When I saw that video of Andrew Garfield, dressed in that drugstore Spiderman costume, speaking so frenetically about his relationship with the Wall Crawler, it got me thinking about my own times with the Web Head.
“Being free of the body I was born into,” that’s what Andrew says Spider-Man meant to him and “every skinny boy.”
I’m one of those “skinny boys” (though you can’t tell now) who wished for anatomical emancipation. In addition to the “sensation of flight” a radioactive spider-bitten Peter Parker meant the fantastical restoration of sight – freedom from the heavy horn-rimmed prescription glasses I became increasingly fused to with each passing year (though you can’t tell that now either).
And all of us skinny guys had our Flash Thompsons – the bullies — those individuals who seemed to get away with everything because of their influence over figures of authority but despite that seemed to find peculiar pleasure in toying with the skinny guys. While the Flashs made the most of their celebrity, us skinny guys seemed always at fault regardless of the facts and or the intentions.
Didn’t Jonah Jameson abuse his position at the Daily Bugle to vilify our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man? No matter how many people Spidey saved, Jameson would write the story so it was certain Spidey was at fault. This is high school for the skinny guy right? This is middle school. According to Family First Aid there is a three to one ratio of age 10 – 14 boys to girls who commit suicide in the US.
But this is why what Andrew says about Spider-Man not being corrupted is particularly resonant. Skinny guys are not entirely different from the Flash Thompsons or the Jonah Jamesons. Skinny guys can just as easily brutalize and vilify. So, when suddenly enabled to stand on equal ground with their tormentors, there is a potential for perpetuating the prejudices and the pains.
Spider-Man asks: Even if you could get someone back now for a wrong they’ve done you, should you? Who would that make you?
Growing up Chinese in America during the dawn of the VCR meant more sustained and immediate access to HKTVB stories of bousauh – revenge – and honor — gingjuhng. In period pieces, there was always a son wanting to kill someone else’s father to right some wrong or dishonor dealt his own father. On the Saturday afternoon Kung Fu theater Fu Sheng, Ti Lung, David Chiang, and so on learnt new Kung Fu stances avenge the massacre of their Shaolin brothers and Sifus.
Spider-Man didn’t do that. Spider-Man asks Why? and feels bad when someone gets hurt – good and bad. Instead of soothing his pains in bloody acts he pacifies himself with snappy retorts and zingers. Spidey finds humor in the dark and feels his way towards honoring the words of his Uncle Ben: “With great power there must also come great responsibility.”
I don’t question the sincerity of Andrew Garfield’s words. It was a neat publicity stunt and his speech touched a nerve. Through the years, I’ve tried to live the “Spidey Way.” I’ve tried to find humor in the dark and to figure out and forgive the Thompsons and the Jamesons. And when I’ve been empowered, I’ve always intended to the best (though the consequences have been mixed).
And when the mix is not what I hoped, there’s this song from DJ Ozma to remind me to let it go and laugh:
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