel Adventures title and includes a key role for their flagship hero Captain Marvel.  In this origin it is revealed that Radar comes by his abilities naturally, being the son of a circus strongman and a Gypsy fortune teller.  (Several sources have stated that Radar is a non-powered hero like Batman. This in not the case. Radar has that level of super strength which allows him to shoulder open an iron door but not quite snap out of a pair of handcuffs. He can read minds and has a remote viewing ability which accounts for his nickname.) At the end of his origin, Radar is requested to blaze the trail for an unofficial International Police Agency, acting as a global Jedi Knight answering only to FDR, Winston Churchill, Joe Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek. In the last panel it is announced that Radar is heading off to Master Comics to share anthology space with Captain Marvel Junior and Bulletman.

My best guess is that Anarcho Dictator of Death is an unused Radar serial, probably commissioned in 1945 for Master Comics.  Radar appeared in several continued stories early in its run.  Something went wrong with this story line between the time it was sent for art and the time it was completed. The first obvious issue deals with the people Radar supposedly answers to: FDR is dead; Churchill has been voted out of office; Chiang Kai-shek is being chased out of China; and Uncle Joe Stalin is no longer in the good guy club. By that time it was also becoming obvious that the United Nations was going to fall far short of its idealistic designs.   Although Radar was still appearing in Master Comics at the time that Anarcho Dictator of Death was released, he had undergone the fate of all comic book counter-spies and aviators—he was fighting aliens from outer space.

Radar would disappear from Master Comics shortly after Anarcho’s release, replaced by Hop-a-long Cassidy.  In Anarcho Dictator of Death, Radar’s International Police Force is an operational entity, with offices and prisons all over the world.  His sidekick is a Kai-shek issued fellow international cop named Chen.  They are engaged in rounding up fascist sympathizers at the onset of the novel. The tone is never dystopian, nor elevated above that of standard comic book fare, and any attempt at reading this for additional meaning will be dispelled midway through the first chapter. Far from channeling George Orwell, writer Otto Binder is doing a bad imitation of movie serial screen scribe George Plympton. The story is more about hidden doors than it is about politics.

Are there any Dystopian elements? There is a torture scene…



But Radar, being a superhero, shrugs it off and judo flips Anarcho into a troth of lye built into a hotel room’s floor. (Don’t ask.)  As opposed to sending political warnings, Anarcho is about salvaging 48 pages of expensive comic art.  They slid Anarcho into the slot of some cancelled comic title, stuck a two tone ‘arty’ cover on the thing—and issued it as a single title, without advertising, in order not to impact their circulation figures.

Anarcho is something of a rarity. There were some free-standing anti-fascist propaganda works in comic form, such as It Could Happen Here. Literary Dystopia only appears in earnest somewhat after Anarcho’s issuing. Other than occasionally sideswiping its feel, dystopia was largely ignored in the comics.  Even the popular Horror/Mystery anthologies avoided dystopian themes, favoring more visual supernatural stories involving witches and zombies.



On occasion, dystopia was simply grafted onto other genres.



The idea of atom bomb secrets being stolen by America’s enemies is absolutely terrifying.  Atomic weapons spreading into the hands of unscrupulous parties is the thing of nightmares. That one’s fellow citizens—your neighbors—might be so low as to give aid to the process of disseminating world ending weapons to foreign powers is enough to evoke paranoia.  Sadly, all of the above happened and is still happening today. But it happened first in this 1950 Avon comic book.



Atom bombs were supposed to make war obsolete.  The Korean conflict proved that this wasn’t the case. Our pals in the war comics business weren’t quite sure what to do.


Some of these are disguised anthologies about the Korean conflict, dressed up in atomic bunting for additional sensationalistic sales appeal.



Comic books in the early 1950s are shameless.



All of these are series books. Atom Age Combat was published in two series, one in the early 1950s and one in the middle 1950s.



Although most of these war anthologies are fairly pedestrian 1950s era stuff, there are many examples of Armageddon and Post-Armageddon tales in their pages.



The trend largely petered out by 1957. At that point most of the war comics publishers went back to depicting WWII--which is where they stayed until the demise of the war genre in comics.




