5 July 2004 - Monday

The ultimate nerd's fantasy

I know Peter Parker. We go way back.

In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker experiences nothing that the geeky kid in the fourth row has not seen many times in his mind's eye. Perhaps the setting is different, and maybe there are more tendrils and cobwebs involved, but the plot is familar. More importantly, the code of human relations is the same system that exists in the mind's eye of the nerd a system that balances altruism and alienation, vindicating his peculiar social standing. What happens to Parker is what the nerd dreams will someday happen to him.

In the new film, Parker struggles with his double life. The demands of being Spider-Man (oops should I have put in a spoiler warning?) are dicing his dignity, asphyxiating his aspirations, and freezing his few friendships. In the audience, those among the socially challenged, especially those who have any outstanding but unappreciated gift (and who hasn't?), identify very quickly. When Spider-Man is hated by a world he wants to save, the nerd in the fourth row thinks that he knows what it's like. When his gift alienates Parker from everybody, the kid thinks that he's been there too.

"If only they knew," the kid in the fourth row thinks. But of course they don't know. They couldn't. In fact, that would ruin it. That would make him normal. Average. It would take away the only thing he can call his own. He loves it. He longs to be normal. He dreads being normal. He dreams of being even more different.

Parker decides to suppress his gift. People get hurt. The kid in the audience knows that Parker loves through his gift; giving it up for the sake of love is an absurd idea. Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one. The kid could have told him that.

The kid in the audience relishes the sacrifices that Parker makes. He relishes the alienation. It only sweetens the triumph at the end the triumph he knows will come. He knows the mask will come off. But he knows that someone else must take it off for him. That's just how it works. No one can remove his own mask.

Mary Jane suspects that Parker is Spidey. The audience loves her for it. She knows that Parker wants to love her. The audience loves her even more. She is angry when Parker fails her. The audience worships her. They see real love from a real person. That's what the nerd wants too. Sort of.

When Peter finally receives recognition for his sacrifices against his will, as the kid in the fourth row knows it must be the audience thrills. But when Parker rejects Mary Jane for her own sake, the kid in the fourth row exults. He knows that this is how the story should end sometimes. Most stories should end with someone wanting to know and love the hero, but with the hero choosing to love from a distance. That's just how the gift works. Sometimes it even makes enemies, as Parker also discovers. But that is also just how it works. The gift is there. The gift must be embraced. There is no option. Mary Jane and Harry Osborn cannot accept Peter Parker without accepting Spider-Man and all that Spider-Man must do.

Eventually the kid in the fourth row will grow out of it. But he will always remember what it was like. For now, he holds his head high when he leaves the theater.

| Posted by Wilson at 21:01 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Humanities Desk


As someone who was that fourth row geek for most of my formative years, I salute you.

Well written.

(although I think Spidey should shoot higher than Kirsten Dunst. Cate Blanchette, for instance :-)

The thoughts of Bill on 6 July 2004 - 23:17 Central
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Bill:
Do not -- I repeat, DO NOT -- dis the Dunst.

The thoughts of Jared on 7 July 2004 - 9:16 Central
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Clearly I need to see this movie...

The thoughts of David on 7 July 2004 - 22:19 Central
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Wow.. this was a great movie review. One of the very best I have read. You are amazing!

The thoughts of Julie on 8 July 2004 - 22:53 Central
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Man. I thought for sure my "Don't dis The Dunst" remark would make your Recently Overheard list.
That's this nerd's ultimate fantasy . . .

Hope you're having a good summer.

The thoughts of Jared on 11 July 2004 - 22:16 Central
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I replace the "recently overheard" list at irregular intervals, all at once. I don't think I have enough new material to update it yet. Now that you mention it, though, I'll bear your quote in mind.

And summer goes fairly well.

The thoughts of Wilson on 12 July 2004 - 12:42 Central
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