I just read that Seth Green and Breckin Meyer, the comedy duo who delight millions on Robot Chicken (and delighted me, personally, as part of the boy band Du Jour in Josie and the Pussycats) are in talks to do a guest stint on Heroes as comic-book experts (probably of the nerdy variety) who instruct a hero in the ways of the superhero. While I enjoy both actors, the addition of comic book experts to the show seemed to me to be a step backwards into "meta" territory. In trying to find a way to write about it without coming across like a raving lunatic (not that I've succeeded in any of my other writing), I discussed it at length with our site director, and he actually managed to bring me around to his way of thinking. Here, in its entirety, is our debate.
ZACH: Can I talk about how I hate all of this "meta" bull? I turned off the show after the first episode, when I saw that Hiro (his name is "Hiro"!) would read a comic book about himself in the second episode. I guess there's nothing wrong with the heroes existing in a world that knows what superheroes are, but it just makes it all feel so dumb. It's like in a zombie movie, where a character says, "In zombie movies, they damage the brain!" Or in The Lost Boys, where they're like, "Vampires are real. See? This is a copy of Tomb of Dracula!" I hate it.
DAN: That was actually my favorite thing about The Lost Boys. Didn't Peter Parker read Superman comics in an early issue of Spider-Man, just like other teenagers of that time? Do you hate Peter Parker, Zach?
ZACH: What? Peter Parker never read Superman comics. You're lying.
DAN: I think Stan Lee's subtle point was that Peter Parker is "real" (and therefore has the same interests as his readers) while Superman is just a comic book. Spidey was "just like us!" decades before Us magazine came up with that conceit for celebrities.
ZACH: Stan Lee? Subtle? Now I know you're lying. If it's true, that Peter Parker thing bugs me. Nowadays, in the Marvel Universe, some comic books are "licensed" by the heroes they're about. So the Fantastic Four let someone write Fantastic Four comic books. Now, that makes sense. After all, why make up heroes when they exist?
DAN: But don't cops, doctors, lawyers, etc. all exist in a world in which there is popular fiction about their professions? Does the reality of cop fiction negate the reality of actual cops? And if a cop on a TV show is reading a novel about cops, is that meta or just depicting something that some cops do? Real mobsters actually do love The Godfather and Goodfellas, so when Tony Soprano watched them, was that meta or just an accurate reflection of certain facts?
ZACH: The twist is suspension of disbelief. There have always been criminals, and criminals are a fact of life. In Juice, Tupac Shakur watches White Heat, for God's sake! James Cagney inspires him to be a gangster psycho! I can see doctors doing the same thing, although I don't think I've ever seen a TV doctor reading a doctor book. (However, I did see Scrubs making fun of Grey's Anatomy.) But with superheroes, you're asking people to suspend their disbelief that superheroes can exist. Because they don't. And then, when you point out that people have been telling stories about them for years -- and not in a "Oh, the ancient myths are real!" kind of way -- it's basically saying, "This show that you're watching is also fiction, just like those comics."
DAN: I'm actually bothered by the opposite -- I hate seeing characters in situations that resemble popular fiction but don't acknowledge that popular fiction. Like when The X-Files investigated a killer who can move at superhuman speed, and no one mentioned the Flash. If I saw a guy who could do that, I would think of the Flash. Because the Flash exists as a fictional character in the world in which we live. So when a TV show or movie takes place in a world where such pop culture apparently doesn't exist, it makes it harder for me suspend my disbelief. A world without pop fiction ain't reality.
DAN: Time to catch up on some Heroes, bub.
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