In that previous post, she suggested that the fake-awesome was connected with our sense of sublimity:
The urge to adore is strong in humans, and if we aren't adoring something sublime, we will end up endowing all sorts of lesser things with fake-awesomeness so that we can exercise our faculty of admiration.
Thus the fake-awesome arises as a kind of corruption of our taste for the sublime. I think this account is very likely, and I think it explains some of the fakeness of the fake-awesome, and why it tends to take the forms it does. Just as human beings look for happiness in things that have only a superficial resemblance to real happiness, or for love in things that are only a bit like love, so we seek the sublime in things that seem to share one or two features of sublimity, if we don't look too closely. It's the common problem of trying to replicate extraordinary experiences without capturing what makes them extraordinary in the first place.
(1) The fake-awesome tends toward incoherence. The sublime, or genuinely awe-inspiring, is by its nature overwhelming. Precisely what makes it sublime is that it in some sense exceeds our capacity to take it in. Even the mere sensible sublime, like the apparently endless vista from a mountaintop, gets its sublime quality from the fact that we can tell, from the clues of sight itself, that what we are faced with exceeds our capacity to see.
The intelligible sublime is, as we say, mind-blowing. The sublime in its most proper sense is the infinitely intelligible to which our intellects themselves are disposed, but which we cannot, being merely rational creatures and not pure intellects, take in all at once. Mathematics is sublime because of its infinities. A narrative is genuinely epic when it somehow gives us this sense of the intelligible thing that goes on and on, that is more than we can assimilate: Homer, Virgil, Tolkien, the Ramayana, the Kalevala, the book of Job. This may or may not be in a form that is completely consistent -- even good Homer nods. And paradox and the sublime often go together, because of the overwhelming character of the latter. But the thing that is actually sublime or epic about it must in reality be consistent, because it must be intelligible -- it's just overwhelming in its intelligibility.
But how to present this in art is not a trivial problem to solve. In practice people often take shortcuts. But how do you fake the experience of having one's mind blown? You baffle the mind not by the luminous but by the obscure. (This is analogous to the Yoda method for faking a sage: Yoda mostly just says vapid and unhelpful things, but he sounds wise at first because he talks in such a way that we have to spend a little more time thinking through what he says. Similarly with the Big Word method of faking intelligence: instead of the character saying intelligent things, you can give a superficial illusion of intelligence by having them say stupid things using big words.) This can still be coherent, but the effort of maintaining consistency while making things more baffling at some point becomes prohibitive.
(2) The fake-awesome tends toward violence. The sublime has often been associated with the terrible. Indeed, the most basic experience of sublimity seems to be when we experience something capable of terrifying us but under conditions in which we can be exhilarated rather than fully terrified. At least, historically that is one of the most common kinds of experience associated with it. If you are going to fake experience of the sublime or truly awesome, one has to manufacture something analogous to this. The easiest way to do this is by pleasantly presented violence.
In Marvel's short series, Agent Carter, earlier this year, we trace part of the career of Peggy Carter after Captain America is frozen in ice. It's tough; it's a man's world, and the war is no longer giving women unusual opportunities by the sheer emergency imperative of "This needs to get done, no matter who does it." One of the ways they tried to convey this was by a classic radio program, depicting fictional adventures of Captain America and the love of his life -- I forget the name they give the character, but she's obviously a stand-in for Peggy Carter herself. But the woman in the radio program is constantly a damsel in distress needing to be rescued. It's a cute way to do things. But for someone like myself who listens to a lot of classic radio, it rang hollow. The Golden Age of Radio didn't actually tend to write women as damsels in distress, because there isn't much you can do with characters like that. People joke about Lois Lane always needing to be rescued by Superman, but the whole point of the character is that she is a woman doing a very dangerous job that would usually have been done by men. Because she is in this dangerous job, she sometimes is in danger. And she needs to be rescued exactly as much as Clark Kent, a man doing the same job, does -- it's just that we forget that Kent is always in situations in which he needs to be rescued because Kent is also Superman, who does the rescuing.
Actual Golden Age heroines, then, are a lot like Peggy Carter herself. Almost exactly alike, in fact. But there was one major obvious difference between a Peggy Carter and a Golden Age Lois Lane, or a similar radio heroine of the era: Peggy Carter is massively, and I mean massively, more violent. She beats people up left and right. And the reason is not hard to find. She is supposed to be an example of heroic strength, a strength that is awe-inspiring. And violence is a lazy way to suggest strength. Extreme violence is a lazy way to suggest great strength. It is also a lazy way to suggest competence -- in a superficial way, the violent person is in control. Extreme violence is a lazy way to suggest super-competence.
(3) The fake-awesome tends to involve big spectacle trumping all other features of a story. The sublime is something so great that in comparison to it we are small; but also so great that even our capacity to recognize its greatness is a mark of our own greatness. The pseudo-awesome cannot capture the latter part; but it can do a lot to imitate the vastness of the sublime and awe-inspiring. Thus the fake-awesome has a tendency to try for experiences that are bigger and bigger and bigger, even if it comes at the expense of valuable small things. In movies, of course, this tends toward super-extraordinary special effects, and it is why we can be living in a golden age of cinematic technique and yet get movie results that are so uneven. There is more skilled artistic technique involved in a superhero movie or in a movie like The Hobbit or Transformers than perhaps in any other kind of art -- but the gargantuan on its own is not the sublime, and it can often come across as simply ridiculous.
Contrast this with Tolkien, for instance. His full canvas is orders of magnitude greater than anything that can be conveyed on a screen but, a one-man Niggle painting a leaf at a time, he cannot provide at any particular point the sheer torrent of detail that an entire movie crew can easily provide. He has to sketch things out with hints and clues and carefully chosen phrases. In principle Hollywood can do anything Tolkien does on a much more massive scale than Tolkien can actually do it. But what we've seen in all the LOTR and Hobbit movies is that where Tolkien gives his close readers awe-inspiring, Peter Jackson just gives movie-watchers things that are big. (If it weren't for New Zealand scenery, in fact, it's unclear that Peter Jackson would be able to convey anything awe-inspiring at all.)
And there's no end in sight to this. As someone trying to find happiness in wealth alone will, because of the futility of it, just be driven to accumulate more and more wealth without finding any of it sufficient, the fake-awesome just gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it crashes under its own weight, because no amount of vastness alone can give you the kind of vastness that crushes you and exalts you at the same time and for the same reason.