Dennis O’Neil: Touch Jake
He’s not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, nor able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. He doesn’t wear tights and a cape and he has only one identity. But, I hereby submit, he is a superhero – indeed, the only superhero who currently appears in a weekly television series.
He’s a kid named Jake. The show is Touch. You can see it on Fox on Thursday nights.
Okay, so lacking everything mentioned above, what, exactly, qualifies young Jake for superherodom? Well, that’s hard to say. In fact, the continuing subplot has to do with Jake’s father and some other sympathetic adults, trying to figure out what it is that the boy does and how he manages to do it.
What they (and we) see is: Jake looks at seemingly unrelated numbers and geometric patterns, discerns connections and consequences and acting on the information/intuition, prods his father into action that averts unpleasant consequences for strangers.
So: Jake uses extraordinary powers for a common good. That alone qualifies him for a membership in the superhero club. He seems to have a Big Mission, though maybe he doesn’t and if he does, neither his old man nor we know what it is. Finally, the matter of the costume: well… Jake is either autistic or doing a darn fine job of faking it and, I suggest, the oddities of autistic behavior serve as a kind of costume – something that distinguishes Jake from the guy downstairs.
Take a bow, Jake. You’re the twenty first century superhero precisely because you don’t resemble the others of the tribe. I mean… lifting heavy stuff and shedding bullets and crashing through walls and flying and…all so last century, abilities conferred on heroes when we as a species really didn’t know much about how the universe works, when we tended to identify power with physical force and rugged – in Superman’s case, very rugged – individualism. We now know, those of us who care to know, that our world is more subtle and vastly more complicated than the world of the costumed do-gooders who popped up in the comic books of the 1930s. Their creators worked with the information they had. We have different information, and if you want to claim that ours is better, I won’t be the one to contradict you.
As the biologist J.B.S. Haldane said, “My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
What Touch gives us, in easily digested, plot driven melodrama, is a metaphor for a truth agreed on by Zen masters and quantum physicists alike: everything in existence – and especially everything on planet Earth – is interconnected. The collapse of an industry in Tokyo today will gobsmack Wall Street tomorrow and the most infinitesimal alteration in the components of subatomic particles would make human beings impossible.
Young Jake seems to know that and maybe we can learn from him. And if we can’t…well, what he does is still fun to watch.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman