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Superheroes In Us

As a professor and comic book fan, I love the current fascination with comics and related media. Blockbusters like Thor, Captain America, and Green Lantern offer fun adventure, but they also speak to heroic aspiration within the American character. These films offer a reflective glimpse into U.S. psyche, which is why controversy erupts over question of identity in comic mythology. Indeed, with the United States struggling, superhero mythology offers affirmation.

The 247 million dollar global success of Captain America highlights this point. A celebration of “old fashioned” heroism, the film provides a fictive narrative of a racial integrated U.S. military with African American and Asian soldiers serving in Captain America’s handpicked unit. While it is easy to be dismissive of concerns about “historical inaccuracy” in a film with magic cubes and suspended animation, the convergence of media linked to comics offer other racial controversy. Indeed, Marvel’s announcement that the new Spider-Man in its Ultimate comics line is a half-black and half-Hispanic teen named Miles Morales and Lawrence Fishburne’s casting as Perry White in Zach Snyder’s Superman reboot have both triggered concerns about the ruination of beloved comic franchises.

Reactions against these decisions suggested producers abandoned tradition for the sake of political correctness. The assumption that changing the race of an imaginary character will ruin it should prompt reflection on why diversity is linked to damage, but this Freudian blunder tends to prompt observers to ask why race is important, instead of confronting the implication that equality is malignant. Indeed, in an era of African-American president, diversity has become linked to the dissolution of the American dream. In this atmosphere, efforts to reflect the range of the U.S. experience are casted in a ominous light. Yet, evolving the mythology represented by superheroes makes sense because those changes demonstrate that the content of a character is more important than color of their skin.

Superheroes bring questions of identity to the forefront because they were created in the 30s, 40s, and 50s when the United States was a rising global power with a repressed domestic social landscape. Unconsciously these characters affirm a link between societal stability, whiteness, and masculinity that has been challenged by efforts end discrimination since the end of WWII. The attempt to preserve and protect classic comic characters is a reactive posture that assumes diversification strips the majority of something. This problem become more pronounced as films such as Thor, Green Lantern, and Captain America, symbolically affirm white, male, and heterosexual means hero even as we know the United States is evolving recognize heroes comes many forms.

It is this truth that drives the debates over diversity everywhere. Locked in the “greatest economic downturn” since the Great Depression, facing challenges to “normative” social practice, and fearing enemies around the globe, many fans seek the reassurance represented by superheroes. Yet, this nostalgic grip does little to prepare our society for the diverse community that must guide the future. If we expect to overcome the challenges we face, the stories we tell must recognize our multiplicity add more than any imagined loss.

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