Super (under)powered Cinema

So I’ll be honest at the start of this: I was a huge fan of superhero films. Browsing Life in Pixels’ archives will testify my adoration of the genre. But recently, I’ve become tired of these films. They’re formulaic (which is sometimes not such a bad thing… but, you know). Netflix does a great job of producing some actual substance in this field, but for the most part the television side of the genre leaves much to be desired.

I would watch, week in week out, the latest episodes of Arrow, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., … until it all just got too much. How much of my life was I willing to invest in this? There comes a point where entertainment becomes a chore, and I think I’ve reached that. In its response to mass-consumption, itself a product of the success the genre has felt since the first Iron Man hit theatres, superhero films and television have since departed the gravitas that once underscored the category.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m a voice with final-say in what people should be watching or consuming. We live in a free(ish) society; we can do what we want. But I’ve since become uninterested in this genre, a part of pop culture that at one time was a powerful critique on society, and that formed a big part of my own life.

Take Nolan’s Batman films. Yes, I know. It’s a cop-out whenever a critic of contemporary superhero cinema brings out Mr Nolan and his work. But with this succinct trilogy, he crafted a piece of cinema that is both powerful as a work of art, a strong series of examinations on our society – a society that is plagued by fanaticism, crime, terror, rogue ideology and fear. The Batman becomes the lens through which we examine what it means to live in such a world. Tom Hardy’s Bane represents that strong, terrifying faction that can, at any moment, shake the very foundations of our civilisation. Ledger’s Joker, of course, just wants to see the world burn.

The point is, these films carried substance. Gravitas. And Nolan knew when to stop. He set out to tell this legend, this mythos of the Batman, and he achieved it through those three films.

Superheroes are, I believe, a potent vehicle for exploring very human issues: politics, race, culture, power… historically, they have been used as a critique on society. But in the commodification of the genre, as Hollywood’s prying fingers tear through the metaphor to mine the cashflow, I fear we’re losing that very essence. Yes, on the print side, things still seem to be alive and kicking. But I’m arguing from the cinematic perspective, and the state of things in that arena leaves much to be desired.


Design is a Function of Infinity


When does design end and use begin? Is there a definitive beginning and end to the process of design, and does design concern itself with the solving of problems, that is, working within a specific problem set, defining the end goals and working toward those within a closed system?

No. Obviously not.

Nothing in design is ever straightforward. Design is a function of infinity. It never begins, and it never ends. It exists as a fluid system where ideas come and go, where they are moulded by ideologies and philosophies, in the hope that the present iteration may benefit society in some way.

As a function of infinity, there is no definitive solution that will solve all problems, or that will please everyone. And there is no designed solution that will be perfect, by the very fact that design is a human construct, and we are a notoriously imperfect species. Thus lies one of the age-old challenges of any design discipline: how can value be attached to something that is so vague, to a service that has no concrete end to it? The key would, most likely, be in attaching value to the process, that is, educating clients and endusers on the value in collaboration, in the techniques and tools required to sculpt a formless idea into the tangible object that exists in the material world.

And at the other end of the spectrum, of course, is that feeling every designer has: the endless possibilities of a blank page, akin to the infinity of our Universe. Everything is possible, with the only constraint being the designer’s imagination (itself a function of infinity).

Infinity itself looks flat and uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity—distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless. The chamber into which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, it was just very very very big, so big that it gave the impression of infinity far better than infinity itself.

–Douglas Adams