Socratic Dictums (from Socrates to Superheroes)


Know Thyself,” Socrates is supposed to have said. According to Plato, I guess. Or maybe it was Xenophon. In either case, the quote is older than Socrates himself. It was inscribed on the frontispiece of the Temple of Delphi. It has also been attributed to Heraclitus, Pythagoras, and Solon, among esteemed others, including the god Apollo.

It doesn’t matter where this Greek aphorism originated. Not really. What matters is its meaning.

In some places, the full quote attributed to Socrates is, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

You aren’t reading one of my posts and expecting a discussion about philosophy. I realize that. Forget “know thyself,” it’s “know your audience.” Although, in this instance, I figure it’s one and the same. I am my first audience, and I always assume that anyone who reads my stuff—unless accidentally—is a lot like me. In this way, “know thyself” comes full circle.

What made me think of this Greek maxim, however, was something much less intellectually elevated. It was Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse.

Surprise. I’ve managed to make the leap from Socrates to superheroes. This just became the subtitle for my post.

My original, less ambiguous, title for this post was “Is The CW’s Arrowverse Past Its Prime?” If I had gone with that title, this may have been a shorter post. The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Without explanation, that one-word response seems cruel and cold. It may also seem like this means I don’t like the DC Comics series on The CW, which is not wholly true. Allow me to explain.

The first of Greg Berlanti’s shows that I watched was Arrow, and I was immediately hooked. The Green Arrow had never been what I consider a top echelon character in the DC pantheon of superheroes. I found him marginally interesting as Justin Hartley portrayed him on Smallville, but that was the extent of my fandom, where the Green Arrow was concerned. But, this, the first of the DC shows on the CW, drew me in and I was an avid fan for many years.

Arrow was the gateway drug to the Arrowverse. After The Flash premiered, it quickly became my favorite of the Arrowverse shows. It was the light to Arrow‘s dark, and it seemed to hit more of the comic book buttons from my childhood.

In short order, there was Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and then Black Lightning. This was the Golden Age of Television, at least as far as superhero series were concerned.

But, then something happened.

Legends was the first casualty in my viewership. It started out innocently enough. About a season or two ago, I discovered that I had more current television series that I wanted to watch than I had time I was willing to spend watching them. I decided to stockpile that season of Legends on my DVR to watch at a later date. Then, the episodes sat taking up space on my DVR for a long while, until I eventually had time to watch them, if I wanted to. I found myself reluctant to do so.

This is where the “know thyself” thing comes into play. Some of the wisdom my years have purchased for me suggests that I always have reasons for doing the things that I do (or don’t do), even if I’m not consciously aware what those reasons may be at the time. My reluctance to watch more episodes of Legends meant something. The other shows I was actively watching were on their midseason breaks, and I still sought out entertainment options other than Legends. I came to the conclusion that I had given up on the series even before I was aware of it. I didn’t want to watch more.

Then I deleted the show from my DVR and future recordings. I’ve never regretted the decision, and I know the episodes will still be there if I decide to watch them later.

Soon after making this decision, I came to similar conclusions on other series I had watched faithfully up to that point. These were Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Blacklist, and, sadly, Arrow. While I complained about the flashback structure of Arrow as much as anyone, I discovered that I no longer liked the show as much when the past caught up with the present. The other two series just seemed to have overstayed their welcome, even if there was still cool stuff to be found there. I also ditched The Walking Dead after last year’s season, just because I no longer cared what happened.

One series I had planned to stop watching, which I announced in March 2018, was Gotham. I would have stopped, too, if they hadn’t announced that this year would be the show’s last. This close to the end, it didn’t seem right to quit now. I’m in the middle of the last season now and feel like I wouldn’t have missed much if I hadn’t come along for the ride. My first instincts were the correct ones.

Anyway, getting back to the Arrowverse. I think I understand what has happened. Origin stories are new and exciting and keep our attention. The first couple of years are unpredictable. Once you settle into a status quo, things begin to grow more stale and paint-by-the-numbers. Characters are allowed to operate only within certain parameters, or they won’t ring true. The writing staff begins to take fewer chances, which means the story lines become more dull. I believe this is what has happened to the Arrowverse shows.

I was even excited for Black Lightning, but soon saw that all of the flaws I chalked up to its freshman season were carried over into the second year and, in some ways, made worse. By the time Gambi was killed (don’t tell me he’s not really dead: I don’t need to hear that), I found myself putting off watching episodes of the series. When I no longer look forward to watching a series, it’s time to quit it. We have too many other choices out there.

I did the same thing with This is Us, by the way. The emotional manipulation became too heavy-handed. Plus, Jack died rescuing that stupid dog. I know, he’s still alive in the flashbacks. Didn’t matter. The show was over for me then and there.

My message for this post, inasmuch as I have one, is that I know myself well enough now to know when it’s time to stop watching a series. And, the second part of that message is that the Arrowverse is past its prime. I’m still watching The Flash and Supergirl, and while it’s not time for me to stop watching them yet, neither show is as good as it used to be. It’s not inconceivable that I’ll stop watching these two before they’re cancelled.

This is not a slam against superhero television in general, or Greg Berlanti in particular. Berlanti was one of the creative forces behind DC Universe’s Titans, and I loved the first season of that series. He’s also at least partially responsible for the new Doom Patrol. I’ve watched only the pilot episode, but I liked this one as well. As in all things, Time will Tell.

Of course, it helps that there is no shortage of other viewing options out there. Dropping these shows allowed me to finally begin watching Supernatural and Vikings and other series I’d been meaning to watch. I will always be able to find something else to entertain me.

I know this because I know myself.

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