Jewish date: 26 ’Av 5769.
Today’s holiday: Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Today’s quasi-holidays: Watermelon Day, Bratwurst Festival, International Dadaism Month, Joe Miller’s Joke Day.
Worthy causes of the day: “Harlequin Frogs Near Extinction as Temperatures Rise” and “Give Us an Open, Honest Debate on the Healthcare Crisis”.
Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
- More religious oppression and intolerance: “Mexico: Christians Jailed For Acteal Massacre Win Release”, “Suicide bombers target small religious group in Iraq”, “Boko Haram ressurects, declares total Jihad”.
- “Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster”: Major rule: No religious groups are composed of people with perfectly identical views. This includes atheists. This article is written by an atheist who does not approve of the recent “new atheism” movement.
- Nu, nu? Am I going to hear anything about my idea for spinning off a separate Divine Misconceptions blog? Even something as simple as “Go for it” or “Bad idea” would be appreciated.
JAMES MCCULLEN, XXIV (1935-2009)
The Fall of Destro: An Obituary by the Cobra Commander
I remember the first time I set eyes on Jimmy McCullen. It was 1969, just as men were taking their first steps on the moon. I was a young cleric then, fairly brash and naïve and thinking that I knew all there was to know about our holy scriptures. After all, wasn’t our god Golobulus everywhere and in everything? So if I was well versed in all the words of his prophet Serpentor, then I must know everything worth knowing. He who was then the Cobra Commander always chuckled at me, pleased at my zeal for the cause, even if he found me a bit deluded.
Jimmy was not. His father, James McMullen, XXIII, was by then quite frail, and it had fallen on his son to run the family business. Even Jimmy’s recent marriage had failed to mellow him. He was formal to a fault in his manner, not just wooden as he greeted us, but stone-cold. He met us at the airport with a vintage limousine, waiting for us with obvious impatience, as if the mere thought of just standing around was offensive. For some reason he opened the door himself; we never saw the driver behind his partition. Jimmy’s handshake was amazingly firm, almost as if his own hand was fashioned of steel. Every word that burst through his lips was brief and emotionless, highly contained, as if he were some kind of robot.
There we were in the back of the limousine, Jimmy, the Cobra Commander, and myself. The Commander’s words flowed freely, thanks and praises for having us and for the services we hoped he would provide, how blessed he must be by Golobulus. Jimmy hardly looked at us, said only exactly what he had to say in precise terms, not a word more. I wondered if the deal was falling through, that he was just going through the motions, perhaps to please his father, but in the end we would return with nothing.
For the next hour we toured one of his many warehouses, unassuming on the outside but quite full within. Anything we could ever want was there, short of perhaps a nuclear warhead. Jimmy claimed to be working on that. Guns, bombs, grenades, survival gear, bullets, missiles, they were all packed in crates to the ceiling, every bit of space efficiently used, a masterpiece of organization. And then there were all the vehicles parked there, rows of tanks, jeeps, small helicopters, and something that might have been a one-man clawed metal diving suit. This was nothing, Jimmy claimed. Next week it would be half-empty. As much as peace and love were in fashion, so were war and hate, and there was plenty of business to go around. I couldn’t care less if I had your business, was the message.
If the Cobra Commander was at all nervous, he never showed it. He calmly noted he had contacts with other weapons suppliers, then noted how common were some of the merchandise were. Everyone has AK-47s. And these gas grenades, I know a man in Cairo who can get me something similar, maybe even cheaper. Was this it? Everyone spoke so highly of MARS and the McCullens. Didn’t he have anything more? Jimmy remained impassive as we rounded the warehouse, leading us back to the limousine with hardly a twitch, as if his own face were cast in metal. And then he smirked as he looked at the Commander, just a slight lifting one of one corner of his mouth as he nodded, a sinister glint to his eye. “Tux,” he said casually, tapping the hood of the limousine, “transform.”
