Friday, December 12, 2008

Dr. Horrible, philosophy, and life

15th Best Invention of 2008

As I said yesterday, I watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog on Tuesday. (If you haven't seen it yet but think you might like to, follow the link and watch it now: this post contains spoilers.) It may be the best thing since Firefly. TIME even named it the 15th best invention of 2008.

I've been listening to the soundtrack almost exclusively for the past three days. Since the film/show itself is only 43 minutes long and only half is music, the soundtrack is only about 22 minutes long and during an 8 hour work day I probably listen to it over a dozen times. The other night, during yet another listen through, something occurred to me: I'm a lot like Dr. Horrible.

I want this chair

The story is based on Dr. Horrible's video blog which catalogs his attempt to get into the Evil League of Evil and win over a girl he's got a crush on that he sees at the laundromat. His plan is to take over the world and then show her that he's not just some nobody. In his own words, "And Penny will see the evil me; not a joke, not a dork, not a failure. And she may cry but her tears will dry, when I hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia."

I think what makes Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog so amazing is that on top of being brilliantly written, very well acted and musically genius, it has something a little deeper. It's not some grand of work of philosophy but it's a very intelligent look at how cynics and pessimists view the world and relationships.

Cpt. Hammer meets Penny

Dr. Horrible sees the world as a corrupt hellhole needing "saving" -- someone to come in and take over and rule it. While in the middle of a heist to steal the last thing he needs for his freeze ray, Captain Hammer -- the hero -- shows up and thwarts his attempt, but puts Penny in harm and then "saves" her (Dr. Horrible actually saves her but she thinks Captain Hammer does). Penny then falls for Captain Hammer and they start dating. Seeing the girl he likes with the man he despises causes him to view the world in a very negative light, singing:
Any dolt with half a brain
Can see that humankind has gone insane
To the point where I don’t know if I’ll upset the status quo
If I throw poison in the watermain.

Listen close to everybody’s heart
And hear that breaking sound
Hopes and dreams are shattering apart
And crashing to the ground

I cannot believe my eyes
How the world’s filled with filth and lies
but it’s plain to see evil inside of me
is on the rise.
It's "the girl I like likes some arrogant jerk" syndrome leading to extreme cynicism and pessimism that I've experienced more than a few times. Contrasting this, Penny -- working in a homeless shelter with Captain Hammer -- sings:
Look around
We’re living with the lost and found
Just when you feel you’ve almost drowned
You find yourself on solid ground

And you believe there’s good in everybody’s heart
Keep it safe and sound
With hope you can do your part
To turn a life around

I cannot believe my eyes
Is the world finally growing wise
Because it seems to me some kind of harmony
Is on the rise
While Dr. Horrible is focusing on the bad things in life, Penny is looking at the bright side and trying to make a difference helping the homeless.

Hammer and Horrible: not friends

This all becomes more muddled when Dr. Horrible and Penny talk at the laundromat they get along really well and it becomes obvious that Penny kind of likes him (not knowing he's Dr. Horrible). Even though she's with the "perfect hero" she wonders if it's what she really wants, saying "This is perfect for me, so they say. I guess he's pretty ok. After years of stormy sailing have I finally found the bay?" While there are fans of Captain Hammer all around who think he's such a great guy, she's not convinced. She liked him at first but she starts to realize he's not really the guy she wants.

The reason I summarize all this is because, as I said, I'm a lot like Dr. Horrible, minus the desire to rule the world with an iron fist. When I like a girl, I get nervous. I get scared to talk to her. Then someone else comes along and swoons her and I'm left thinking what a cesspool this world is because I didn't get the girl. Well, it's more complicated than that, but that's the gist of it.

Y'know, for children and stuff

The underlying principle is that Dr. Horrible is a pessimistic cynic who is upset because the optimistic caring girl he likes is with a different guy. He wants to win her over by taking over the world and subjecting everyone to him and showing her what he can do. As I said though, that's not what Penny wants -- she doesn't want Captain Hammer and she doesn't want Dr. Horrible -- she wants a guy like Billy (Dr. Horrible when he's not being Dr. Horrible). Of course, his self-esteem is so low he doesn't think a girl would ever like him unless he did something great, even if evil. I'm very much the same way. I often don't think girls will like me for who I am and as such believe I need to accomplish great things in order to get a girl -- I need to win her over by doing things instead of by who I am.

