Why Michael Chabon Won't be Seeing Spider-Man
Michael Chabon is a major superhero fan. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Chabon (best-selling author of Wonder Boys and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh), chronicles the rise of the super-hero comic book, sanctifying it as a "great, mad new American art form." He's written drafts of comic book-to-movie adaptations (including one for X-Men), and in interviews, he talks of his boyhood fondness for classic superheroes, especially those with identifiably human traits -- like Spider-Man, a personal favorite. It's a fondness he's passed on to his own son, 5-year-old Zeke, now a major Spider-Man fan himself.
So why has Michael Chabon decided not to see the new Spider-Man movie? The answer is simple: It's rated PG-13.
That rating -- with its implications of violence, sexuality, language and cinematic intensity -- means that he won't take Zeke to see the film, just as he kept his 7-year-old daughter Sophie from seeing Lord of the Rings. This time, in solidarity and as a personal protest, Chabon is staying home as well. He admits that in the case of Rings, the rating was appropriate, and was consistent with Tolkien's violent, head-lopping source material.
"The ringwraiths and balrogs and orcs and so forth really do need to be horrible and terrifying," he allows. So Chabon doesn't begrudge the PG-13 rating -- for Lord of the Rings. "Spider-Man," he says, "is a different thing."
Chabon cites the "powerful iconic pull on the five year old male imagination," that Spider-Man holds. "His mere image in an ad on the side of a bus," says Chabon, "is enough to elicit a whoop of joy from Zeke and a cry of 'Dad! Dad! Spider-Man!.' Just that arrangement of red and blue and black produces a momentary blip of delight. And right now that image is everywhere. Zeke's world is saturated in it. And yet the thing itself is forbidden to him... It's just so cruel. It's like the world has given him the wrapping paper, the ribbon, the bow and the box, but not the present itself."
The important thing, he says, is that Spider-Man doesn't have to be grim, violent, or scary.
"I mean, it can be," he admits. "That's justified by the increasingly dark tone taken by comic books, Spider-Man among them, over the past 15 years or so. I understand perfectly well why the filmmakers went in this direction. They don't want 5-year-olds. They want 15-year-olds. That's fine. It makes economic sense. I get it. The filmmakers can abandon and break the hearts of the 5-year-olds of America."
"But," he adds, "Spider-Man never would."