comic books and batman lesson 13 soc 86 – popular culture robert wonser 1
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Comic Books and BatmanLesson 13SOC 86 Popular CultureRobert Wonser*
ComicsStand out as an overarching symbol of pop culture itself.They are ephemeral, timely and werent designed to last.*
The characters are all children but they seem to have much more insight into life than do adults, who are relegated to the margins of the strip.Its tone is subtle sadness, a veiled angst that begs the readers to ask the great question of philosophy: Why are we here and What is life all about?*
Comic BooksComic books epitomize the accessibility, and appeal to instant gratification that lie at the core of modern consumer culture.
The preeminent motive shaping comic books has been the commercial motive of publishers to craft a product that appeals to paying audiences.Because the profit is low, publishers have traditionally emphasized quantity over quality. This has fueled the use of formulas that can easily be duplicated as well as adequately speak to the concerns and expectations of their audience.Formulas are ways in which specific cultural themes and stereotypes become embodied in more universal story archetypes.
Audiences turn to formulaic stories for the escape and enjoyment that comes from experiencing the fulfillment of their expectations within a structured imaginary world.Like rock-and-roll, comic books responded to the emergence of adolescents as a discrete market with tastes and preoccupations of its own, sometimes in direct conflict with the mores of mainstream adult culture.
Graphic NovelsStarting in the 1970s indie publishers began competing with the larger publishers.They experimented with new styles, more sophisticated formats, and stories suited to adults.Graphic Novels are book-length comic books that tell a single story for adults.Comics online have become almost completely ironic in focus (thanks The Simpsons!)More importantly, irony is a basic mindset of the carnivalesque.*
Reading Comic BooksThe Superhero genre is still popular today because as Barthes argued it recycles an ancient codethe code of the hero. This code includes:A life-saving journey in infancy: Superman had to leave his home planet of Kypton to avoid being destroyed along with it.An obscure childhood: little is known about the early lives of most superhero characters.Orphanage: some superheroes, like Batman, Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Cyclops, have lost their parents as had many ancient mythic heroes.
Barthes code of the heroSuperhuman powers: possessed by all superheroes (physical or intellectual). Sometimes gained in unusual ways (e.g. Spider-man being bitten by an irradiated spider gone berserk). He gains his spider sense, spiders web.A fatal weakness: exposure to kryptonite, blindness (Daredevil), psychological problems (the Hulk), the fatal weakness is a basic feature of the hero codeAchilles had a weak heal, Samsons strength depended on his hair, etc.
Selfless dedication to the common good: usually at their own expense, the heroes of ancient myths and the comic book superheroes exist to help the common folk.A magic weapon: Norse god Thor had a powerful hammer. Spider-man has his web shooter, Iron Man has a sophisticated suit of armor; Batman his sophisticated car and array of gadgets, etc.
Reading Batman ComicsIn 1954 Frederic Wertham published Seduction of the InnocentMostly about horror comics but contained four pages that suggested there were homoerotic overtones in Batman comics:"At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and "Dick" Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a "socialite" and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce's ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Bruce is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace the young boy sometimes worries about his partner it is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together." Dr Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent (1954) *
Is Batman Gay?Interesting the moral panic that ensuedComics were thought to promote deviancy*
Moral Panic and Comic BooksSuperheroes have evoked moral panicIn the 1950s concern over violence led to senate hearings.However as moral panic theory suggests, the public outrage and concern was to last only a brief period.By the 1970s comic books were seen as not only a simple form of entertainment, but also as mementos of a previous, supposedly more innocent period (one in which propaganda could be blatant!).
Comic Books and Propaganda*