Why Thanos Changed – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Why Thanos Changed!
Written by: Joshua Corin
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
Why Thanos Changed – Wisecrack Edition
Hey, Wisecrack. Jared here. As you probably know, the internet is obsessed with Thanos. Why Thanos was wrong, Why Thanos was right, the philosophy of Thanos…hey, wait a second. He even showed up in Fortnite. But aside from Infinity War grossing more money than some country’s entire GDP and Josh Brolin being a badass, why is this villain the most ubiquitous since this dude. After all, not all diabolic plans get this much internet debate, “Oh hell, let’s just do what we always do – hijack some nuclear weapons and hold the world hostage, yeah?” Well after a classic Wisecrack brainstorm session (ie: unsafe amounts of caffeine), we’ve come up with a possible answer. It all has to do with the transition from this Thanos to this Thanos. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on this very distinguished chin, and spoilers for Infinity War and the comics ahead.
It’s important to note that the 2018 Thanos isn’t who Thanos has always been. Comic Book Thanos was created by Jim Starlin in 1973 in Issue #55 of The Invincible Iron Man and he immediately became a hit with readers, in part due to…well…the outright weirdness of his cause. You see, everything Comic Book Thanos did, he did to impress the object of his affection, Marvel’s personification of Death, who appears as a robed female skeleton that walks softly and carries a big scythe. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s just not into him, but maybe if he defeats one more Avenger or conquers one more planet… “So you’re telling me there’s a chance. YEAH!” Like his later counterpart, Comic Book Thanos is definitely a product of his era. America in the late 60s and early 70s seemed to be infused with death.
Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were slain in ‘68. Between 1968 and 1972, over 130 American commercial airplanes were hijacked, with many of these hijackings ending in fatalities. By 1973, over 58,000 American soldiers had died in Vietnam. Death had infested our culture. Why not have a supervillain lust after her? It’s not the first time art has lusted after Death. In many ways, Comic Book Thanos, with his obsessive form of necrophilia, harkened back to an even earlier time, when obsessions like his were all the rage. He fits right in with the capital-R Romantics of the 19th century. To poets like Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Shelley, Death was nature at its most glorious and triumphant. Keats himself mused of being “half in love with Death.” And It’s no surprise that the greatest American poet from this era is Edgar Allan Poe, the man who invented the spirit of Hot Topic hundreds of years before it manifested itself in every mall across America. And in this vein, Comic Book Thanos is a romantic; 100% angsty passion. Thanos wants the whole universe to feel his pain.
But if Comic Book Thanos — living this passion-driven emo life — dovetailed nicely with the soulful, sleeve-hearted 70s, how would he fare now? while today’s America certainly has its own boogeymen, Death isn’t really one of them. Sure, there’s terrorism, but the fears of the Information Age are more analytical, more driven by endless streams of data, be it 24-hour news cycles or 24-hour social media feeds or…ugh, just talking about it gives me a panic attack. So Marvel had to augment Thanos Specifically, they had to tinker with primary motivation. Keep him an obsessive lunatic, but change his obsession from Death, which is so retro, to data. Retain his distinctive costume and appearance, sure, even keep the tire tracks on his chin, but lobotomize all the feels. Cinematic Thanos, in contrast to his four-color antecedent, is not impulsive at all. He rarely even raises his voice. As befitting our era, Cinematic Thanos is a rationalist.
Historically, rationalism first rose to prominence during the 17th and 18th centuries. This is Galileo pushing back at the Church about the movement of the Earth around the sun. This is Newton deducing the three laws of classical mechanics, Pascal furthering our understanding of geometry, Vesalius furthering our understanding of human anatomy. It’s Descartes proclaiming, “I think, therefore I am.” Not I feel, but I think. These are the men and women who pushed back against all emotional distraction in order to achieve a higher truth. So Brolin Thanos goes about his business with the detachment of a rationalist. It explains how he is able to murder his own daughter for the sake of achieving his utilitarian solution to overpopulation. He erases every other men, woman, and child from existence and justifies it through cold logic. why this change? Is it just a sign of the times? Well, maybe, but there’s also a second reason – to highlight the flaws of Tony Stark. In his seminal work on literary criticism “poetics”, Aristotle claims that effective antagonists act not only in opposition to the hero but also reflect a vital, flawed aspect of the hero. This is the literary theory of foils.
