Rant in Response to “We Don’t Need Superheroes”

This morning, following a link from Bleeding Cool, I read an article titled “We Don’t Need Superheroes” on Workers World by Caleb T. Maupin. A few of his arguments have merit. But on the whole, the essay is damaged by a lack of knowledge, research, and horrendous critical analysis.

Has Maupin ever read a history of the comic book genre? I’d guess not. Because he would then know that Superman started out fighting corrupt businessmen and politicians in addition to the usual mad scientist, Nazi, etc. And lets not forget Green Arrow and the X-Men. . .

But, is actually discussing comic books on the agenda? No. Rather Maupin’s ire is targeted at The Dark Knight Rises. Yes, I will agree with the analysis that TDKR (and the Nolan Bat films in general) are very conservative works of superhero film making. Despite my enjoyment of the film, its politics do bug me considerably. The Dent Act’s authoritarianism, the depiction of Gotham during Bane’s occupation, and the depiction of the GCPD all annoy me. I get that. But does that make superheroes and their attendant media all suspect? No.

What is even more inexcusable is his shifting the argument from superheroes to the recent spate of gun violence that has plagued America in recent years. Don’t blame comic books for the violence. It is as asinine as blaming video games, movies, books, art, etc. for society’s ills. Seriously, a “left wing” analysis should focus on the root causes of the problem not on the lazy scapegoat that emerges based on extremely lazy research and analysis. Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, anyone?

Superheroes are fantasy. They are the new mythology. To not understand that, to not see what meanings that has for people is rather foolish. Yes, it would be nice if the workers of the world would unite and overthrow the oppressive 1%. But if it were that easy, it would have been done a century ago. Without the attending nightmare that is Soviet style communism.

What pisses me off the most about this essay is the ending. The shear naivety is infuriating. How the hell is this utopia supposed to form? And seriously, do superheroes really stand in the way?

The lesson that should be taken from this essay is simple. Do your damn research before you look like a fool. Don’t just make assumptions. And actually support your arguments.



Posted on August 7, 2012, in Movies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Maupin does not call for utopia. He explains that socialism is the product of real world struggles or it is nothing.

    He does not blame comic books for any of the violence by gun or otherwise going on today. He correctly points out both implicitly and explicitly that the source of violence is Wall Street, the White House and the Pentagon.

    It is not a requirement of the movie reviewer to read comic books, but only to have viewed the loathsome film he reviewed. The fact that comic book heroes look out for the little guy and fight corrupt businessmen is precisely the problem, and precisely the point Maupin makes: these heroes are no solution to the contradictions and murderous facts of social reality under capitalism. They are merely momentary escapes from that reality.

    The idea that comic book heroes are a new mythology is laughable. The need for myths died of natural causes millenia ago. Men and women make their own futures through collective labor, or they make nothing. The products of popular culture are poor passing analgesic to be taken [or not] along the way.

    • Seriously, where do I begin?
      Perhaps if Maupin did not bring in comic books in his discussion of TDKR, then he should have exclusively focused on the movie and not use an extremely uncomfortable introduction. If nothing else, more editing was needed. . .
      Now, it has been a day, but I don’t remember Maupin pointing at “Wall Street, the White House, and the Pentagon” as the source of all ills. If he did not intend to in some way blame comics or the movie, he should have been clearer. What I got from the essay was a poorly written attack on a movie and a genre of literature blaming them for society’s ills.
      Moving on to your own weird notions about humanity no longer needing mythology. Your own response is a product of mythology. Marxist mythology! When I describe the idealized goal of Marxism as a utopia, I’m describing the end product. It cannot exist due to human nature. That the idea endures is because it has, as myths do, entered into the our cultural collective unconscious (or whatever the hell it is).
      Humans haven’t (and likely won’t) escape the need for myth.
      And to think that superheroes have not entered into that realm is pure silliness.

      • It is clear the mythology at work in your response IS an old one: human beings are powerless to change their circumstances, and so must raise their mass market fantasies to the level of myth to justify such inactivity as moral superiority.

        Humans have already escaped the need for myth, as they have the need for any form of false consciousness. This is not based upon any idea that human nature can be changed, but upon the history of its change over millenia of class society.

