It starts with five simple words:


And then it comes. The music builds. Lightning from the sky strikes the man with the upraised sword. Does it hurt him? Just listen to what he says next:


You remember. Electric bolts of pure energy crackle around his muscled body. Hands that can punch through solid steel grip the sword that transformed the bumbling prince into the most powerful man in the universe. You remember the way it felt to grab hold of a plastic sword or a stick or even empty air and say those same words: I have the power.

We all want the power. But the world seems to be short on magic swords these days. Believe me, I've checked. (You think I'd be writing this if I had a magic sword? No way. I'd be out battling shadow beasts and seven-headed monsters, saving nubile red-haired maidens from guys with skulls for faces.)

So what do we do? Well, I suppose you can grow a mustache and build weapons devices and adopt an orphan who grows up to be captain of the guards. But let's face it. Not everyone can grow mustaches. And even if you can, do you really want to? Basically the only people who can have mustaches without looking silly are those who've always had mustaches. (Having a mustache attached to a beard doesn't count, by the way. It's still just a beard. That's a whole other story.) It's something set from the time of adolescence, something you have to choose. Either you're a mustache guy or you're not. Once you've decided, it's locked in. (It works both ways, too. Suddenly you shave off your mustache and bam! You've got a lip coming from nowhere. Scary.)

Okay. You don't have a magic sword, or a mustache, or skill with weapons or space technology in a barbarian sorcery world. You can't be He-Man or Man-At-Arms. I'll assume that, like me, if you can't do any of the above, you also cannot fly, ram into buildings with your head, or transform into a mystical falcon. Is this reason to despair? Will your life be meaningless from now on?

The answer to all of these questions is: NO! You can have the power without the magic sword. No, I don't mean you'll be able to pick up Castle Grayskull and throw it into the air using your bulging muscles. I'm talking about the real power that He-Man wields. His morality.

Fast forward to the end of the show. The battle with Skeletor was fought and won. Old skullface runs off, shaking his hands in the air, vowing eternal revenge. Like we're scared. Next time we'll just beat him again. No matter who he brings along! (By the way, who has a skull instead of a face? How can he even see without eyeballs?) After all that the show should be over, right?

Wrong! Now comes the most important part. The moral.

You've heard the expression, "the moral of the story." No doubt your 11th grade English teacher had you combing all the pages from "Call me Ishmael" to "Finis" so you could explain, in your own words, just what Moby Dick really meant. He-Man would never lead you on such a pointless chase. At the end of every single episode, He-Man (or one of his faithful and heroic friends) tells you plainly and simply what you should know about how to live a good and happy life. That knowledge, my friends, is real power. With it you can master the universe. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Eternians like to laugh. Whether it's Evil-Lyn's ominous, throaty chuckle or Man-At-Arm's kindly guffaw, laughter abounds in any given episode of He-Man. It's one of the things that unites Hero and Villain. When you look at what precipitates the laughter the similarities begin to vanish. Not completely, however.

Take misfortune. When Skeletor is convinced He-Man is firmly in his grasp and he consequently lets loose his vindictive cackle, he isn't laughing because Beast-Man told a joke. He's laughing because he thinks He-Man is about to be utterly destroyed, and that's just about the most amusing thing Skeletor can contemplate.

Pretty mean, huh? Laughing at someone else's misfortune?

Recall for me the last time one of Orco's magic tricks took a slightly - uh - tangential turn. What happened next? If, for example, Orco was attempting to levitate a clutch of freshly baked Eternian tarts when he suddenly loses control, you can bet that one of them is going to find itself upside down on Man-At-Arm's face, pie juice staining his bristly upper lip.

Shortly following this accident is Adam's great belly laugh - you know, the one where he has to dip his head backward to allow the full volume of mirth to escape from his body.

Man-At-Arm's accident is Adam's entertainment.

Of course the two situations are different. Skeletor wanted He-Man brought to utter ruin, while Adam only happened to think jelly dangling from Duncan's mustache a funny sight. Duncan might be a little annoyed, but he wasn't really harmed. If Duncan ran from the room crying, lamenting that his mustache would never be the same, that his social life was ruined, Adam would stop laughing. Skeletor, in his place, would only cackle all the louder.

