Posted by: Doc Comics | March 2, 2010

“Monomythic Credotainment”

The concluding chapters of Lawrence & Jewett make a few interesting moves worth noting.  By contrasting the classical “Hero’s Journey” with the “Superhero Crusade” within STAR WARS films, the messianic faith in some benevolent despot who wields superpowers to defeat evil flirts with fascistic values.  “if one accepts the moral simplifications of fascism, whether in its classical European or contemporary pop form,” the authors observe, “it becomes plausible to believe that good prevails through violence” (277).  Even Gene Roddennberry’s utopian Star Trek is examined for its militarism and ‘deferred democracy’. Indeed, as they conclude:

“Given its elitism, stereotyping, and appetite for total solutions instead of compromise, it is difficult to find any comparatively emphatic democratic sentiment in the myth, except perhaps in its conventions of Everyman as redemptive hope. Although American superheroes consistently strive to redeem corrupted republics, the definition of their roles and the means of their triumphs reflect fascist values that ultimately undermine democratic processes and hollow out the religious faith of the enchanted” (p.282).

That such entertainments attract devoted fans who find within these films deeply moral and even spiritual meanings that can guide how one lives in the world, L&J worry, undermines not only democratic values but also religious faith.  These kinds of monomythic credotainment “illustrates the personal designer-faith character of the phenomenon with its stronger emphasis upon inner states rather than acts in the community” (287). The “cultivated polysemy” (295) and apocalyptic messianism (297) of these technomythic superheroes thus creates “cyberspace’s spiritual supermarket” (303) for choose-your-own American idolatryThe Heidi Redeemer also makes another appearance, operating through emotional and psychological manipulation rather than redemptive violence, but this angelic variation (too often a self-martyring guilt-trip) nonetheless conforms to their cultish monomyth by those who have “accepted bizarre beliefs and authoritarian leaders who demanded group discipline and shielded their followers from contact with others who might inspire skepticism” (304).   In their final chapter, L&J explore the somber lessons of 9/11 as a wake-up call: “Democracy has its own necessary myths concerning the need for personal responsibility, the wisdom of the majority, the efficacy of individual reason, the enhancement of due process, and the advancement of equality” (364).

DISCUSSION ITEMS:

  1. In contrast to Jewett & Lawrence’s Monomyth, superheroes seem to be the consequence of some fantasy scene they operate within; That is, utopian melodrama and dystopian cynicism as mythic scenes call forth very different heroes… or antiheroes like Frank Miller’s Batman who is “essentially a terrorist.”  How does dystopia trouble easy distinctions between Superhero and Supervillain?
  2. During a press junket for Dark Knight, writer/director Christopher Nolan related a comment from British actor Michael Caine that “Superman is how America views itself; Batman is how the rest of the world views America.” Do the politically oppositional worldviews of Superman and Batman reflect a schizophrenic American superhero? That is, might we make a critical distinction between the romantic utopian Superhero and the cynical dystopian SuperAntihero?
  3. If “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” what do these dystopias suggest of super-powers? Is the superhero’s moral code of ethics their mightiest superpower?
  4. Do you find their arguments compelling? Can you think of counter-examples from superhero comics or films that might illustrate more democratic and egalitarian fantasies?

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Responses

  1. Reblogged this on SUPERHERO RHETORIC FORTRESS OF BLOGITUDE!.

  2. As an article at Salon notes, “Our culture celebrates male vigilantes, but harshly punishes women who fight back against those who harm them.”

    Compare these observations to the Monomythic variation of the Heidi Redeemer:
    “The redemptive score of our innocent superheroine is thus perfect… The unselfish redeemer, lacking in any sexual consciousness, achieves marvelous solutions through which she restores Edenic happiness, and everyone lives happily ever after. This mythical plot varies from the masculine heroic patterns only in the means of redemption, which are psychologically and religiously manipulative rather than violent. Whereas the men achieve sexual segmentation through renunciation, superheroines like Heidi simply remain in a prepubescent state forever… (or as) the asexual, childlike woman who softens the heart of the militaristic…” (74).
    This Heidi Redeemer is also found within The Sound of Music, Little Orphan Annie, The Wizard of Oz as well as an occasional “Heidi Man” like Pa Engels or Highway To Heaven or maybe the saintly Santa Claus. The angelic alchemy at work echoes the archetypal superheroine WONDER WOMAN who is able to “make a hawk a dove, stop a war with love, make a liar tell the truth.”


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