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.

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