The Superhero Effect: Idealism And Stereotypes In Comic Books

1784 words - 7 pages

In our society, certain ideals are held in high regard. Individuals relentlessly pursue these ideals to achieve a perceived perfection. These principles are often depicted in media that further glorifies and establishes a desire to pursue these paragons. In a medium such as comic books, however, these standards and perceptions are heavily distorted by the characterizations and settings. Particularly, the superhero genre absorbs the ideals we strive towards and regurgitates them in an extreme and unrealistic manner. The superhero genre is often reflective of societal changes in ideas and morals. These ideals are then molded into misleading representations that influence the behaviors of viewers. Comic books absorb elements of our society and transform them. For example, as the enemies of America change, so do the enemies of our superheroes. However, the enemies are transformed into supervillains that are extremely dark and villainous. Such characterizations cloud people’s understanding of real threats and enemies affecting our society. Also, to cater to the value that American society places on intelligence, attractiveness, and physical strength, comic books create characters that epitomize these characteristics. Though the represent society’s ideals, these characters manipulate the ideas and convey them back to the audience in an unrecognizable manner. In developing such distorted representations, the superhero genre affects human behavior and perceptions of these ideals.
Idealism shown in comic books is a fruit of human perceptions and values. Society provides the material on which our superheroes and their enemies are based. Our perceptions of ideal figures are what drive their characterization and impact how we respond to them. However, these characterizations are subject to the changing tide of our society’s values. This can be seen on multiple fronts. While the culture of the Golden Era of comics placed emphasis on heroes always in the right, the modern society emphasizes seeing the emotional and physical turmoil of the hero. This can be attested to the fact that heroes such as the morally pure Superman have given way to more human heroes such as Iron Man. Also, we have seen that the changing face of American enemies is greatly reflected in comic books. Supervillains such as the Red Skull who represented Nazism have given way to adversaries such as Doctor Doom who are technological terrorists and organized criminals. These ideas show that the depictions produced in comics are simply products of the beliefs that society holds.
The depiction of supervillains is particularly representative of the superhero genre’s manipulation of American society’s beliefs. This genre plays on our society’s great appreciation for even the fictitious defeat of an ideological adversary. To cater to this viewership, the World War II and Cold War era provided legions of supervillains who represented U.S. enemies. Villains such as the Red Skull and Hydra...

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