Hamlet’s self-righteousness is so complete that it compels him to deceive and kill. But the same could be said of his enemy, Claudius. Absent Father Syndrome leads both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader to make some very bad decisions, and Saruman is little more than Gandalf fallen from grace. And so when we apply Poetics to Avengers: Infinity War, we discover why Big Bad Thanos has to be a rationalist. Our protagonist, Tony Stark, is one too. Granted, Tony Stark has his moments of being overtaken with emotion.. He begins his first movie as carefree rich-boy arms-dealer. Later events shake him out of this comfort zone, so much so that, by Iron Man 3, he is so overcome with the emotional aftermath of a near-death experience that he is more or less crippled. From here, he ping-pongs back to the security of stubborn rational thinking, and it is in this headspace that he creates Ultron and advocates for the Sokovia Accords. Documents like that, documents which exist solely to enforce order, are a rationalist’s best friend. Which brings us to Infinity War. Remember Tony’s solution to defeating Thanos?
He is going to secure Doctor Strange. If he can keep Thanos from acquiring the Time Stone the Infinity Gauntlet can’t be completed. It is so mathematical that Sheldon Cooper would appro- NO Jared, no more Big Bang Theory jokes. It is an elegant, logical strategy; it is rational; and it fails utterly. Of course it does. A need for rational solutions is the vital, flawed characteristic Tony has in common with Thanos. Aristotelian storytelling demands that Tony fail. But hold on. It’s not as if Tony Stark is the only character in the movie. In fact, one could argue that the true beating heart of the MCU belongs instead to Captain America himself, Steve Rogers. It’s Steve’s emotional fortitude which finally brings the Avengers together,rescues the Winter Soldier from darkness, and denies the confines of the Sokovia Accords. Steve Rogers is Marvel’s capital-R Romantic hero – he’s driven by loyalty, honor, and his own principals.
Romanticism versus Rationalism. It is this age-old duality which forms the core of the Tony Stark/Steve Rogers antagonism from the moment they meet. It forms the foundation of their separate attempts to stop Thanos. Stark the Rationalist tries to out-strategize him. Rogers the Romantic tries to beat him up with an army. And both fail. It’s not just that they both fail that’s important, but that the only way they can come up with to solve a complicated problem is two diametrically opposed worldviews: Rationality or Romanticism. Having to choose between two extremes is a defining characteristic of infinity war. The avengers can either A) Let vision live and risk Thanos getting the Mind Stone or B) Kill their best friend, and stop Thanos. Or look at Doctor Strange’s dilemma. He can either let Tony Stark die, and perhaps defeat Thanos, or give it up to save his Tony, and let half the world die. He uses the Time Stone to see a way to defeat Thanos and, after exploring fourteen million options, only finds success once. One in fourteen million.
Doctor Strange then gives up the Time Stone and saves Stark. We can assume that this rational choice that Strange makes is necessary toward that one in fourteen million success, but right now, it sure looks awful because it allows our villain to win. Beings stuck between shitty option A and shitty option B is Thanos’ whole schtick. A man who literally controls space and time can somehow only think of 2 outcomes in response to dwindling resources: Let overpopulation run its course through war, famine and misery, or kill half the world. He couldn’t just snap his fingers to make more food, resources, or even planets to live on? But, as a reflection of modern society, this is exactly the point, and perhaps why Thanos resonates so much in 2018. As Maggie Astor recently observed in The New York Times: “our life expectancy has declined, suicide rates have risen, the opioid crisis has worsened, inequality has grown, and confidence in government has fallen.” When confronted with enormous problems of our modern world, it seems like every choice is damned if you do, or damned if you don’t. Work a job that pays – be miserable – work a job you love- be poor, and miserable. Vote for a douche, or vote for a turd sandwich. it seems like, in many facets of life, we’re given the option of pepsi and coke, but no RC Cola, Faygo, Boylan, Foxon Park, or Moxy.
And that’s the problem with Thanos. When your political imagination is so limited, and you only have a choice between two shitty things, all the rationality in the world isn’t going to help you make progress. In order to do that, we need more imagination. When our political imagination is so limited, we’ll never experience the joy of faygo.Is there any escape? Hegel wrote that oftentimes in history, the way forward comes when we take the two diametrically opposed things and synthesize them into a fresh approach. This is probably what lays before us in Avengers 4. This is probably how our heroes will ultimately defeat Thanos and save the universe. As they say, when the old tricks fail, come up with new tricks. As always, thanks for watching.