In grad school, the de facto point man for my group of friends, A___, assigned us all superpowers and corresponding code names.  C___ became ‘The Deconstructor,’ able to use his aporetic powers to destroy bullets by demonstrating that they’re simply texts with irreconcilable and contradictory meanings .   I was ‘The Persuader,’ who could cajole almost anyone into doing his bidding.

It’s an old parlour game, of course — a chestnut amongst college students who like stretch out hypothetical questions before them like a red carpet.  But for nerds, geeks and dweebs alike, the question takes on a particular resonance.  A superpower isn’t merely a neat trick one — it’s a replacement for an identity.

Take the X-Men.  I was reared on them.  At one point, I had a subscription, and every month, I waited patiently for the mailman to deliver my copy (I was also concerned that he might fold the comic in order to fit it through the mail slot, which would irrevocably diminish its resale value; eventually I found it easier to visit a shop — plus, that way, I wouldn’t have to wait a month).  And I daydreamed about – – as most young comic book readers do, I imagine — about what superpower I would have.

But just one!  How to choose?  I was able to narrow it down to three:  1) the ability to walk through walls, à la Kitty Pryde (a manifestation of a desire not to be excluded?); 2) the ability to turn invisible (a desire to go unnoticed?); 3) the ability to fly.

Indeed, in Brazil, this third ‘superpower’ is what low-level bureaucrat Sam Lowry finds himself daydreaming of:  his mechanical wings gliding through the clouds so that he can rendezvous with a diaphanous woman.  It’s the desire for escape.  (In the documentary What Is Brazil?, Gilliam describes how he came up with the idea of Brazil:  on a visit to Port Talbot in Wales, he noticed that the sand on the beach had been blackened by years of coal shipments trundling across it on conveyor belts.  He went on to imagine a man at sunset, sitting on that beach, surveying the black expanse around him as the song “Brazil” comes on the radio next to him.)

I didn’t have a dystopian, bureaucratic state-corporate apparatus from which I wanted to escape — high school in Aurora, Colorado had its drawbacks, but mistaken renditions were not a daily worry.  But what high school student doesn’t dream of escaping his surroundings?  Of flying above the familiar landscape towards something more exotic?

Of course, flying would have its drawbacks.  How do you keep bugs out of your mouth?  What about the lack of oxygen?  If you’re flying fast enough, wouldn’t the air pressure keep you from breathing properly?  How quickly would your arms tire of flapping?  But that’s the thing about daydreaming:  it arrives unencumbered by reality.  It’s only when you try to bring those dreams into reality (like poor sam Lowry) that the trouble sets in.

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