        For a clearer view of Maupin’s sagacity regarding Wall Street and the White House: http://www.workers.org/2011/us/socialism_0120/

        Again, Maupin does not say that Batman and comic books are the cause of social ills; they are the product of those ills, and a form of mass marketed false consciousness to cover cover them up.

        Example: George Zimmerman was not the product of the vigilante ethos and aesthetic of comic books. He is the product of a capitalist system using racism to divide and conquer people. But his murderous daydream of BEING a neighborhood watch vigilante is completely consonant with a culture that also produces the character Batman as a vigilante daydream of power for the powerless.

        • Please, you don’t know me. For all you know I could be a conservative, a liberal, or just slightly to the right of China Mieville. Do you think I don’t know the country is headed for a second Gilded Age? Do you think I’m not bitterly disappointed in Obama? Do you think I agree with Frank Miller regarding Occupy Wall Street?
          I recognize myth for what it is. Myth can be traditional, revolutionary, individual,and collective.It can form the traditional foundation of a society, and it can just as easily form the movement that can destroy it. Humans will never escape the need for myth because we as individuals who form cultures, even as we and those cultures change, develop new myths. Even within Marxism, there is the need for myth. To claim not is just silly.
          People change, cultures change, and myths change. The evolution of peoples and societies are both glorious and frightful. Do I hope for the day when humanity will be rid of the need for leaders and plutocracies? Hell yeah.
          I agree completely that Zimmerman is a product of institutionalized and societal racism. The legacy that killed Trayvon Martin is the legacy of lynchings, Jim Crow, sunset towns, and Klan vigilantism. Not comic books or video games. What enabled the tragedies in Aurora and elsewhere to occur is the inability of our society to deal with psychopaths and the easy accessibility of fire arms. Not comic books or video games.
          I interpreted Maupin’s essay as an attack on the popular culture I love. In our scapegoat society, it is so easy to point the blame at art and entertainment rather than take a hard look at the real causes. Or, for that matter, to make it clear that one is not attacking the art and entertainment.
          Why do I read fantasy, science fiction, and comic books? Because I enjoy them. Do I buy into them as “power fantasies” or “escapes from reality?” Hell no. I recognize the flaws of sf and comic books. I love them regardless.
          Finally, why would I want to read more of Maupin’s outdated ideology? I’ve moved past it.

          • Neither Maupin or I stated comic books were the cause of any actions by anyone; they are cultural reflections, and also expressions of values contrary to progressive struggle. They cannot become myths because, happily, there is no longer a material basis for myth in society. Myth of any type is no longer the “sigh of the oppressed” and the pre-scientific explanation of the world. To engage in special pleading for one’s favorite art form by stating that it is a new mythology means promoting it not for its aesthetic strengths and artistic value, but for supra-historical reasons, ex-cathedra. One could make the same case for cubism or film noir or the film “Koyaanisqatsi.” Could they not also be called modern myths? But when we say that, we are only really saying we love these works of art and wish to make them out-of-bounds to criticism.

            At this point I will turn the discussion over to Doug Eena Greene, who offers a more substantial review of TDKR than Maupin had space for:

          • You don’t get it, do you?
            Superman, et al. have been around for decades. They have entered our cultural consciousness. As much as Herakles spoke to the Greeks, so to does Batman (and comic book Hercules) speak to us (or at least some of us) today. To simply disregard myth as not being literally true or an outdated mode of explanation is beyond the realms of stupidity. There is more to myth than just explaining why it rains or why a certain plant exists. That you don’t see that, well. . .
            I am perfectly well aware of the strengths and flaws of comic books. I’m not making the case that they are mythic to preclude criticism. Myths are narratives like everything else and hence are subject to questioning, challenge, and opposition. I’m arguing that superheroes have achieved the status of myths because they have.
            You argue that humanity has moved past the need for myth, I disagree. Just because we are more scientific does not mean that myths are dead. What arrogance and hubris!
            Maybe neither you nor Maupin have outright attacked comic books and video games as the causes. But you lump them in with little regard for actually doing research on the subject. To blindly claim that comic books are opposed to progressive causes is, honestly, asinine. Have you ever heard of China Mieville? Or Moore? Or Cornell? Or Snyder?
            But, truthfully, our argument is at cross purposes. I know what you’re getting at, but you don’t (or won’t) see my point that your own ideological system is as dependent on myth as the tropes that inform Batman, Spider, Wonder Woman, etc.

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