The bulwark genres of comics in the 1950s were Horror/Mystery, Romance and True Crime. (6) This is a reversion to the mean, since these were the same genres which propped up the remaining pulps. Although Dystopia was an extension of the Horror/Mystery genre—a horror story writ very large—there was all of one horror comics anthology which routinely ran it.



This is a minor title from a minor publisher and only a minority of the stories fit even the Pulp Dystopian mold. As with most horror, it’s mostly monster stories.


Big Brother, Energy Shortages, Environmental Collapse and the other boogey men of Literary Dystopia are hard to do in eight-page comic book chunks. That said, comics did like to ape the globally oppressive feel of Literary Dystopia. Lacking time for a backstory, comic books substitute something visual as an analogy.  It’s a big bad thing and it’s in the midst of winning.  Our hero has given up on the idea of defeating the thing or saving other people and is instead simply focused on surviving it. Or the hero is fighting a seemingly hopeless rear-guard action. It clings somewhat close to the conventions of Literary Dystopia, only with a physical monster taking Big Brother’s place.



This may be the first zombie graphic novel.  Zombies were popular in all mediums in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Most comic book publishers of the time were only willing to produce comic books in series form.  This publisher, Avon, sells comic books by the issue.  If they have a strong story idea, they will make a title for it, even if it’s only a one-time thing. (7)



Aliens also make good Big Brother stand-ins. There was a flurry of UFO sightings in the late 1940s which led to something of a pulp fiction craze.  This particular graphic novel (they were called comic books at the time) was written by Walter B. Gibson, the primary pulp writer of The Shadow.



Dystopian themed anthologies do start to appear in 1950s comics, but they are all weird genre grafts. Comic book Dystopia falls into the broad general category of “Space and the Future Suck, Too.”   If we include oddball works such as St John’s Tor we could add “Prehistory Was No Fun, Either” or the raft of still strong selling jungle books, “The Wilderness Also Sucks.”  The underlying message is that there is no geographic escape to conflict, that no matter where you go oppressive existential threats will greet you.  That may not be a form of dystopia, but it is hardly the warm and fuzzies of Star Trek.



Most of these are from Charlton Comics, a firm known for its nimble capacity to triangulate trends.



Of these, the most successful title is Space War—a dismal, violent vision of the future.



Some of these anthologies did feature continuing characters, inhabitants of offshoot dystopian realms unrelated to the other stories. There were also a few dystopian character titles, all in the Space and the Future Sucks, Too category.



Major Inapak is pitted against an evil global Earth government, leading a rebellion in the remote space colonies.



Captain Science lives on a future Earth which is being invaded daily by a coalition of alien space nations.



Space Busters: Alien invasions have become so pernicious that a global Earth government has decided to go after them like an organized crime task force.



Commander Battle and his Atomic Sub find numerous uses for end of the world weapons.  Although the premise is as close to Literary Dystopian as it gets, most plots are typical Bug Eyed Monster hunts.  It seems to have been the inspiration for a later Irwin Allen television show.



My initial intention was to chronical these titles and extrapolate their possible influence on the development of Pulp Dystopia. Not all of my ideas are any good.  As any student of evolution will tell you, some paths just dead end. 

While comic books acknowledged Literary Dystopia, their approach is strictly cosmetic. Key to the early dystopian form are disasters propelled by human bureaucracy. Like mental powers, bureaucracy isn’t a particularly visual thing. If you substitute vampires or aliens or zombies for Big Brother, you’re not dealing with dystopia but rather a more pedestrian aspect of science fantasy.  Pulp Dystopia focuses more on the effects than the causes of a crisis, and was never chanced on as a repeated literary construction in comic books.

The current Pulp Dystopia TV hit Walking Dead did start as a comic book, but it doesn’t have much in the way of precedent within the comic book form. Even as a comic book, it has more to do with copping the feel of George Romero movies than advancing any idea from the world of four color sequential art.



This is not to say that Walking Dead is the only modern era comic book to have played with Literary Dystopia or Pulp Dystopia.  The Kamandi and Kilraven (War of the Worlds) series put the post global disaster themes front and center. (8)  Underground Comix anthologies such as Class War, Slow Death and Zap ran stories set in a decadent version of after the fall of now. True to Pulp Dystopian form, many were more interested in exploiting the shock value of leather clad women walking their sex slaves like dogs than explaining exactly what circumstances may have led to this. Mainstream comic book publisher Charlton had at least two continuing titles set after doomsday.



