Posts Tagged ‘Prague’

On Travel

A former professor of mine once exclaimed that he did not like travel. Student reaction was quite negative. The students who liked this professor then felt a need to defend him; interestingly, their defense wasn’t that it is okay to dislike travel, but that he misspoke, that he didn’t really mean that he disliked travel. This is reflective of a larger and unfair stigma against disliking travel. I say unfair since while most people love the idea of travel, traveling itself is much less pleasant for them for a variety of reasons I’ll explore in this post.

People tend to “fake” traits that are socially desirable if the cost of faking is relatively low. Travel encourages this faking more than most characteristics. It’s easy to see why travel is socially desirable. First, it signals activity, and activity is preferable to inactivity. Travelers backpack, hike, climb, and explore. Second, it signals openness and curiosity. The traveler is interested in cultures other than his own. Third, a love of travel indicates a love of novelty. The traveler has eaten exotic foods or seen exotic animals. Fourth, travel perpetuates the feelings of being in an elite in-group, which is nauseatingly manifested in tired conversations about cities that both travelers have visited*: “Wasn’t Prague beautiful?!” “It was!” and then there is the obligatory listing of the mutual places that each of the travelers visited in said city.** This conversation generally will give both participants a lot of pleasure, sometimes even generating a sort of insular arrogance. People who don’t engage in this self-congratulatory ritual—like my former professor—will be greeted with condescension, the result being that these anti-travel individuals are hesitant to express their preferences in public settings.

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Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures

In keeping with NPI’s December theme of Aught Lang Syne, this month’s Sunday Book Reviews will cover some of the most important works of literature to come out this decade. Today we’re starting with Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

What is the appeal of superheroes? As this decade’s onslaught of superhero movies* has proved, simply investing someone or something with incredible abilities does not suffice to make a compelling story. And yet so many people are preternaturally drawn to these stories, like a moth to a flame.

*For the record this decade has seen three Spiderman movies, four X-Men, two Batmans, two Fantastic Fours, one Superman, two Hulks, one Iron Man….Am I forgetting some? Oh yeah, two Hellboys, Daredevil, Catwoman, Elektra, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and, if you want to count them, two Blade sequels.

In Michael Chabon’s modern classic, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, he provides something of an explanation. Early in the novel, when the titular “heroes” are struggling to come up with a superhero to launch their new comic book business, they realize the futility of trying to come up with an irresistible gimmick for the hero. As Sammy Clay, the brains of the operation, puts it:

“No matter what we come up with, and how we dress him, some other character with the same shtick, with same style of boots and the same little doodad on his chest, is already out there, or is coming out tomorrow, or is going to be knocked off from our guy inside a week and a half…How? is not the question. What? is not the question….The question is why…What is the why?”

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