Last week we watched the documentary “Superheroes Unmasked” that focused on the origins of the American Superhero genre and looked at some of the ways in which the idea of the superhero appears, reappears, changes, and develops over time. The video contends that these fictional superheroes from popular culture [esp. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, & Captain America] have become cultural ICONS—symbols that take on a special, cultural significance as representations for American identity…that these popular, readily-recognizable symbols express something important about American ideas, perspectives, beliefs and values. This response essay asks you to reflect on a favorite or influential Superhero from comics, TV, or movies using course readings! If you can’t think of one, you might choose a character from BATMAN YEAR ONE or GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW that fascinated you!
SO…your task is to write a short 5-7 page essay that identifies and argues for your favorite American Superhero Icon. What superhero has influenced you most, and how or why do you identify with them? What characteristics and values make this character your favorite and worthy for consideration as representative of American culture? Using Mythic Criticism & concepts from the course reading packet, identify the central values, myths, and fantasy themes which your American Superhero Icon embodies (esp. Genre elements, Reynolds mythic features, Monomyth variations, heroic values, etc).
Once you’ve chosen your icon, work through your ideas in a series of steps that should structure your paper:
1) Briefly describe your icon for readers who may not be familiar with them. What is their story, as a character AND as a commodity? Try to be as concise as possible with your description. Include a picture on your title page if you like!
2) Do some research using on-line resources and/or traditional library work to DESCRIBE your superhero myth. Use concepts from Reynolds and Coogan to outline your character’s mythic and genre elements —be sure to cite your sources using proper MLA or Chicago citation format.
3) INTERPRET the significance/use this icon has for you personally. Why did you choose this character? Why are they significant to you? What does your choice say about who you are and what you value? About your identity and cherished values within American culture? Lessons learned? Draw upon two other readings or concepts from the course packet to help guide your interpretation.
4) Then, try to extend your EVALUATION one step further—Why do you think your superhero has staying power or enduring potential as a Mythic ICON? What resonance and interest does your character have for you and perhaps others? Have they changed significantly so you prefer a specific ‘culturetype’ version? Why?
5) Finally—THEORIZE what your icon says about American values and American identity? How is it connected to powerful cultural ideas and values? Is your superhero indebted to archetypal predecessors? Here is where you explore the deeper social values and mythic truths within your superhero’s story, explaining the IDEOLOGY represented by them.
Remember, the primary goal of this assignment is to demonstrate your grasp of the readings in rhetorical criticism and offer an application of concepts. The better papers will be thoughtful and analytical rather than merely descriptive — that is, they will get below the surface to address some of the deeper issues and unobvious significances of your topic (Rushing and Frentz are good Mythic guides here). The paper is due in-class on the syllabus due date… Thursday June 14.