First, a definition of “socialization” from Dictionary.com:
Socialization, then, takes in any number of societal controls, ranging from punishments for whatever a society deems a “crime” to rituals designed to initiate its members into the society as productive citizens. WONDER WOMAN’s Amazon society is clearly modeled on the relatively static practices used by tribal-level societies to enact initiation and/or punishment.
However, the society of an industrial nation, such as that of (obviously) the United States, cannot follow the practices of tribal societies, whether real or imagined. When a society embodies a level of discursive thought that makes industrialization possible, that society’s members must choose a more dynamic model as regards socialization. This means that the society must be continually debating, also in discursive manner, the nature of the practices necessary to enculturate the young or to correct those who break the society’s laws.
In a dynamic society, however, “correction” isn’t confined purely to literal crimimals. Irrespective of the specific purposes of any given political activity, that activity generally possesses the potential to enact practices that have a socializing effect.
To be sure, a media-campaign to discourage some behavior—often one without overt political content, such as the advisability of smoking—is not reified by the mythopoeic beliefs that inform, say, a young man undergoing penile circumcision.
There may be any number of attempts to confer an unquestionable mythic status upon the society’s artifacts— the assorted debates on the “essential nature” of the American Constitution, for example. But, contrary to Roland Barthes in MYTHOLOGIES, this practice is not the result of some bizarre “myth-language” devised to facilitate the repressive bourgeoise. It is the outgrowth of the language of socialization, which has liberal accents as well as conservative. However, no matter what the accent, the message will always received with acrimony by someone.
I’ve defended the principles underlying William Moulton Marston’s version of “socialization control” based on its status as literature, not political discourse. In this my OVERTHINKING essays parallel the earlier essay TORTURE GUARDIN’, which defends the fictional depiction of inquisitorial torture based on the fact that it is (usually) no more than a fictional device, functioning as a element of plot-convenience in a fictional cosmos. In such a cosmos, Batman will always threaten criminals with dire fates, or may even dispense literal physical harm, but it will almost always be too “fictional” in its base nature to be seen as an endorsement of actual torture. By the same token, in the world of Wonder Woman the element of “play” should defuse the seeming dictatorial methods of Aphrodite’s Law, not least because it’s a world where Aphrodite unquestionably exists.
Now, if Marston had presented his ideas in the form of political discourse, I would have opposed such a practice being enacted in reality. I’ m sure that as a young child I would have found Marston’s instruction-through-bondage no more palatable than the real socialization practices that I did experience. Mere dislike in itself doesn’t invalidate the proposed practice, though, since socialization practices are designed to be disliked. Almost no one likes to be told what to do, and even those who relish being ordered about only relish that experience under specific circumstances.
Nevertheless, even small children soon absorb the basic “it’s for your own good” rhetoric, whether they mentally accede to every dictate or not. Were it possible for any child to be reared so as to exercise unconditional free will, the wakeup call for that child would surely sound as soon as he tested his inviolability by sticking his finger in a light-socket. It may be that in a static tribal society, rebellious members may not attempt to suss out what socialization practices can be altered. In a dynamic one, rebels may always find some cause for revision.
It remains a fact that all societies, in order to survive, must adumbrate the unconditioned free will of their members as parents modify the behavior of their children. Some might defend Marston’s “socialization control” on that basis. However, though it is important to point out that dimension of Marston’s thought, this cannot be a full justification. Phrased thusly, it would be tantamount to saying that fiction is only justifiable when it mimics the conditions of real life. In addition, such a justification would be the simple obverse of critiquing fiction for not emulating real life closely enough, a position with which I quarrel in the OVERTHINKING essays.
Leslie Fiedler founded his theory of literature on the quasi-Freudian notion of its value as an escape valve from reality. In 1975 he edited a science-fiction anthology entitled “In Dreams Awake,” but his critical work bestows that power upon all literature, not just science fiction: the power to mirror our nature through our dreams.
But dreams by their nature are as given to darkness as to light. Socialization practices of all creeds exist to curse the darkness. In dreams we light candles not to dispel the dark, but to find out just how deep it is.
More in Part 2.