The limousine jerked and shifted with a cacophony of pops and whirs, and I fell to my knees. My head beneath my arms, I expected to be showered with hot metal and die right there, a seeming eternity of searing pain before my eternal reward. But death never came, nor even the shower. Hadn’t I seen it? The limousine had come apart before my eyes. The silence around me was almost as painful as the shrapnel should have been, unyielding and uninformative. Curiosity finally won over fear, and I raised my head.
The Cobra Commander was just as shocked as I was at the bulk of metal towering over us. The limousine had been replaced, pieces of it hanging off the outside of this thing which must have been twenty feet tall. I was reminded of the robot in Metropolis, though this looked more like a man, with something like a top hat on its head. There was a blue sheen to its eyes as it looked down on me, its shining metal face as impassive as Jimmy’s. Tux, Jimmy explained, was one of his “iron grenadiers,” a mechanical race that was now in his employ.
Jimmy was always able to surprise me. For all the years I have known him, from my ascent to being the Cobra Commander and beyond, he has always had something interesting to show me. Not that everything always worked, of course. There was always something special planned, some unforeseen trick or gimmick or angle that gave the man an edge to his dealings. I might put my trust in Golobulus to provide, knowing how dire the situation is for the faithful, and then casually over coffee, just as you might mention some idiotic twaddle you saw on the television the other night, he would have some unbelievable find, just the supplies or ammunition to solve whatever problem we had.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the man was his dedication. All men are dedicated in some way, some to their own pleasure, some to art, some to callings, others to Allah, Jesus, Golobulus, or whatever they may be calling the highest being. Jimmy was truly dedicated to his work, and we sincerely appreciated it.
But even more than that, he was dedicated to his wife Anastasia. Their courtship was something out of a romance novel, meeting under the backdrop of the civil war in Viet Nam. She was but a young lady then, her parents refugees from the Third Reich who had done well in Canada. Nobles, some said, others political leftists. Her parents had begged her in vain not to volunteer as a nurse, they feared for her life, and rightly so. She nearly died during the Tet Offensive, and it was only Jimmy riding in with some new weapons that saved her life, special ones he was demonstrating for the American military. The bond was almost instant, and within a year he had made her his wife.
It was never an easy marriage between them, with families on both sides opposing it with many intrigues and threats to disown them. And Anastasia herself has always been quite willful and fiery, not one to submit, not even to someone equally unyielding as her husband. Breakable items had a short life expectancy around her. Rare was the man who could stand up to Anastasia McMullen, and though we are lucky enough to count her among the faithful, I have seen her make even battle-hardened soldiers cry. And as stormy as her temper was, she was as sharp and brilliant as her husband and an even more vicious debater. It is a mark of his dedication and passion that he weathered what no other man could.
It is an open secret that the G. I. Joe toy franchise (the action figures, not the dolls) is loosely inspired by both Jimmy’s family firm, the Military Arms Research Syndicate, and the faithful of Golobulus and his prophet Serpentor, the Cobra Organization being just a military wing of such. It may seem odd that a man like Jimmy would tolerate what must seem like mockery. Many wealthier men have not, as William Randolph Hearst did when Orson Welles fictionalized the former’s life in Citizen Kane. And while Jimmy was indeed a proud man, and rightly so, he never let his pride get in the way of good business. Just as the fast food industry has ingratiated itself into people’s lives through children, so did Jimmy realize that he could do the same. With the help of his wife and the iron grenadier Loki, they came up with the premise of the cartoon, comics, and action figures. Jimmy would be a major baddie, vying to rule the world. We took his doppelgänger’s outfit from one he wore at a costume ball, with leopard fur and leather and a shiny mask that would become his trademark, one that got him nicknamed “Pimp Daddy Destro” for years after that. Destro’s love was called “the Baroness” after a nickname a servant once called Anastasia (and thereafter rightly earned the servant a beating), her jumpsuit drawn from the same ball that produced the other costume. (She was actually trying to dress as Mrs. Emma Peel of The Avengers.) And as for myself, by then ascended to the Cobra Commander, I got a sharp uniform and a spiffy mask totally unlike anything I’ve ever worn and a degree of incompetence I am incapable of. (The character was actually an homage to Yosemite Sam.) Together we would be bickering and disunited, constantly trying to conquer the world by outlandish means. And fighting Cobra would be the alleged good guys, an elite force called G. I. Joe. Their disarray of uniforms being anything but military, somehow this bunch of oddballs with no real coordination was supposed to work as one.
