Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind is a “meditation on the state of our souls, particularly those of the young and their education” (Bloom 19). Bloom asserts that the central problem with the state of education is that students aren’t solidifying their belief systems because they are being taught that all cultures are special and wonderful and it would be morally presumptuous to believe that our culture is better than any other.
While the case could be made that Bloom is ethnocentric to a certain extent, the point he is trying to make is that students can’t appreciate other cultures without first understanding their own and there isn’t enough of an effort being made to aid students in finding their cultural heritage. Essentially, the Greek axiom of “know thyself” has been replaced with “appreciate everyone else.” Certainly a degree of respect must be given to other cultures and customs, but without first solidifying our identity, America will become directionless and without a central core.
Published in the ’80s, much of the problems that Bloom asserts have exploded and evolved into far greater concerns today. Our entertainment industry is a fractured mess of a monster that increasingly becomes more and more niche as time goes on. As it further spirals and snarls out of control, people search farther and farther from what is considered “the norm” in order to be entertained.
If the ’80s were a time when people flocked to entertainment for identity (and one could make the case that they did given the popularity of MTV) then our explosion of entertainment has left many without a compass rely upon. Perhaps Patton Oswalt said it best in his article “Wake up, geek culture. Time to die” when he wrote:
When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.
While it may come as a stretch that philosopher Allan Bloom’s ideas about the American identity and comedian Patton Oswalt’s ideas about the ever-expanding entertainment industry can come together through a C-list Marvel super-hero that most people have never heard of, here I am making the assertion:
First, who exactly is Echo?
Created by David Mack and Joe Quesada, Echo is a deaf, Native American super-hero with the power to copy other people’s movements. She can watch someone play piano once and then she can mimic that action. Echo has been mostly a supporting character in Daredevil and in Brian Michael Bendis’s New Avengers books and has never had her own series.
Despite not having her own series, she was given a five-issue storyline in Daredevil (Vol. 2 #51-55) that helped give some insight into the character. Written and drawn by David Mack (well, painted and masterfully crafted is probably more appropriate, given that Mack’s art is a collage framed in all sorts of interesting textures and techniques), the story revolves around Echo trying to get over her feelings for Matt Murdock (Daredevil).
The story fleshes out her backstory more as she reflects on her relationship with her father. Her father used to tell her all sorts of fables, fairytales, and stories using sign language. After her father’s death, Echo was raised by Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) and sent to the best boarding schools so that she could exercise her talents as a mimic.
The main crux of the story, however, is Echo’s journey to move on past her feelings towards Matt Murdock. She returns to the chief of her tribe and goes on a visionquest in order to understand her role in society. After fasting and seeing visions of animal totems, she returns a new person; whole, complete and ready to inherit the world.
What Mack has created in this story is the perfect blueprint for the 21st-century individual. Echo is a woman who was first imprinted with her tribe’s stories. As a child, her father taught her their customs and she held on to those beliefs. When she went out into the world, she discovered that she had power, so she began to practice that power which helped her further form her identity. After she felt directionless, she returned to her roots and took up her old customs once again in order to calm her soul.
Echo’s power itself is a perfect mixture of both Bloom’s philosophy and Oswalt’s; she uses the world around her in order to better define herself.
While it would be easy to make the character angst-driven and without a clear understanding of who she is (one can imagine a poorly written issue where Echo screams “All of these imprints fighting it out in my brain! WHO AM I?!” — or am I just thinking about Dollhouse?), Mack elegantly crafts a tale of a woman who has a strong sense of identity and is just looking to move on with her life.
If only everyone were so lucky. Clearly our entertainment world is fractured, but that’s honestly the least of our concerns. Our political system has thrived off of talking points that are so clearcut opposites that neither side is really telling the truth. All of the major issues of today (the economy, gas prices, global warming, etc.) are so tied up in misinformation that its unclear as to what the correct course of action should be for anything. While mankind has struggled since the dawn of time to understand what exactly is truth, it seems as if today, the truth couldn’t be further from our reach.
As Bloom writes, “I know that men are likely to bring what are only their prejudices to the judgment of alien peoples. Avoiding that is one of the main purposes of education. But trying to prevent it by removing the authority of men’s reason is to render ineffective the instrument that can correct their prejudices” (40).
Echo is the answer to this. Though she has an identity, she still seeks the talents of others in order to better herself. While all of this may be physical in nature, remember that Echo is deaf and to her, physical movement is all information. She understands the world through physical actions and even expresses her identity at the end of Mack’s story by doing performance art for the deaf. She tells her story (a clear sign that she has an understanding of self) through her physical movement.
Given how interesting and unique the character is, its a shame that she isn’t very well known. Echo is more than just a deaf super-hero. She is more than just a Native American super-hero. If super-heroes can be considered metaphors for ideas, then Echo is a character that represents the purest form of self-knowledge. While the core idea behind every Spider-man story has been his struggle with identity, and Wolverine has been a character that has never been sure just who he is, Echo celebrates who she is.
If only we all could be so lucky.