Saturday, June 13, 2009

Comic Books - II

Prior posts here and here. Which stemmed from posts on lurid book covers summarized here with the added post of here.

Posts on comics per se include here, here and here.

I have been tardy in posting about this and have let the UN (here) get in some decisive thrusts with her black helicopter poniard. So I will begin, if you will oblige me, with what I was going to post as a comment on her post .

"The original incarnations of various superheroes [Superman, Captain Marvel, etc.] in the late 1930s and 1940s were products of their time and reflected life during the Great Depression and World War II."

This is pretty much the theme. In the same vein, but of an earlier period, is a new piece in the NYRB about early 30's cinema. This has a particular bite for us since that was the era of the early Depression. Many would argue that we are in an early Depression II. Basically, pre Code movies out of Hollywood were pretty real to life without the sanitizing effect of either the Motion Picture Production Code or, even more interestingly, the Legion of Decency (which I remember from my childhood; particularly their condemnation of "The Moon is Blue" because of its adultery theme). There was lots of risque scenes and dialog. Heroes were not particularly moral (that is a tough one). You get the picture.

Here is the thesis: Adults are the "operational" product of their experience as children, more so than we would like to think. (I use the word "operational" since I am at a loss for any other. I don't want to use "moral" or "experiential." Help me here.) I would contend that the most sensitive period for this learning is when the child enters the world stage at approximately 4-12 years old. Trying to understand how males like Obama or Bill O'Rielly work requires an examination of the influences that impacted at that time including, in the 1940's to 1960's, the influence of certain comic books on their world view. Not an original thesis in any way, but one worth exploring.

After the success of early Superman and Captain Marvel came the inevitable (in U.S. culture) exploitation with "Tales from the Crypt, Crime SuspenStories, Weird Science-Fantasy, and The Vault of Horror." And:

"In a cycle that appears to repeat itself in every generation, there was a growing concern among parents and authority figures in the post-World War II era over the coarsening effects of popular culture on the attitudes and mores of teenagers................Seeking to avoid the imposition of federal oversight and regulation, the major comic-book publishers created a self-regulatory agency called the Comics Code Authority (CCA). "

I am using this to support my thesis. That is, as trivial as we might think today, comic books were felt to be important influences on the growing child. It is interesting that the comics got their comeuppance because of graphic gore, whereas motion pictures were canned (literally) because of graphic (by the standards of the day) and implied sex. (there is no implied gore because sex is subtle whereas gore is not)

JSBlog quotes from a book (The Physics of Superheroes, by James Kakalios (2005)) the quote originally on Unreal Nature : "Young readers were thereby introduced through this superhero comic to facts and historical figures not typically covered in their history classes. ." There is also a reference to Alan Moore concerning the recent Watchmen movie.

I have agreed with this since one could come close to covering Roman History in the Superman comics alone. But these historical allusions, basically unknown to the age group reading comics, must have resonated in the culture in some way. (It may be the same reason that Pixar movies have many nuggets for adults; even Richard Scary of Busy, Busy World fame loads his books with the same.)

Another reference by JSBlog was to the "Monomyth.". The best known recent proponent of this has been Joseph Campbell. As JSBlog says: "Campbell's iconic work is The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which proposes a "monomyth", a single heroic story (commonly called the "Campbell Cycle").........A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man"

I guess all of the above is one trying to make complex what many see as simply going through childhood. I think if the young boys (and girls, e.g. Hillary Clinton and Condelezza Rice) were to grow up and labor in the fields or the kitchen, this would be a moot discussion. However, some young people grow up to have an immense impact on the World. For the last 50 years, the most powerful person in the World has been the President of the United States. I think we should pay attention to what influences were about when they were learning the foundations of what would become their "operational" skills. (One anomaly here is the Pope. Here is a man who belonged to the Hitler Youth. Authoritarian he is, with very little slack for us out here who were scarlet letters. Hmmm...)

Next Up: Blackhawk


Ray Girvan said...

JSBlog goes further to suggest that:

Not me! That bit's a quote from The Physics of Superheroes in the Unreal Nature post Tidbits of Steel.

Dr. C said...

Oops. Corrected.

Julie Heyward said...

A few ideas that I think may be relevant:

Usually, children in affluent societies such as our own are cocooned from adult/social problems. However, during hard times -- or for the less affluent, all the time -- children are not so protected. They can become painfully, and immediately aware of adult/social threats to themselves and their families.

At the same time, children are now and always have been severely constrained culturally, socially, physically and out of dependent neediness from opposing, physically, verbally, or even passively, adults who are causing or responsible for those problems.

How to resolve this (let children directly confront real-world problems in an immediate and satisfying way)?

A superhero is an adult that is not an adult so a kid can identify with a superhero. A superhero can kick (adult) ass all day long and it's not only okay, it's ... heroic. Notice that the superhero has a "regular adult" identity, but that's the disguise; the superhero is the "real" identity while the "adult" is the disguise. The regular guy used (Clark Kent or whoever) is usually an inept, powerless schnook -- sort of like a kid. The more self-effacing, mild-mannered and unthreatening the "regular" identity, the better.

To speculate about Obama (and this is pure hypothetical/speculation), I remember it being repeatedly pointed out during the campaign, how strenuously he avoided ever appearing to be, in any way, the "angry black man." Now that he is president, it's sort of hard for him to retain any "regular" disguise, but you could make a case that he still does. See, for example, this picture of him, relaxing outside the US embassy in Paris, recently.

(1) Note that this is not a Walter Mitty double identity. Walter Mitty's other personas were escapes. Other. With superheros, the "regular" guy is a cover inside of which resides the entirely real superhero. The superhero is there all the time, waiting to pop out and save the world not escape from it.

(2) Note also that there is obviously an extensive genre of fiction, written and visual, of adult schnooks who are really smart/strong/powerful. TV shows like Colombo, The Rockford Files, almost any movie starring Jimmy Stewart and so on (and many more from earlier times, such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, etc.). The trick was to make this work for children.

(3) Note that juvenile superheroes don't work -- at least not for me -- precisely because you return to the issues of how strongly improper it is for a child to bonk an adult on the head.

(4) Note my post, ,Mediating Lenses, that is related to this.

(5) Note that these notes are just notes. There do not have feet.