A few weeks back I was in the car with my brother and I mentioned something about how Death Cab for Cutie and Dave Matthews are always writing songs about not being able to get girls or trying to win a girl over, and I made the comment "If these guys, whom girls swoon over nationwide, can't get girls, what hope does that leave us?" My brother responded that maybe being a great songwriter and musician isn't what gets girls, maybe there's something else. I know he's right, I just don't believe it (if that makes any sense).

This goes back to the Twilight issues I've got. Girls swoon over the perfect guy, but even though it's a fun fantasy, it's not what they want. Just as girls in Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog

Real guys > superheros

swoon over Captain Hammer, the one girl who's with him finds out he's not what she wants. It's stupid that I'm just now saying this since girl's have been saying it for quite awhile, possibly even years: girls don't want Edward Cullen or Dave Matthews or Captain Hammer -- the "perfect" guys -- they want a guy who's real, who likes spending time with them, who makes mistakes and who loves them.

I think the thing that makes Dr. Horrible so amazing is that it's a very real situation approached from a farcical musical. It's based in real situations. Joss Whedon is brilliant in that respect. He can take a different world and make it relatable. He did it with Firefly by making it about real issues: finding a job, paying for maintenance of your home, living paycheck to paycheck and maybe skimping on groceries and food for a few days to make ends meet. Now he's addressed the angst and cynicism that comes from not being able to get a girl you like and the extreme measures guys go through to get a girl based on what they think she wants instead of seeing what she actually wants.

Feeling nothing without Penny

In the end Dr. Horrible gets into the Evil League of Evil after accidentally killing Penny when his death ray explodes on him. The final lines of the finale are "Now the nightmare’s real. Now Dr. Horrible is here to make you quake with fear. To make the whole world kneel. And I wont feel … a thing." Even though he got into the Evil League of Evil and has become a supervillain, Penny is gone and he's left with nothing.

I have a very real fear that I'll end up doing that with my life. I get so blinded by what I think girls want and what I think I need to do to win them over that I don't realize when a girl is right there in front of me. And the really sad thing about this? I've been told this by numerous people -- girls, guys, therapists, psychologists -- yet it's not until a 43 minute comedic musical uses it as a basis for a storyline that I finally pay attention and listen. That's Joss Whedon for you: able to teach life lessons through fantastical stories without being overly moral. The stories aren't told to teach anything, they're just entertaining and relatable. The lessons and epiphanies from watching are extra.

On February 13th Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse, airs on Fox. I'm excited.

[I suppose I should actually start watching Buffy and Angel since those are both Joss Whedon's work, as well, and most people I've spoken with have said they're just as good as his other works. I'll look into that.]


Brooke said...

Yes, you are a lot like Dr. Horrible, but I knew that. You know, girls often don't know what they want in guys. I have seen tonz of chick-flicks where the lead girl is supposedly going out with the guy of her dreams, but ends up falling for the regular guy. That's not a new concept. What I find interesting is how many guys have the impression that girls will be impressed by big and fancy things or deeds, rather then them actually just being there for her, listening and going through stuff together. Look at Iron Man. Sure it was impressive, him fighting the bad guys and trotting around in nice suits and cars, but in the end he doesn't end up with the girl, because he bailed on her. The Hulk...shot himself up with drugs and now can't ever be with his girl. Most heroes, while they want to be there for the girl of their dreams, often can't because it isn't safe for the girl or they have other responsibilities and places to be so that they can do those great and mighty deeds. Regular guys have all the capability of capturing the heart of the girl, but, like in the case of Dr. Horrible, they have to say something otherwise Captain Hammer or someone else who isn't afraid to take that chance will get her first. I would rather have a man that knows my heart and has time for me, than a man who has saved the world (or destroyed it by ruling it with an iron fist). However, I will admit that there are lots of girls that are impressed by flashy, showy deeds.

nae4blue said...

To save you some time, just watch the first three seasons of buffy and then start watching angel. it gives you the background and the timeline. angel gets better in season 2, but season 5 is the best.

You can watch the rest of buffy later.

I put off watching this til now. I'm glad I only read half of your blog before watching it. I conveniently avoided the spoiler.

I feel like Dr. Horrible, too. Especially that whole world-domination complex thing.

The social animal that is man is pretty easy to figure out. and by man I encompass the entire species because I'm not a feminist. Next time we have dinner, we'll talk.