THE CARTOON OCCULT is a curious phenomenon. It all began in the last century when a character named “Superman” flew into comic book fame. It then continued on in that idiom with any number of amazing figures following in Superman’s wake, each bearing superhuman powers of some dimension, whether due to a freak accident of nature or by science gone wildly awry, such as a person accidentally swallowing a potent untested chemical concoction or getting haplessly caught up in a burst of atomic radiation.
The cartoon occult subsequently worked its way into numerous television shows and the Hollywood film industry. In fact, thanks to the wizardry of special effects technology the cartoon occult has transmogrified over the decades into flesh and blood characters and the resultant pantheon seem to actually dominate action films these days. If our hero or antihero hasn’t a slew of paranormal powers, after all, then he or she cannot possibly overcome such a mundane menace as a blazing pistol, a burst of machinegun fire or a searing flamethrower. A superhero must have superpowers.
Tales of the paranormal actually go back much, much further than the first half of the twentieth century, however. They go back to the foundational myths of virtually every religion on the face of the Earth.
Whether these miraculous foundational “myths” are “true” is a matter beyond all of us, but that doesn’t mean that the mere exposure to them doesn’t exert a powerful influence on our thinking. The fact is we wrap ourselves in these stories when we are young, for blow by blow we are all made to learn the hard truths of life and they can be devastating and brutal. A fist fight, a broken limb, a car crash, a disease, a fire, a bankruptcy, a divorce, a hurricane, a murder… The list of possible tragedies, large and small, is virtually endless. Indeed, any number of upheavals can come along in a young life and virtually alter every aspect of that life. If nothing of note happens in childhood, it will likely come later in some form, for no one seems to escape the myriad of vicissitudes which life throws at us, not even the privileged and the wealthy among us.
So, yes, we take great comfort in thinking that there are supernatural beings who will rectify everything somehow and protect us from having to suffer further tragedies.
We also dream of becoming “superbeings” ourselves in one form or another and quite happily envision ourselves possessing paranormal powers such as telepathy, clairvoyance, the ability to move objects with our minds or to influence others at a distance. We might even imagine ourselves gaining the psychic prowess to revel in revenge when slighted and put our “enemies” and “nemeses” in their proper place, by damn.
This latter desire to show one’s detractors just exactly who is the true superior between oneself and those who disrespect us, use us, abuse us, harm us or otherwise do us wrong is where superpowers begin to veer swiftly and dangerously down into the risky realm of evil. Sorcery, black magic, dark witchery and voodoo spring from indulging in the desire to enact revenge. Through the ages, that effort has often been intensified by the use of psychotropic substances by those who seek to boost their powers to superhuman levels.
In fairness, it must be said that the use of such substances is, and has been, primarily tied into the healing arts associated with shamanism and other ritualistic practices down through the centuries – all of a positive nature – but what I am looking at here is what pop culture has made of the paranormal. For plot purposes, for example, comic books, TV action shows and blockbuster films have invariably raised up some form of villain intent on exploiting the “good folk” or destroying them completely. Usually, this wicked figure is out to take over the world and will stop at nothing to achieve that dastardly aim. Of course, a hero eventually emerges to put a halt to the malicious figure’s ruthlessness and save the day, but let’s face it, there would be no thrill at all for viewers if this malevolent joker hadn’t stepped forward with a plan so evil and destructive that the boring, daily grind, i.e. mundane reality, was all we were left with to look at.
Just as a hero needs to overcome a villain, so good must overcome evil, if not at a worldly level, then at a cosmic one. This paradigm has been the basis of religion since the days of Zoroastrianism, hundreds of years BCE. Since then the world has seen various forms of conquering divinities come lording their supernatural powers over the devilish mutants who have fallen into malevolent disrepute at various times around the globe and while it is always a horrible struggle, good does always win out in the end, if not in this life, then in the world to come.
Why have scenarios such as these arisen, again and again, over the centuries and millenniums?
There are countless volumes offering insight into this phenomenon, but the fact is no one knows anything absolutely, which is why virtually everyone will have his or her own answer to this question.
I would contend, however, that this is quite possibly exactly as it should be.
Why? Because I suspect that each and every one of us is endowed with much greater powers than we generally realize, but these powers lie dormant within us until such a time as we have evolved sufficiently in terms of our spirituality. Imagine, for example, if we could see into the future so clearly that we were never challenged by a random event that would otherwise force us to deeply consider our moral or ethical values. Imagine if we could zap our perceived enemies with a lightning bolt of displeasure at every slight. Imagine if we could kill entire populations and play God with impunity! Would anyone still be alive?
The point is this: humanity as a whole has shown itself – and continues to show itself – as being profoundly unenlightened.
If we are not some form of a primitive species why then is there still so much racism, bigotry and violent forms of nationalism in the world? Why is there murder, war and any number of other afflictions of an abusive, aggressive or deeply vile character taking place virtually on a daily basis right around the globe?
An enlightened viewpoint is one in which kindness and compassion reign; in which all people are seen as being equals in this world with the same rights as everyone else no matter who they happen to be or where they reside. An enlightened viewpoint says that we should all be able to live in peace and pursue our own notion of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment so long as that pursuit does not abridge the rights of others or cause anyone harm.
That we humans are so far from this ideal and so rancorously divided in terms of race, religion and nationalist affiliation is a point too obvious to belabor these days. Sadly, there seems to be no sign of it changing anytime soon.
Can it change? Will it change? If so, when?
The answer to such questions in a single, blunt and succinct sentence: It will change when each and every one of us can finally wish our “rivals”, our “enemies”, our “nemeses” and perceived “detractors” enlightened, rather than dead.