It was all very silly and supposedly innocent fun, but it was full of psychological traps. Cobra is quite genuinely an enemy of the United States, but if who would worry if Cobra never seems to win? Cobra was evil, but what about them was evil was never explained or even shown. And the so-called Joes always charge in and save the day, regardless of the odds. Even while he feigned outrage over the whole thing, he secretly was amused at the elegance of it all. Not only were Cobra and MARS now well known, but generally thought harmless. Our missionaries found youth painfully ignorant of the true nature of Golobulus and, never having seen the need to exercise their minds before the “obvious,” could not stand to the slightest challenge. Our faithful in the West subsequently rose. And those assurances of safety in the hands of the military were nothing but false hope. The Joes were a bunch of superheroes, a few ultra-powerful beings who can overcome anything. The myth of the superhero is quite enduring in the West, idealized despite their unreality. Police to not employ masked acrobats or strongmen to go out by themselves and deliver vigilante justice, for the problems are too many and would lead to chaos. No certain rescue there. Note how the armies of the United States and Great Britain have yet to destroy al-Qaida or capture Usama bin Ladin; how absurd to think a handful of even the best soldiers could do better. By teaching such unrealistic expectations to the Western youths, ultimately we have a much safer world for Cobra and all the faithful. Although Jimmy feigned fury every time there was this new action figure or that new series that he claimed impinged on his honor (one of his public rants over Sigma Six was truly a masterpiece), that was only part of the ruse. Anger always made for good gossip, and gossip spreads news. Secretly he was often hysterical that he was able to manipulate the minds of an entire generation, a supreme joke if there ever was one.
The recently released movie, G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is no different. Indeed, the very title is deceptive, for Cobra appears nowhere in it. The contest is merely between the Joes and Jimmy, and it is taken to absurd heights. Nothing in this movie is remotely plausible, and indeed it has the right ingredients for a camp classic. G. I. Joe is now an international team; perhaps the Americans feel shame being so after their country’s fiascoes in international affairs. The team includes a variety pack of unlikely members, from a jet-flying soldier who coattails his way in, to a Caucasian ninja who has taken a vow of silence, to a supergenius who just who just happens to speak Celtic and whose body armor lifts and separates. The baddies are now presented in even more distorted form. It has Jimmy (played by Christopher Eccleston) as a weapons manufacturer, and the movie does capture some of his sternness and determination. But the movie also presents him as trying to take over the world, which he never did, and never cared to. My own self (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was presented as a stereotypical disfigured mad scientist with no connection to either the comic-book character or myself. Anastasia was reduced to “Ana Lewis,” a former fiancée of one of the Joes who has since turned evil, as signified by dyeing her hair black and dressing in black and glasses. Utterly ridiculous connections are drawn between the three. The evil scientist who poses as me uses “nanomite” technology to control minds. Anastasia becomes my sister, controlled like a puppet into serving the military and sexual interests of Jimmy. (Personally, I think that destroys the character’s charm, her being a robot.) In the end this same man disfigures Jimmy with his nanomites into having a metal head, puts on his own mask (which is quite ugly), and calls himself “Commander,” all without any real claim to the position. There is no rise of Cobra, for in the end there is no Cobra, this so-called “Commander” and Jimmy being utterly defeated. Meanwhile the Joes, with preposterous technology, abundant teamwork, and the power of true love, rise up over Jimmy’s minions and completely obliterate them. I could complain about a number of absurd places and events in this movie. It has bases under the desert near the pyramids of Giza and under the ice in the Arctic Ocean. Weapons range from guns which project some kind of air distortion to mechanical suits which allow one to run and jump at fantastic speeds. Massive public disregard for human life is portrayed without any cries for war crimes tribunals. And as Eccleston has previously played the title character in the revived Doctor Who series, whenever he opened his mouth, I expected to hear such phrases as “Let’s see how well the Joes stand up to the Daleks” or “I’ll just deactivate that fancy jet plane with my sonic screwdriver.” But deep down it was all the same pattern as the cartoons: the good guys win no matter what, while the bad guys always bicker, turning on each other and getting nowhere. Watch it enough and maybe you’ll soon believe it. I certainly know some world leaders who do.
