by: Anthony Zangrillo
At New York Comic Con, Motion Picture Club talked with Travis Langley a professor of psychology and the author of Batman Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight (Wiley), The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead, (Sterling) and Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind (Sterling). He’s a regular speaker on the subjects of heroism and pop culture at psychology conferences and fan conventions alike, including San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and the Comics Art Conference. He writes an online column “Beyond Heroes and Villains” for PsychologyToday.com. His next two books, Star Trek Psychology and Game of Thrones Psychology, hit bookshelves in Spring 2016.
Dr. Travis Langley (Left) and Anthony Zangrillo (Right)
Our discussion began with a fanboy theory, concerning the new dark presence in the Star Wars universe: Kylo Ren. As I complimented Dr. Langley on his Jedi garb and matching lightsaber, he explained that he liked the variation that Ren’s lightsaber brings to the fray. One of his friends even analyzed the feasibility of a broadsword-type lightsaber, determining that it could be used as a real weapon. Indulging in great speculation, I expressed my theory on Ren’s actual role within The Force Awakens.
(Check that theory out over here):
Langley responded, “that’s my whole thing now: fanboy geeking out.” Laughing, I told Langley that Ren’s extravagant lightsaber may be a mere façade for a fraudulent Sith Lord that has an unnatural obsession with Darth Vader. Langley explained that Marvel comics would often explore characters that became obsessed with the superheroes they worshipped. “It’s a perfectly good idea [to make Ren an obsessed Sith follower].”
Jumping into the discussion of his recent books, I generally inquired why fans of the Star Wars and Walking Dead franchises should read his book. Langley demonstrated that fans always ask psychological questions: “They [characters] wouldn’t act that way! That doesn’t make sense! Those are psychological thoughts. We think about these things all the time…Oddly enough, understanding fictional characters also help us understand other people…We’ll think about things for a character that we wouldn’t think about for ourselves.” In fact, “people that read a lot of fiction have greater empathy…feeling for this person…helps them practice thinking outside themselves.” I definitely agree with this sentiment (Spoilers for The Walking Dead), as I anxiously await Glenn’s fate after last week’s harrowing episode of The Walking Dead.
In the Spring, Langley will release Game of Thrones Psychology: The Mind is Dark and Full of Terrors and next summer, he will release Star Trek Psychology: The Mental Frontier. In between, there will be a “half-size” book that will feature Marvel’s Civil War storyline. Langley is drawn to these sources of fiction due to the liberties they take in their subject matters. For example, Star Trek approached “social issues, conflict negotiation, [and] racial issues in a way no other TV show was doing at the time.” As another example, one of the main characters in The Walking Dead TV show revolves around a “housewife that was originally abused,” who has now become a driving force in the show. Langley explained that some people may criticize the show as not being realistic, but he urged these fans to look at activists and other people in certain dire situations, who “grow” in times of peril.
Our discussion moved into the new Fear the Walking Dead TV show and its protagonist Travis. This prompted Langley to state that “Travises of the world, need to be better prepared for the zombie apocalypse.” Personally, I felt that Fear the Walking Dead re-examines the humanity of “the walkers.” I recalled a scene, where the military dehumanizes the infected, to ensure that the military would not be labeled as genocidal maniacs. Langley discussed the “resistance to taking a human life,” which an entire chapter focuses on within Psychology of the Walking Dead.
Circling back to Star Wars, I confessed my allegiance to Darth Sidious, the Emperor himself. As I mentioned that he resembled the most compelling character in the prequels, Langley remarked, “Lucas had known those characters [the Emperor and Ben Kenobi] the longest…We had Darth Vader, but he was not the same person he was before [as Anakin Skywalker].” Interestingly, Lucas had been writing Anakin Skywalker even before he wrote Luke Skywalker. Yet the prequel version of Anakin does not resemble the early treatment’s version: “pathologically it’s not the same character [Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader].”
Analyzing Darth Vader, the sith lord has “his own view of the order of things…Order and Chaos is a separate dimension from Good (Jedi) and Sith (evil)…They [the Jedi and Sith] are so into order. Why aren’t there some chaotic types running around?” Langley has been waiting for Episode VII. He began to worry if it would happen while Lucas was still alive. Langley has been eagerly anticipating the Psychology of Star Wars book: “Psychology directly shapes Star Wars.”
Next, Langley discussed the political influences within Game of Thrones. “The throne is about power everywhere in your life. The power to determine you rown fate, whether you are going to live or die…power in all sorts of ways, not just the political power. The abusive power. The corruption of power. The people who will use it wisely.” Langley reduces the “game” to “priorities.” In the end, “who is making a poor choice of priorities.” Game of Thrones characters explores the psychology of brutal, but multi-faceted characters. However, Langley wanted to reiterate that he is not tackling Game of Thrones just because it is popular. “The fact that they’re popular is the reason we are getting the chance to talk about it.” Langley “will never do [a book] just because it will sell.” He needs to have something that he wants to say on the psychology of the characters within the work.
As a final aside, I suggested that Langley tackle the psychology of Dr. Doom in a future book. I believe that this work could greatly help certain movie producers and writers, who don’t seem to understand what makes Dr. Doom so compelling. Langley finds Doom to be a very intriguing character. In fact, Langley has a number of quotes from Stan Lee about the masked dictator, so he is only waiting for the right time to utilize them.
Star Wars Psychology and Walking Dead Psychology are now available!