Where does the line fall? At the place where harm actually occurs. The Villain laughs at harm; it pleases him or her to see an enemy in pain. Harm is intense, significant and lasting. The Hero laughs at mild misfortune; while it may be annoying and unpleasant at the time, it's effects are mild and temporary. It could happen to us, right? Might as well laugh at it.

These two different responses show laughter to be an amazingly acute moral barometer. "It's not funny!" We say, when we're really hurt. "Stop laughing!" Does the person stop? If they do, that says one thing about the person; if they don't, it says another. When somebody laughs at cruelty to a person or animal we feel a chill. That's a person to watch out for, we think. That's someone I don't trust. We make that judgment on the basis of laughter.

As they laugh, so shall ye know them.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Trap-Jaw is the Swiss Army knife of the Eternia universe. For every occasion he has an appropriate arm attachment. Need to freeze someone? Trap-Jaw has an attachment for that. Need to blast through a door? There’s an attachment for that, too.

I’ve always wanted to have lots of cool tools, to have something ready for any situation. Gear is good. It gives us a longer reach – for Trap-Jaw, literally so. He is the symbol for the merger of man and machine. We use technology to extend our reach into the world, to give us powers not endowed by nature, and in doing so we become something different.

Something different, yes, but does it make us less human, like Trap-Jaw?

I’ve never believed that. Sure, the more we rely on technology, the more things can go wrong: computer crashes are a constant cheery reminder. An even greater consequence is the psychological impact of relying on things whose workings we don’t understand. It gives some of us a sense of perpetual unease.

Once upon a time we humans felt that way about the natural world. We lived in fear of storms and bear attacks and invented intricate cosmologies explaining their capricious behavior. And although the weather can still be a problem, what with hurricanes and floods and earthquakes, we are much better insulated from them than ever before.

It’s kind of funny, then, that just as technology has drastically reduced the worry of the natural world, it’s given us something new to worry about: itself, which we created. (Which makes you wonder if there is something in the human brain that requires us to be worrying about something all the time.)

Of course, some people understand the technology. Like Man-At-Arms. He doesn’t always get it perfect (like the time he invented the lasso gun; that didn’t work the first time), but he’s confident enough to tinker with a problem until it gets fixed. When he doesn’t understand how something works, he takes the time to figure it out because he believes it can be figured out. Why? Because he’s been able to understand so many other things in the past.

Machines can help us achieve what we want faster and better. When we feel uneasy, let’s take a page out of Man-At-Arms’s book: let’s tinker. (Under competent supervision, of course. Some things blow up when you mess with them. He-Man will be the first to tell you: Safety First!) Understanding how something works goes a long way towards feeling comfortable with it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Deception - Good and Bad

Evil-Lyn has any number of powerful magics at her disposal, but the one she uses to greatest effect is her power of deception. Specifically, she can transform her appearance into anything from a sweet old lady to a defenseless young maiden. She’s used this trick on more than one occasion to fool a hapless Eternian or even a member of the royal family into divulging secrets or going along with one of her evil schemes (unwittingly, of course). Deception is one of the most powerful tools of the forces of evil. Deception allows evil to take advantage of the unsuspicious before they can put up a defense.

We must remember that the forces of good also use deception, mostly in the service of keeping secrets. The biggest instance, of course, is Prince Adam’s secret identity. (CAUTION: Spoiler Alert. Prince Adam is ACTUALLY He-Man! I know, right? Didn’t see that one coming.) Adam keeps this secret, he says, to protect the well being of those closest to him, like his mother and father, and his friend Teila.

Teila also has a secret. In her case, she’s not in on the secret; it’s being kept from her. What secret? Her true parentage (her mom is the Sorceress) and her true destiny (eventually taking over the job of the Sorceress, which seems to consist in being a dispatcher for He-Man). It is Man-At-Arms, her adoptive father, who keeps this secret. And why? To protect her well-being, of course. Man-At-Arms and the Sorceress want to wait until Teila is “ready” to handle her destiny.

