Faster Than A Speeding Hard Drive

Like most boys between the ages of about 4 and 9, my life goals included becoming a superhero. Unlike most small boys, I also simultaneously wanted to be an Egyptologist-Paleontologist-Highway Patrolman. We can thank the Met’s King Tut Exhibit, a subscription to National Geographic, and the T.V. series “CHiPS” in the 1970’s for these latter influences.

With respect to the superhero component I had action figures, comic books, and t-shirts; dressed up as one for Hallowe’en; watched television shows like “Superfriends” and “Batman”, the “Superman” and “Star Wars” movies, and so on. Although these daydreams are popular for kids around the world, I suspect that in America, where these heroes originated, they are particularly resonant. I was always torn between wanting to be Batman (who had great gadgets and was not some sort of mutant), Captain America (who reminded me of the knights in tales like Ivanhoe or of the Knights of the Round Table), or Superman (since he seemed the most impervious to damage of the three, comparatively speaking.)

Today The Torygraph is featuring some interesting images by Indonesian artist Agan Harahap. Using Photoshop, Harahap has superimposed images of superheroes and supervillains from films and television into scenes from 20th century military history. The results are, by turns, both clever and disturbing.

In these works we see my fave three heroes, as well as Spiderman, Darth Vader, and The Flash, among others, in highly unusual settings. Batman stands beside a yabbering Fidel Castro in one image, and in another is inspecting Allied Troops during World War II. In other World War II imagery, Superman guards a flight of stairs as Allied soldiers rescue stolen works of art from a Nazi fortress, and Darth Vader makes an appearance at the Yalta Conference.

Harahap’s work is well-done, but even if some of the images invoke chuckling or admiration, the overall message seems to me unclear. Why would Captain America be smiling and leading the unrepentantly evil Himmler along through a scene of misery – reproduced below – wouldn’t Darth Vader have been the more logical choice? Why would Batman appear to be supporting a murderous criminal like Castro instead of throwing him in jail? Why would The Joker, of all people, be organizing the rooftop defense of Moscow against Nazi invasion?

Perhaps the photographer did not realize what he was doing in juxtaposing some of these figures – which, if we are charitable, may be entirely possible. Sometimes he gets the juxtaposition right, as in his image of V from “V for Vendetta” apparently leading surrendering Nazis into the hands of Allied Troops. Yet other times the images seem incongruous or even offensive, such as in showing Darth Vader consulting with the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.

My readers may draw their own conclusions, unless they come across an interview that makes more sense than any I have found so far. In a brief snippet of an interview with a somewhat repulsive photography/contemporary art blog (delicate readers be warned before perusing their site) Harahap explained that “Everybody is so serious when they learn and discuss history. I just want to have some fun with it and make everybody smile.”

It would have been preferable, in my opinion, had Mr. Harahap given a bit more thought to the content of these images, which in many cases represent the experiences and suffering of people who are still very much alive. We are all aware that much of contemporary art has, as its primary focus, the two-fold goal of shocking the viewer, and thereby granting celebrity status to its creator. Mr. Harahap is clearly talented in his photographic manipulations, but it is a shame that such talent does not appear to have a more rational focus.

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