Mary Marvel and Capitalism versus Communism
Mary Marvel was your original classic "good girl," She was sweet, demure and modest. The character was developed in 1942.
In 2002, Supergirl was having a lot of problems and was getting angry
and snarky. She and Marvel made a good contrast with each other.
A year later, she joined up with the Justice League of America for a short spell. She maintained her innocence and naïveté.
In the series Countdown (2007) which saw the elimination of Jack Kirby's Fourth World
characters (Darkseid, seen several pictures down, is the chief bad guy
in that series), Marvel gets a new look and a new attitude.
Marvel talks with Klarion. For the purposes of this essay, note that
Marvel's skirt in this picture is a good deal longer and looser, less
flared, than in the picture above.
Marvel goes through further changes and becomes sort-of good again
(Note that the lightning bolt on the front of her outfit is no longer
Marvel finds that the strain of being good is getting to be a real
problem for her. My problem with the writing here is that, as Andrew
Delbanco points out in The Death of Satan, evil is not the opposite of good, it's the absence
of good. Evil is not a status that someone can strive for, being evil
is just a means to other ends. One can be evil in order to obtain
material goods, or to gain acceptance into a particular group, but it's
not a goal in and of itself.
Marvel goes bad again and here confronts Superman's pal, Jimmy Olsen,
accompanied by Darkseid. Note that her skirt has a bit shorter and
higher up, but is still loose.
And in her final appearance in the series, her skirt has gotten really
short and flared out again. Now, suppose we were to try and sell
consumers copies of the black outfit that Mary Marvel wears.
Personally, I prefer the outfit she's wearing while talking with
Klarion, the one with the relatively long and loose skirt, but
obviously, there's no consensus among the various artists as to exactly
how the bottom part of her outfit is supposed to be configured.
How would a capitalist enterprise deal with that problem? That's
simple. They'd make several copies with differeing skirt lengths and
put them on sale at one or a few locations (Depending on whether they
were a national company or a smaller one). Whatever sells well would
set the length of the outfit and they'd then go into full-scale
production based on that expressed consumer preference.
How would a communist enterprise do it? Again, simple. Assign a committee or an individual to make the decision.
There's a scene in the movie The Devil Wears Prada
where an investor talks to Meryl Streep (The aforementioned "devil")
about a large investment he made on one of her fashion designs. He made
that investment trusting in her advice and her advice turned out to be
bad, costing him what, to us, would be a really large sum of money. She
shrugs and mumbles and makes it clear that she tries hard to read the
public attitude and she's good at it, but she can't guarantee results.
There is simply no objective way to decide what skirt length is proper
in our copy of Mary Marvel's outfit. Beauty is in the eye of the
beholder and is not scientifically discernable.
When I was first looking at laptop computers for purchase, I saw two
models, a "clamshell" model where the top was the same size as the
bottom and another model where the bottom was twice as long as the top
(pictured). I thought the clamshell model looked much better than the
other type and sure enough, the other type quickly died out and all
models today are the clamshell type. The owner of the shop was
completely baffled as to why I preferred the clamshell model and
himself preferred the model shown above.
I read sometime during that period that the Soviet Union sold shirts,
but because "good fashion" is not scientically or objectively
determinable and because the Soviets made decisions on the fashions
that the shirts were configured in by having comittees make the
decisions, Soviet shirts were, after a few decades, considered to be so
ugly that the raw cotton from which they were made was considered to be
more valuable than the shirts themselves were.
Now, I fully agree that capitalism does a poor job with health care (As
the customer does not desire health care because he or she has saved up
for it or because they've decided they'd really like a certain
sickness, the bartering model that is appropriate for shirts or skirts
is irrelevant here) and education (A very labor-intensive occupation
where capital investments make very little difference), dealing with
natural disasters (Where the affected area needs a really quickly
scaled-up, large intervention in a way that a private company simply
produce) and for national defense (Whereas a national army will fight
to the last bullet, a mercernary army will depart when victory no
longer appears certain). But when a decision to purchase something
involves aesthetics, when the appearance of a product makes a
difference, capitalism is the better system.
Do products have to be priced? Well, in the 1980s, several x-rated film
companies were making films with high production values, they were
using involved plots, substantial clothing budgets and fancy sets.
After a few years of producing such films, several film-makers looked
at how such films sold compared to the more straightforward
low-production value all-sex films and found that the two types of
films sold about the same number of tickets. Film-makers saved a great
deal of money by not spending on items that the customers didn't care
about. Had seeing such films been free of charge, that change would
never have taken place as people didn't object to x-rated films with lots of production values, they just didn't care
whether such films had decent production values or not. So yes, the
pricing mechanism used in capitalism is of great value as time and
effort and money are saved. Producers are then not wasting efforts on
items that customers don't care about.
Update: Heard from a
Communist friend of mine that perhaps I was thinking of this Wendy's
commercial when I talked abou Soviet fashions:
Heh! But no, not at all. I think if I had any sort of stereotypical
view of Soviet fashions, it was based on Steve Martin's
"Czechoslovakian brothers" in Saturday Night Live, those two "Wild and
Truth be told, my buddy supplied me with a link that shows, yes, they had some decent fashions there:
But what really interested me were these statements way down on that piece:
As the Iron Curtain was lifting, the Western ways of dressing were
getting more exposure through the movies and tourists. As you can see
the envious faces on the background, foreigners did stand out.
The funniest thing is that the Soviet fashion is very hard to break
into time periods. Apart from separating the pre-war era fashion
from the post war (the later one being non-existent), the bulk of it
stretches for over 40 years right up to the 90s.
In other words, the Soviets were, in general and most of the time,
intelligently self-aware and realized that, as their system lacked a
market mechanism to guide their fashions, it was smarter for them to
not innovate and to suffer some drab fashion choices than it would have
been to have gone out on a limb and to have produced awful choices.