So both Adam and Man-At-Arms are keeping secrets for the same reason: to protect the well being of others. Whether this is the case or not (I for one favor telling the truth in both cases) we can at least see the difference between the forces of good and evil. Evil-Lyn keeps her identity a secret so she can do harm to people and Prince Adam keeps his secret to prevent harm to people.

Clearly, there is a difference. Again, whether it is acceptable to lie to someone for good reasons (i.e. to protect the well-being of someone) and if so, in what cases, is an old debate that has many positions. Plato, writing for Socrates in the Republic, his treatise on the nature of justice, says

Aren’t there times when it [a lie] is useful and so does not merit hatred?
What about when we are dealing with enemies, or with so-called friends who,
because of insanity or ignorance, are attempting to do something bad? Isn’t it a
useful drug for preventing them?
(The Republic, 382c5-10, C.D.C Reeve
Translation, p. 63, c.2004 Hacket publishing company.)

Sometimes we may even lie to help someone experience pleasure, like lying about a surprise party. Parents and other moral educators may find themselves loath to mention such exceptions to merit-less mendacity because the lure to lie may already be so strong that the slightest excuse will be used unwarrantedly by children.

As soon as there are good but hard-to-define exceptions to important rules, plenty of people will line up to exploit those exceptions in cases where they don’t really apply. Imagine a case of aldutery: “Of course I wanted to tell you about the other woman, dear, but I didn’t really want to hurt your feelings. I was only thinking of you.” Boy, I hope the person telling that whopper wasn’t married to Teila. I don’t think she or her mad sword skills would be very forgiving.

So yeah, there’s a difference between Evil-Lyn and Prince Adam when it comes to their acts of deception. Sure, maybe Adam is over-estimating the dangers lurking in wait for the parents of He-Man. Or maybe he’s right about the danger, but wrong about the relative importance to his parents of them knowing their son’s true nature versus their relative safety. It gets complicated.

My advice is this: beware of endangered young maidens and kindly old ladies. They may just be an evil sorceress in disguise.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Beastman: Skeletor's Whipping Boy

Poor Beast-Man. All he wants to do is be somebody important. Every time he tries to impress Skeletor, he usually screws it up. He hates Skeletor, of course, at the same time he loves him; the way a whipped dog loves and hates its master.

Why does he stay with Skeletor? For one thing, his ability to control animals reaches its peak at Snake Mountain, Skeletor’s dark and twisted fortress. To that I say, so what? How many times does He-Man concoct a plan to invade Snake Mountain? How often is Beast-Man going to use his powers at Snake Mountain? It happens, true, but not that often.

Beast-Man has the lowest status out of all Skeletor’s minions. His chief function seems to be that of Skeletor’s Insult Catcher. Apparently Skeletor has a lot of anger and it needs an outlet; that’s Beast-Man’s job.

What else can he do? How can he get out of this destructive relationship? He can start by recognizing his own value: his affinity with animals. Perhaps he could get a job as a shepherd. I’m sure there are lots of flocks of wayward sheep (or whatever grazing, migrating animals they have on Eternia) looking for guidance. Beast-Man could provide that. In fact, with his mind-control abilities, he could be sending signals to many flocks at a single time. In just a little time he could become the biggest shepherd in Eternia.

There are plenty of other lines of work available for him. He could be a zoo keeper. An animal trainer. A pet store proprietor. Kennel master for the royal hounds. Pest control god. The possibilities are many.

Once he recognizes he has real value apart from Skeletor, he needs to make a clean and lasting break. No good will come in trying to maintain some kind of a relationship with Bone Dome. Perhaps one day Skeletor will sincerely repent for his abuse; if that day comes, and Beast-Man feels he’s ready, then a rapproachement is possible. Until then Beast-Man needs to become his own person.

He’ll have moments of doubt and insecurity. He’ll think himself a phony, incapable of surviving without the firm (if painful) guidance of the Cantankerous Calcium Deposit. That is where his new profession will come into play. He can look to his new good work for confirmation of his special abilities and so realize he doesn’t need the incessant put-downs to keep going.

Is it too much to wish for the day when a confident Beast-Man gazes serenely over his furry flock as he leads them to greener pastures? I hope not.