Thursday, October 16, 2014

Odin and LBJ

So, I was walking home one day and thinking about stuff.  It tends to happen when the walk is two hours and you don't have anything much to do.  I should probably get one of those walkity-man thingies so I could listen to music.  Of course then I'd need to have music.

So much work.  Ugh.

Anyway.  Walking.  Thinking.

In a conversation that happened before this point Lonespark and I had spoken about Marvel-Odin.  Lonespark is a Norse Pagan and so depictions of Odin matter to her in much the same way depictions of Jesus Christ Vampire Slayer matter to Christians.

I reached the conclusion that the problem was that Marvel-Odin is an asshole, where Mythological Odin is an asshole who makes up for it by being awesome.

He's probably not someone you want to have around for personal contact, but you totally want him on your side in general.  You can even admire him, provided it's done from a safe distance.  Think (Marvel Cinematic) Tony Stark, or Nick Fury before he thought evil incarnate was a good idea so long as Hydra didn't have their finger on the trigger.

Tony Stark is a good example of an asshole who scores points for awesome.  Nick Fury in The Avengers practically is Mythological-Odin incarnate.  Seriously, if it turns out that his helicarrier is the son of his blood-brother who comes from the land of our oft-times enemies then I think we can mark Avengers-Fury as totally Odin.  Because it seems like that's all he's missing.  (Well... rainbow bridge, golden apples, details.)

And this thinking led to the question of what are some non-fictional semi-contemporary, possibly American, analogues for Odin?

Now I don't really know that much about ass kicking male American warriors who occasionally take a few years off to be wandering female seers, so my attention turned to administrators.  Odin is a king, after all.

And thus... LBJ.

By all accounts Lyndon Baines Johnson was a complete and utter asshole in almost every possible respect.  And that "almost" is just me hedging.

The reason he took the job as Vice President in the first place was that he was playing the odds and noting that the number of vice presidents who didn't have to be elected was pretty high given the number of vice presidents there had been in total.  It wasn't a majority, by any means.  It was a little less than 20%.

He took the job of Vice President because he saw a 20% chance that JFK would be killed or otherwise die in office.  It happened.  He became President.

That is not a nice person.

After the assassination he made Bobby Kennedy, the dead President's brother, talk him through the procedure for taking over the country even though:
a) He already knew it
b) There was no fucking reason to ask Kennedy because literally anyone in that department could have done the job.
He was just rubbing salt in the wound.  And, again, the wound was that Kennedy's brother had just died.

This guy was a grade A, first class asshole.

He was also instrumental in getting civil rights legislation passed.

Which is to say, this asshole worked for good.

His feud with the Kennedys was personal and mutual, but his asshole powers could be used for more professional things and it was, in part, through the use of his massive unmitigated asshole powers that the Civil Rights Act was passed.

Which is sort of the best example I can think of of a case where someone is an asshole, but makes up for it by being awesome.

Civil Rights legislation wasn't going to pass.  The votes weren't there.  The support wasn't there.  Enter LBJ, asshole extraordinaire.  Everyone told him not to even try.  He'd lose.  It couldn't be done.  There was no point in trying something that was doomed to failure.  He did it anyway.

I cannot imagine an America without LBJ.  I've tried.  It just doesn't compute.

The Civil Rights movement was a combination of the powerless demanding they be treated better than shit and a specific subset of the powerful pushing the same onto a racist country that, by and large, didn't want to better itself.

Neither of those groups could have prevailed without the other.  Even with all of his asshole powers, arm twisting, and understanding of the legislative process there is no way in fucking Hell that he could have gotten Civil Rights legislation passed if not for the movement.

But at the same time, the movement wouldn't have gotten legislation if not for LBJ.  What would have happened then?  Richard "Southern Strategy" Nixon wouldn't have done it.  Ford?  Carter?  Certainly not Reagan.  Clinton?  The opposition shut down the government multiple times while he was in office.

Look at the Civil Rights movement and imagine if all of that effort, if all of that passion, had come to nothing.  What the fuck happens then?  How long can you keep a nonviolent movement going if nonviolence never yields results?

Would it have turned violent?  Would people have maintained their principles but had their hope crushed?  Would we still be fighting the fights of the sixties today with no discernible legislative progress?

I seriously have no clue where America would be today.  As I said, I can't imagine it.

Even beyond the civil rights the Civil Rights movement was concerned with, if all of that very visible work on the part of the people yielded no fruit, would we even still believe in the democratic process itself?

I was born 21 years after the Civil Rights Act passed.  An America without it defies my ability to imagine.  Not only do I have no idea who we would be, I have no idea who I would be.

And so the point comes to this:

LBJ = Raging Asshole + Incredibly important person who did immeasurable good for my country.

And that's sort of like Odin.


  1. I can't say much about either of these two. I just learned more about LBJ than in my entire life before that and Odin... well, from what I have read of him outside the MCU he seemed intriguing and somewhat scary at the same time.
    But after reading this a somewhat unrelated question popped up in my head and from your blog it seems to be in the proximity of your area of expertise, so if I may ask: Do you know why the Romans identified Odin with Mercury?

    1. Via ten minutes of googling and wild-assed guessing, I have come up with: They are both psychopomps, they are associated with inspiration/eloquence/poetry, they have trickster qualities, they do magic and are called on by magicians, they are associated with travel and knowledge-seeking, and they are associated with the third day of the week. Also they are both associated with commerce...

      And I have learnt about a statue with phalli in place of noses, so clearly it was ten minutes of googling well spent.

  2. There's an MCU fanfic on AO3, written shortly after The Avengers came out by someone who's clearly familiar with Mythological-Odin, in which a lowly SHIELD analyst starts thinking about certain details of the recent events and comes to the conclusion that Nick Fury literally is Odin.

  3. Have you a link to that, Paul A.? (I guess it could be like in American Gods, where Odin has different manifestations in different parts of the multiverse, and they diverge over time...)

  4. "Contrary Advisor", and the sequel "Show Your Work", by "Oak".

    Oak has also written two other MCU fics, which are both short fluffy pieces which import bits of Norse myth into the MCU.

  5. Relevant?