Friday Free for all #46: Superpower, character swap

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website, although it’s been on hiatus since the Christmas Countdown began. Here, I resume with this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What would be some of the downsides of certain superpowers?

A lot of people would like the power to be invisible, but if we’re going to be completely realistic about it, in order to be invisible, you have to be completely transparent to light. This is all well and good except… if you are transparent to light, then when you’re invisible, you can’t see a damn thing.

The only workaround would be if the essential parts of your eyes — iris, lens, cornea, retina, and optic nerve — were still sensitive to light, but if they were, then they would become visible. Ergo, you would be a pair of creepy eyes on stalks floating around, and that defeats the purpose.

The abilities to fly or run super-fast also seem like cool powers, but they come at a cost, and that is caloric intake. To do either would take enormous amounts of energy, and we’re talking numbers that would put triathlete-in-training 10,000 calorie a day diets to shame.

At least flying, at the right speed, would actually be akin to swimming in terms of course control. Running, though, would be a different matter, and to get up to Flash speeds, the human brain just doesn’t have the perceptive power to navigate that fast.

Unless, of course, the brain also ran as fast as the body, but that would up the energy requirements even more, and it would probably be physically impossible for anyone to consume enough calories to power that.

Super strength? Year, sure, maybe — if we replace the calcium in your bones with iron, which weighs 40% more. But then we also have to do something about your joints, particularly knees and elbows, so that they don’t blow apart, so you’d need something stronger than cartilage which would also likely be much, much stiffer. Finally, you don’t want to rip a ligament on every power move, so those things would need to be made of something stronger as well and, likewise, less stretchy.

So you’d probably wind up super strong, but also super slow and clunky

If you could switch two movie characters, what switch would lead to the most inappropriate movies?

This was a fun question, and I came up with a few fun pairs. Strap in and enjoy.

Annie Wilkes (Misery) and Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins)

To refresh your memory, Annie Wilkes was the crazed fan who inadvertently ends up taking in her favorite author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) after he has a car accident near her home. She proceeds to keep him prisoner and terrorize him and brutalize him because, after he lets her read the draft of his latest Misery book, she is outraged by the profanity in it, not to mention that he dares to kill off the character.

Meanwhile, Mary Poppins is a nanny in Edwardian England, hired by a banker who doesn’t exactly know how to deal with his kids — although, interestingly enough, watching the film as an adult, Ms. Poppins is actually kind of a bitch.

On the other hand, she never intentionally smashes someone’s ankles with a sledge hammer, and she probably would have taken Sheldon on a series of adventures to colorful, animated places.

The Banks family, on the other hand, would probably not have fared as well.

Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) and Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

This one could get messy. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) never met anyone he didn’t despise, and while the argument could be made that the killing spree in the book and movie is entirely in his head, he’s still a pretty vicious person at heart.

The imaginary spree angle isn’t specious, by the way. American Psycho was, above all, a critique of the “Go-go” Reagan era in which greed trumped everything. Bateman was just the embodiment of that attitude, and the murders real or imagined in the book are targeted at everything Republicans were taught to hate in that era and still do — the poor and homeless, the LGBTQ+ community, women, and people of color.

Meanwhile, we have Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) who, while being a completely despicable character in a really bad movie for entirely different reasons, also seems to have never met anyone he didn’t like — and he met everyone.

And this is where it gets messy. Forrest wouldn’t last five minutes in the power-suited, high stakes world of New York wheeler-dealers of the 1980s. At the same time, Patrick Bateman would suddenly meet absolutely everyone, and the path of death and destruction he would cut through the rich and famous, assuming he actually did, would be devastating.

Aileen Wuornos (Monster) and Mia Thermopolis (The Princess Diaries)

The former character was a female serial killer, which in itself is a rarity, although she did seem to only target men who were really shits to women. Meanwhile, the latter was a normal American teenage girl who suddenly finds out that she is actually heir to the throne of one of those obscure made-up movie countries that is vaguely somewhere in a non-controversial corner of Europe.

The princess would not fare well in Wuornos’ sleazy world. Meanwhile, drop the patriarchy-hating serial killer in a land that still has monarchs and, presumably, what’s actually a patriarchy in waiting only temporarily stalled by a lack of heirs with a Y chromosome and, yeah. Heads are gonna roll.

Caligula (Caligula) and Dave Kovic (Dave)

Caligula is one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies, because it has an all-star cast, a script by Gore Vidal, and is a pretty accurate rendition of events told in The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius. Thanks to having been produced by Bob Guccione of Penthouse fame, it’s also full of hardcore porn and very graphic violence. That’s what makes it such a romp.

Meanwhile, Dave is the Kevin Klein vehicle in which a comic who impersonates the current president is enlisted to actually pretend to be that president, due to the real deal having had a stroke while banging his mistress and winding up in a coma.

I think you can see where the fun is going here, especially if you transport the plot of Dave into both movies.

Dave Kovic would be out of his depth in Rome, and probably poisoned secretly or assassinated openly within months. Meanwhile, as soon as Caligula realized that he was essentially in charge of the planet’s greatest super-power, and what kinds of weapons and military forces he controlled, then it would be game over, because he would probably proceed to invade the shit out of every other country, friend or foe.

Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal Rising) and Julia Child (Julie & Julia)

For this one, I specifically chose the movie that tells young Hannibal’s origin story with the background of Nazi Germany because… Julia Child happened to have been a resistance fighter at the time, and quite a badass one. Why do you think she’s so good with kitchen knives.

But, the swap is just so wrong and so right. Julia gets to go on to get revenge on Nazis. Meanwhile, Hannibal would definitely be cooking up some really odd meals on that TV show. Bon(e) appétit!

How to develop super powers

For that day when we can finally socialize again, here are some reminders on how to not be a pain in the ass in public — although it’s also all perfectly usable advice now. Learn how to stay out of the way.

If you’ve ever been to a party in a private residence — or any place with multiple rooms, actually — then you’ve no doubt experienced this phenomenon. Inevitably, people will wind up blocking doorways, particularly the one to the room with the food in it. Now you’d think that folk would instinctively realize that these things are made for walking through and not standing in, but their instincts seem to kick in the exact opposite way.

It isn’t just parties, either. I’ve seen it happen at the entrances to small theaters, where people will gather in the lobby and just outside the doors afterwards to chat and completely block the way in or out for everyone else. They do it in front of bars and restaurants if they gather outside to vape, although in those cases they usually wind up blocking the entire sidewalk. If seems to be a general rule that any sufficiently large group of people will expand to completely block whatever space is available for them to stand in.

I’ve even seen this happen in the lobby of the El Portal Theater, which stretches the entire width of the old Art Deco building and maybe twenty feet or more from back to front. When there’s a large enough audience for the main stage waiting in the lobby before they open the theater, the group will manage to spread out until they have created human walls that block the place side to side and front to back. They’re also particularly good at obliviously standing in front of the desk where I sell tickets to our show, backs turned to it, seemingly unaware that they are, in fact obstructing access for my patrons.

My personal bête noire, though, is the person in the grocery store who single-handedly manages to block the entire aisle because they place their cart on one side and then stand between it and the other side of the aisle to stare at the shelves as if they’ve never been in a grocery store before. In case it’s not obvious, you and the cart should stop on the same side, always. (These are probably the same people who stand in the middle of the escalator, one hand on each railing so that nobody can walk up the left side of the escalator to pass them.)

I’m not the only person to ask why this happens. I have to wonder if it’s a mammal thing. After all, my dog has a habit of standing in the kitchen doorway facing across the opening, and she’s big enough to block the whole thing. She’s particularly prone to doing this if I get up to go into the kitchen, and then she’ll just look at me as if she’s wondering why I stopped.

I found lots of anecdotal suggestions for why this happens, ranging from “people are just selfish and not self-aware” to more academic examples, like a human tendency to not feel safe in wide open spaces, hence gathering in the narrower, “safe” spaces. There’s also something to be said for the idea that people are more likely to run into each other in these chokepoints and start conversations, and so wind up sticking there — you run into an old friend as they’re coming out of a restaurant and you’re going in, for example. It’s much more likely that you’ll start chatting right there, rather than them going back in or you turning and walking back out.

The same may be true at parties, especially where a lot of the guests may know each other. You’re talking to Betty and Ralph in the living room, then decide to go grab another soda. You head for the kitchen and bump into Peter, who’s coming out of the kitchen at just that moment. You haven’t seen each other in a while and neither of you realized you were both at the party. Now, in your mind, you’re just heading in to quickly grab a Dr. Pepper. In his mind, he’s just coming out with a Coke, so you’re both thinking in terms of “I just came to do something quick.” Except that the quick has now been transformed by what becomes a conversation. Ta-da! You’ve just become victims of the doorway magnetism effect.

That’s just my thought, but I think you can see how this gets magnified in a situation like the theater lobby, because most of those audience members have specifically come with friends and family, and what else are they going to do before they go inside and take their seats? Talk. And they’re going to talk in little arrays of people made up of however many are in their group, whether it’s just a couple or a larger gathering, like a birthday outing. Each of these is going to become a separate entity, but since they’ll be turned inward from each other, they’re not really going to notice how close they’re standing. In effect, they’re spontaneously creating a human foam composed of bubbles and strings that will naturally expand to fill the space.

This still doesn’t explain the a-holes in grocery store aisles or on escalators, but I think it does explain the door blockers. My only suggestion for preventing this is to be very aware of when it’s likely to happen, and then be the one to initiate steps to avoid it. If you run into that friend coming out of a place, walk them a few steps away from the doorway to play catch up, and if you’re the one coming out, walk back in with them and move to the side. If you meet in a doorway at a party, it’s pretty much the same. If you’re on the way in for a soda, you can tell them to wait right there to the side and you’ll be back in two seconds, and then bring them fully into the other room. Or, of course, you can always just go into the room with them, because a conversation with an old friends is a lot more important than getting that soda right now, right?

Then again, self-awareness is a cure for a lot of society’s ills. It would certainly fix the aisle and escalator problems as well. And, as I’ve written about before, the skills we learn doing improv are all about developing awareness — not only of ourselves, but of everyone around us. The endgame to managing that is developing what appear, to ordinary people, to be super powers. They aren’t, though. They’re just the common human skills of observation and listening.

Image: Ivan Bandura, riot police blocking the way to the parliament building on Sunday night in Kiev, December 8, 2013.

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