Superheroes and social criticism

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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by litterature on Tue May 05, 2015 6:33 am

Heheheheh. On the one hand, I agree that having films which represent all the people who really make the USA would be nice (though not always indispensable - if you are actually going to play the social criticism card, realism and accurately depicting the actual, dysfunctional, structure of society is often a better strategy. Not the only one, of course.) On the other hand, Age of Ultron is a film about Americans essentially destroying some random place in Europe in the process of saving it from some threat they themselves created. Having such a ridiculous fantasy shoved into the face of the rest of the world AND throwing in a lesson about how to do things right when the demographics and race/class/gender/city/countryside relations in Europe are so wildly different (but equally troublesome of course) from those of the USA would probably make the film completely unwatchable for the average non-American.

Don't get me wrong, it'd still be the right thing to do as it's an American film after all, and I did enjoy the film a lot, but, come on, having a film about Americans saving-destroying the world AND teaching the whole world what equality is supposed to be, when the rest of the world is pictured as helpless victims crying for Captain America, or alternatively an endless repository of mysterious metals and powerful scepters for some Americans (black, white, doesn't matter here) to use, is basically giving the "preemptive strike for Peace and Democracy TM" mentality a friendly face.

Meh, superheroes are fundamentally classist anyway.

Yet! Tony Stark is by far my favourite character in the movie. But that's for another thread. Do you have an Age of Ultron thread? Maybe this post could be moved there...

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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Prajnaparamita on Tue May 05, 2015 9:17 am

litterature wrote:
Meh, superheroes are fundamentally classist anyway.

Really? And why do you think that? (Prepares lecture on how the entirely of the superhero genre being created by poor Jewish kids from the ghettoes who were shut out of the art and illustration world who went on to create a genre based around the working class hero who protected and saved the poor people of the cities who were overlooked by the rest of society... What about that early Superman story where people think he's gone evil because he goes out and destroys all this tenement housing, but actually he destroyed it because it wasn't fit to live in, but the government and landlords had refused to help improve it and got beautiful new housing built for everyone in the community? Or the one where he tricks a bunch of rich mine owners to come down into the mines with him, and then once they're down there, he demonstrates how easily it would be for the mine to collapse and makes them promise to respect worker's rights and improve workplace safety before he lets them go? You know why comic books were hit so hard by McCarthyism and Red Baiting? Because people believed the S stood for socialist, that they were a dangerous medium and had to either be suppressed or neutered and co-opted with the Comics Code.)

Will Eisner and his fellows are rolling in their graves right now, but that's okay. I have absolutely no intention of having the history of the comic book be forgotten.

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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Gentleman Johnny on Tue May 05, 2015 2:40 pm

litterature wrote:
Meh, superheroes are fundamentally classist anyway.

Yet! Tony Stark is by far my favourite character in the movie. But that's for another thread. Do you have an Age of Ultron thread? Maybe this post could be moved there...

First wanted to hit the Tony Paradox. Yeah, he's my favorite character. He's fun and well written. He's also the least underdog character imaginable. He's a rich, white, alchoholic womanizer with his own robot army who places himself above the judgement of anyone else. No government can touch him. He's SuperGalt.

Yes, the Avengers are absolutely classist. I wanted to cheer every time Ultron called them out. "You want peace but you don't want anything to change" and "you don't want peace, you want quiet." He didn't have a better solution but he was right.

On the other hand you've got original Superman, Steel, Peter Parker, Ms Marvel, Spawn and a number of other superheroes who either come from lower/working class backgrounds or particularly protect those not protected by society overall.

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Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Enail on Tue May 05, 2015 2:48 pm

I really like the more working class-oriented version of Superman! For one thing, it's one thing that makes non-powered rich dude Lex Luthor make sense as an antagonist.

...this is way off of Suicide Squad, I'm going to split it.
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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Gentleman Johnny on Tue May 05, 2015 3:02 pm

Yeah, that's something that has me wondering about the new movie. Here's the cast:
Superman - an alien who (according to the trailer) is seen by about half the people as a god and half as an alien invader who trashed Metropolis and killed countless civilians. In my opinion, the latter are correct and this is all before we count the fact that he's committed genocide. He also pulled a SuperGalt at the end of his movie by telling the general that he wouldn't answer to any government.

Bruce Wayne/Batman - Billionaire industrialist who has a problem with alien invaders and power armor. Also a vigilante who places himself above the law and hides his real identity. Has Orwellian surveillance capabilities.

Lex Luthor - Billionaire industrialist who has a problem with alien invaders and (in the comics sometimes) has power armor. No secret identity. Above the law by virtue of being able to lawyer his way out of anything.

If I had to draw metaphors I'd call them the US military, US intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley respectively. If I had to pick a hero, it'd be Lex but only by virtue of being the least evil.

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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Enail on Tue May 05, 2015 3:03 pm

I'd add to the social change foundations, X-men's basic premise. Though, the fact that they largely (I know, not always) treat overthrowing the system as the bad guy's approach and have the good guys mostly work within the system means you could hardly call it revolutionary. But I think the fact that Magneto and co's goals are shown in a much more sympathetic light than most villains gives the concept of disruptive social change a place at the table in the very foundations of the discussion, which is more than many works of fiction do.
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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by The Wisp on Tue May 05, 2015 3:47 pm

I think of the super hero genre of being elitist rather than classist, and I think there is a subtle difference between the two. If you boil the super hero genre down to its core, it's basically about a small group of people who are way more talented than anybody else, and talented in such a way that few could ever aspire to be one of them, whose talents are necessary to save the masses. This is very elitist. Some people are just better, stand aside and let them do their thing or you're doomed. It's not classist because heroes don't necessarily have large sums of wealth granted to them because of who they are nor do they have really much power over the government. Even rich superheroes got the money from something unrelated to superhero-ing. Further, the heroes aren't exactly always high-brow, sophisticated people.