The real Jimmy was full of surprises to the end. The world media have been slow to provide details on his death, and I shall be glad to supply them. His iron grenadiers may have added to his wealth but also to his torments. As it turns out, the larger tribe of these beings do not want their brothers on Earth, and they have come to fetch them back. Mostly they have been cowards about it, sneaking about and snatching them away one by one. It was no accident that when Jimmy sent the bulk of them to serve the United States, he insisted they be housed in a protected location well within the country’s borders. (In any case, there’s more room for them at Area 51 than at Guantánamo Bay.) Their slow drain of numbers was a constant irritant, but taking a public side, even against these “invaders” and “thieves” as he called them, was not in his nature. (He always liked to play the neutral third party as an arms dealer.) It was only when the iron grenadier he called Convoy was publicly humiliated and taken away that he finally had enough, doing what his wife could never do. Convoy was a key part to the publicity of the iron grenadiers, and there would be no way he could accept the loss.
He asked me for a favor, and I was happy to oblige. With the help of a Cobra submarine and a missile he supplied, we aided his iron grenadiers attack his enemy. We damaged their floating fortress, killed quite a few, and let the iron grenadiers satisfy their own bloodlust and rescue their imprisoned comrades. The operation was fast, for soon their enemy’s soldiers returned from their own rounds, and a battle ensued. Our submarine retreated to the safety of the depths, happy to help a friend in need.
I believe he expected things to turn out differently. Not quite so many of his iron grenadiers were liberated as he expected, though his precious Convoy and the military genius Meister were among those who returned. Up until then, no one wanted to challenge the “bloody bastard thieves,” there were so many unknowns, and what was known suggested staggering losses would occur. Showing them to be vulnerable would make them seem less scary, and for a moment it did. They have whined and complained at the United Nations and in the Hague for justice, but hardly any country has seen it fit to validate their cause. They pleaded with Britain to extradite Jimmy and were ignored. Jimmy was hysterical. He had called the biggest bluff in history, punched a giant gorilla in the nose and simply walked away. Suddenly even pirates who usually prey on freighters were emboldened enough to take his enemy on. For the longest time his spirits were high, that is, until the night they came for him.
If he made a mistake, it was his thinking “those steely gits” would always stick to diplomacy. But even someone as stern and patient as they are has his limits. It was just hardly a week ago that it happened, when a thick fog rolled over his estate, and then his enemy appeared, ready to deal with any security measures he had and more, save one. For years Jimmy tried to reverse engineer the weapons the iron grenadiers brought with them without success, but that never stopped him trying. And he did keep one for his personal use. Jimmy had that one last surprise waiting, one that put him on a more equal footing with his enemies. Not equal enough, sadly, for by the time the Royal Air Force was able to respond, it was already over. Half of his mansion was reduced to char and rubble, the underground bunker torn open. Anastasia had been taken, alive apparently, while his servants and personal security forces had fled in terror or been knocked unconscious by unknown means. The spot where Jimmy had made his stand was utterly obliterated. The only one there who had seen anything was his granddaughter Caroline, there on a visit, and she was hardly any use to the military. They took her! she screamed. They took Grandmama! The bloody metal bastards took her!
I am writing these final lines, not from my desk, but from the back of a private jet as I hurry away from my beloved Cobra Island. Not long ago I received word that a very large number of aircraft were approaching, and I doubt they’re friendly. Our warriors will fight bravely, and no doubt many will find their eternal reward, but I fear this battle is lost. But it is not the battle that matters, but the ongoing struggle. For there is no war where a machine can overcome the divinely given human soul, and I believe as firmly as ever this is one we shall win. Thank you, Jimmy for all your help. May Golobulus seat you with all the faithful martyrs at the right hand of Serpentor.
And now I must go. The bloody metal bastards are coming.