Avengers, Buck Rogers, And Weng-Chiang: When Our Heroes Let Us Down

Have your heroes ever let you down?

I went to see Avengers over the weekend. As a longtime Marvel fangirl I was totally psyched. I may be more of an X-Men fan, but I’m perfectly happy watching just about anything in the Marvel universe.

Except there was one line in the movie that offended me enough that I was thrown out of my suspended belief and missed a good ten to fifteen minutes of the movie. Since it was adoption-related, I ranted… uh, blogged… about it over on 73adoptee: Avengers: Why Is Making Fun Of Adoption Still A-OK?

“So there I am, forgetting my woes, laughing at the gang and drooling over Chris Hemsworth, when we get this lovely little tidbit: “He’s adopted.” … What bothered me is that this is a prime example of how adoptees are one of the last fair sources of discriminatory humor. We can have a black Nick Fury, we can have a female assassin, but the bastard remains the accepted butt of any joke…” (continued at 73adoptee)

This incident got me thinking about heroes letting you down. Of all the Avengers in the movie I admire Thor the most, so to hear him deliver this offensive line was disappointing. It got me thinking of what the Tenth Doctor said about Shakespeare: “You should never meet your heroes.”

When I was five I was utterly enamored with Buck Rogers. I thought Wilma Deering as played by Erin Grey was the pinnacle of female achievement. After all, she was a pilot, just like Buck, right? I drew pictures of rockets and turned an old refrigerator box into the best darn spaceship you’ve ever seen so I could be the universe’s greatest female pilot.

For years I had a pleasant rose-colored affection for Buck Rogers… until it came out on DVD. I re-watched it as an adult and was appalled as I witnessed my idol, Wilma Deering, drop all of her 25th Century feminism to fawn over Buck’s prehistoric machismo. Ugh! What the hell was I thinking?

Speaking of Doctor Who, I find it similarly difficult to watch 1977’s “The Talons Of Weng-Chiang.” The stereotypes and racism are disturbing to a modern viewer, as is the casting of a Caucasian as a Chinese person in “yellowface”.  As with Avengers, it throws me right out of the story and back into a world where even our heroes aren’t perfect.

Sometimes it’s the story showing its age, as with Buck Rogers and Weng-Chiang. Sometimes it’s indicative of modern flaws, as with Avengers. However it happens it’s disappointing, and makes our heroes just a little less heroic.

Have any of your favorite shows, movies, or books disappointed you? Have you found yourself unable to suspend disbelief as a result? Share in the comments!

My Love Affair With The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Today’s the anniversary of the first Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy radio show. How did you first become enamored with that wholly remarkable book?

I discovered Hitchhiker’s in the library of the stodgy girls’ school I attended. Think Catholic school, minus the Catholic but plus plus on the plaid uniforms. As you can guess, the library was dull enough to bring a tear to Giles’s eye (but a bit short on demonology texts for his tastes, I’d imagine). There were the obligatory copies of Emily Dickenson, a bust of Margaret Mead on the table, inspirational “reading is FUNdamental” posters on the walls.

And, way in the back, a whole shelf of science fiction.

Somebody in that school was a serious closet SF fan. It was like a hidden message for future likeminded students, a little cache of bliss among fifty-year-old copies of Great Expectations*. Besides Hitchhiker’s, there was Asimov’s The Caves Of Steel which introduced me to his Robots novels, some Heinlein juveniles including Podkayne of Mars – as well as Stranger In A Strange Land, which proves no real librarian ever looked at that shelf or they would have spirited such naughty tomes away from the innocent eyes of us young ladies.

I’d already become addicted to SFF through Star Trek, Buck Rogers, and the original Battlestar Galactica. Finding Hitchhiker’s was like a fresh delivery of lemon-soaked paper napkins. The library card filled with my initials. I went out and bought what was then a trilogy, in both book and audio form. I could quote parts from memory. My stodgy school became accustomed to the girl who wandered around muttering about Frogstar Fighters. They called me a nerd, but I didn’t care. The fact that somebody had written a bestselling series like Hitchhiker’s proved that I wasn’t the only one who thought science fiction was fun.

I must have discovered Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide around the same time (insert irony here), because I can’t remember which one I fell in love with first. I do remember that we didn’t get the Douglas Adams episodes for ages thanks to the ridiculous policies of our local PBS station, so by the time I saw The Pirate Planet I was already addicted to Hitchhiker’s. Part of the allure was the quintessential Britishness of it, during the 1980s when everything British was kewl. (I was am also a huge Duran Duran fan, which probably contributed to my infatuation.)

But there was something special about Hitchhiker’s. You couldn’t read it and not laugh your ass off. It was the perfect diversion because it was so ridiculous, so witty, and so British. The latter, as I discovered, doesn’t really translate. I bought a foreign language copy in France, in which Zaphod becomes Zippy Bibicy (as in, BBC) and Ford Prefect is Ford Escort because apparently that’s funnier in French. It just wasn’t the same. As Mickey Smith comments in the Doctor Who episode The Chrismas Invasion (which itself is an homage to Hitchhiker’s), if the world was ending the British would have tea. That’s a very Hitchhiker’s sentiment.

Over thirty years later, Hitchhiker’s has become such a part of our culture here in the U.S. that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the number 42 or the phrase “Don’t Panic!” Take some time today to celebrate The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, before that Frogstar Fighter Class D comes to get you.

* Don’t get me wrong. I like classic literature, just not Dickens. I’m more of your Mark Twain type. Sorry, Vincent.