ETA: Not that there aren't many super hero works that complicate/deconstruct/play with that core, but that does seem to be the core to me.

litterature wrote:Don't get me wrong, it'd still be the right thing to do as it's an American film after all, and I did enjoy the film a lot, but, come on, having a film about Americans saving-destroying the world AND teaching the whole world what equality is supposed to be, when the rest of the world is pictured as helpless victims crying for Captain America, or alternatively an endless repository of mysterious metals and powerful scepters for some Americans (black, white, doesn't matter here) to use, is basically giving the "preemptive strike for Peace and Democracy TM" mentality a friendly face.

It'll still make more money out of the US than within it Razz

But also, I think you're right that that is just kinda the way movies like this are. They'll usually be biased towards their home country. For example, Dr. Who is about an alien who is culturally British and a bunch of other mostly British people saving the rest of the helpless world multiple times.
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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Andrew Corvero on Tue May 05, 2015 7:30 pm

Enail wrote:I'd add to the social change foundations, X-men's basic premise. Though, the fact that they largely (I know, not always) treat overthrowing the system as the bad guy's approach and have the good guys mostly work within the system means you could hardly call it revolutionary. But I think the fact that Magneto and co's goals are shown in a much more sympathetic light than most villains gives the concept of disruptive social change a place at the table in the very foundations of the discussion, which is more than many works of fiction do.


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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Enail on Tue May 05, 2015 7:35 pm

That scene cracked me up rofl
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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Andrew Corvero on Tue May 05, 2015 7:44 pm

My two cents on the topic:

I think that super hero fiction can definitely be used to explore different kinds of social issues. It all depends on the kind of writing you use.

If you boil the super hero genre down to its core, it's basically about a small group of people who are way more talented than anybody else, and talented in such a way that few could ever aspire to be one of them, whose talents are necessary to save the masses. This is very elitist.

That's definitely true for the classic concept of superheroes as crime fighters with powers, but not so much for the X-Men/Heroes approach of ordinary people who just happen to be different because they're born that way and are hated and feared by the masses for being different. I don't think that's very elitist. Sure, they're still powerful and have special talents that can save the day, but people do not aspire to be one of them.

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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by bomaye on Tue May 05, 2015 9:01 pm

Enail wrote:I'd add to the social change foundations, X-men's basic premise. Though, the fact that they largely (I know, not always) treat overthrowing the system as the bad guy's approach and have the good guys mostly work within the system means you could hardly call it revolutionary. But I think the fact that Magneto and co's goals are shown in a much more sympathetic light than most villains gives the concept of disruptive social change a place at the table in the very foundations of the discussion, which is more than many works of fiction do.

Magneto lived through the Holocaust, he's hardline because he's seen what happens when the system turns against you.

They're also very much based on the Civil Rights Movement. Prof X is MLK Jr, Magneto is Malcolm X's passion/Elijah Muhammad's position.

Modern Cyclops is Che Guevara and united both of them under him, which I don't know what that's supposed to signify Uh-oh
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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by PintsizeBro on Tue May 05, 2015 10:51 pm

I found it interesting that in the X-Men movies, Magneto talked about how non-mutants needed to be exterminated because they were inferior to mutants... he sounded not so different from the Nazis who persecuted him. Some people react to being oppressed by wanting to eliminate oppression. Others react by trying to invert the hierarchy; they're fine with oppression, so long as they're the ones on top.

Currently, Captain America is my favorite superhero, which would have enraged my teenage self. But Steve Rogers was a poor kid who tried to join the Army and was labeled 4-F (medically unfit for duty). So he subjected himself to medical experiments in the hopes that it would make him stronger. And it worked. He went off to fight, saw his closest friend die, was frozen for decades, and when he woke up he realized that everything he fought for was meaningless because the country he'd defended had become the fascist state he had enlisted to fight against. His own movies tell the story well, I think. I like them much better than the Avengers ensemble cast.

Enail wrote:I really like the more working class-oriented version of Superman! For one thing, it's one thing that makes non-powered rich dude Lex Luthor make sense as an antagonist.

...this is way off of Suicide Squad, I'm going to split it.
If you haven't already read Red Son, read it. It's what made me like Superman.

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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by bomaye on Wed May 06, 2015 12:04 am

PintsizeBro wrote:I found it interesting that in the X-Men movies, Magneto talked about how non-mutants needed to be exterminated because they were inferior to mutants... he sounded not so different from the Nazis who persecuted him. Some people react to being oppressed by wanting to eliminate oppression. Others react by trying to invert the hierarchy; they're fine with oppression, so long as they're the ones on top.

There's some interpretations of Magneto who subscribes to "do it to them before they do it to us." The Ultimate X-Men Magneto was crazyballs racist against humans
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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Enail on Wed May 06, 2015 11:45 am

PintsizeBro wrote:
If you haven't already read Red Son, read it. It's what made me like Superman.
 You're not the only person to rec this to me! I really should get around to it one of these days!
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Re: Superheroes and social criticism

Post by Gentleman Johnny on Wed May 06, 2015 1:55 pm

I third the rec for Red Son.

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