Posted by: Doc Comics | September 8, 2011

Paper #1: Your Superhero History

In class we’ve discussed 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.  It’s perhaps easy to contend that these fictional superheroes from popular culture [esp. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, & Captain America] have become Mythic 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.  But what do they reveal about YOU?

SO…your task is to write a short 5-7 page paper that identifies and explores your Superhero icon through the “Mythic Perspective” of Rushing and Frentz.  What superheroes have been most meaningful to you, and how or why do you identify with them?  What characteristics and values make some character(s) your favorite and what did you learn from them?  If you had to pick a favorite superhero icon, who would it be? As a paper, your discussion should be informed by ideas and concepts from course readings thus far.  That is, drawing upon ideas discussed in class and gleaned from the course readings, identify the central mythic values and culturetypal fantasy themes which your Superhero Icon symbolizes.

Once you’ve chosen your icon, work through your ideas in a series of steps that should all become part of your paper:

1)  Do some research using on-line resources and/or traditional library work.  What is your superhero’s history, from first appearance to various iterations? What have commentators, creators, or experts observed about your icon’s ‘meaning’ for themselves or audiences?  Be sure to keep a careful record of what you found and where you found it (you will need a works cited bibliography at the end of your paper) and be sure when you write to let readers know which your original ideas are and which you have borrowed from your sources.  Find at least FIVE good sources—be sure to cite your sources using proper Chicago-style or MLA citation format.

2)  Briefly describe your earliest or most influential icon for readers who may not be familiar with it.  Try to be as concise as possible with your description, perhaps even using an outside source.  Include a picture on your title page!!

3)  Reflect upon what significance/use superheroes have had for you personally.  Which ‘version’ did you encounter early, and why was this character(s) memorable? What was so appealing about him/her?

4)  Next, try to extend your analysis one step further—Why do you think your superhero has staying power or enduring potential as an ICON?  Will your superhero become one of those American popular culture items/artifacts that will stand the test of time as a MYTHIC icon (i.e. Doty’s defining functions)?  What archetypes can you distinguish as influences? How does your superhero size-up with Reynolds and Coogan’s criteria?

5)  Finally–What does your icon say about America and American identity?  How is it connected to powerful American values?  Is your superhero a variation of archetypal predecessors?  Why is this superhero significant to you? What does your choice say about who you are and what you value? Here is where you interrogate the deeper social values and mythic truths within your superhero’s story.

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 significances of your topic.  The paper is due in-class on the syllabus due date.

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Responses

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

  2. Once you’ve selected your favorite or most influential superhero icon, work through your ideas in a series of steps that should all become part of your paper. The D.I.E.T. method may prove helpful:

    1) Briefly DESCRIBE your icon for readers who may not be familiar with him/her. Try to be as concise as possible with your description. Include a picture of your superhero on your title page. Do some research using on-line resources and/or traditional library work. What are the secret origins of your superhero? What have creators, commentators, or scholars observed about your icon’s ‘meanings’ for audiences? Be sure to keep a careful record of what you found and where you found it (you will need a works cited bibliography at the end of your paper) and be sure when you write to let readers know which your original ideas are and which you have borrowed from your sources. Don’t spend more than one or two pages on set-up, because your real work comes next…

    2) INTERPRET the symbolic meanings, significance, and mythic values that your hero champions. Draw upon the works of Reynolds and Coogan as you follow Hart’s narrative probes. How is it connected to powerful American myths or fantasies? Is your superhero indebted to archetypal predecessors? Follow Rushing & Frentz’s guide for applying a “Mythic Perspective” to your icon!

    3) Next, EVALUATE how your icon represents American beliefs, values, and identity. Reflect upon what significance/use this icon has for you personally (using Rushing & Frentz’s Mythic Perspective). Why did you choose it? Why is it significant to you? What does your choice say about who you are and what your worldview? About your identity and cherished values? Always consider the payoff and price of the mythic fantasy, what it reveals and conceals or what “realities” it celebrates and represses. Here is where you also use Hart’s probes to interrogate the deeper social values and narrative ‘propositional arguments’ within your superhero’s story! You should draw upon specific concepts or ‘lessons’ from course readings here, comparing the covert ‘meanings’ from other texts studied to evaluate those lurking within your superhero icon!

    4) Finally, extend your analysis one step further to THEORIZE your superhero’s significance as an allegory for American cultural identity — What’s so darn “American” about your icon? Is your superhero one of those American popular culture items/artifacts that will stand the test of time, or are they a “cult” hit with a niche audience? Why or why not? Remember, the primary goal of this assignment is to demonstrate your grasp of the readings in the course and offer a critical application of concepts. The better papers will be reflective and analytical as they apply concepts rather than merely descriptive — that is, they will get below the surface to address some of the deeper issues and unobvious meanings or significance of your hero.

  3. Looking for some inspiration, true-believer? Look no further than Engle’s “What makes Superman so darned American?” essay, which advances an argument about this icon for immigrant assimilation. You could take issue with the assimilationist view, however, to instead explore how a Black Superman (or ethnic Captain America or Muslim Green Lantern) might offer a very different view for what can be so dang “American” about superheroes of difference!


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