Comic books have generally had little truck with dystopia in any of its forms and have lacked the influence to impact the new Pulp Dystopian form.  That the medium has dodged having an influence for 60 plus years does not mean that it will continue to do so.  As long as Pulp Dystopia remains an ascendant genre, the chances of it making a strong showing in the graphic novel form remain high.  It is a mainstay of the Japanese version.

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(1)    There was a non pulp separation in Science Fiction, led by the digest title Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. In this new school, science fiction was getting away from the camoflague  Western Space Opera, bug eyed monster hunting, action plotting emphasis found in the pulps and more towards relativism and relevancy.  Ray Bradbury, though a pulp era author, was a part of this trend and his Literary Dystopian work Fahrenheit 451 is one of the better examples.
(2)    Most comic book superhero stories are set in what I have dubbed the Modern Thrills genre.  It’s the real world but… your wife is a witch… there are secret societies of vampires lurking about… there are occasional super powered beings.  Everything else is normal and the supernatural elements that do exist do not have the sway to make overall changes in society. Instead, the normal world sort of seals up wounds made by the fantastic hermetically, showing no lingering signs that anything out of the ordinary has transpired.  
(3)    Fawcett was well situated to withstand the sort of criticism that would later engulf other comic book publishers.  Not that they were any less vulgar.  Just in Anarcho they run an extensive torture scene and portray the people of Tibet as being demon worshippers. As opposed to policing their content, the firm had hired the First Lady and the daughter of Freud (along with Admiral Byrd and a bevy of other luminaries) to sit on their editorial board. These people were surely not reading the 60 comics per month Fawcett produces. It’s pure bribery. The names of these prominent establishment Americans on their comic book mastheads provided a very nice political smokescreen. 
(4)    Spy Smasher was Fawcett’s big hitter in the comic book spy game.  He had been featured in an early WWII movie serial and appeared in several of the firm’s comic titles.  It’s a big seller, drawing better than their licensed Captain Midnight title. Come the end of the war, however, both the Ovaltine owned Captain Midnight and Fawcett’s own Spy Smasher are in existential trouble.  With no war raging, neither of these guys has a reason for being. Fawcett took the typical tact of sending Captain Midnight into outer space.  Spy Smasher, at about the same time as Anarcho’s release, was re-christened Crime Smasher and then did a fast fade from view. Like Anarcho, Crime Smasher was given a one shot title and was never heard from again.
(5)    The US Government does seem to have a Department of Messing With Cartoon Characters.  Weird as it seems, this is not the first record we have of the government making such a request.  The popular Don Winslow of the Navy character was also commissioned by the government, supposedly to aid in recruitment. Winslow’s adventures in comics, radio and the silver screen were just as fantastic as anything Captain Marvel participated in. At this point Winslow was also appearing in Fawcett comics.
(6)    This was only the case of publishers who had failed to find a niche to monopolize.  Post the collapse of Fawcett,  Superman’s publisher DC Comics had a monopoly on the diminished superhero genre.  Archie had a monopoly on teen humor.  Dell Comics had a monopoly on licensed animation characters.  Post the emergence of the Comics Code, the True Crime genre would vanish. EC wound up with Mad Magazine, to this day the best selling comic book in America. Harvey would chance on a theme of dysfunctional weird kiddies (Casper, Richie Rich). Everyone else scrambled.
(7)    In general, distributors of the time wanted a commitment from the comics publishers. A publisher had to provide X number of new titles a week, mostly for distribution to local pharmacies. Avon was unusual, being effectively distributor sponsored. It was piggybacking its comics off of a system geared to circulating paperback novels.
(8)    Kamandi was a very imaginative Jack Kirby work, however it’s standing on the shoulders of previous dystopian lit and not making much of a unique contribution.  It reads more like a jungle comic than Pulp Dystopia.  The Kilraven series was a continuation of War of the Worlds and in the end seemed to be more about a post apocalyptic Marvel Universe than a real world dystopia.  

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