Are here--Albinos, painted Indians, Dwarfs,
The Horse of knowledge, and the learned Pig,
The Stone-eater, the man that swallows fire,
Giants, Ventriloquists, the Invisible Girl,
The Bust that speaks and moves its goggling eyes,
The Wax-work, Clock-work, all the marvellous craft
Of modern Merlins, Wild Beasts, Puppet-shows,
All out-o'-the-way, far-fetched, perverted things,
All freaks of nature, all Promethean thoughts
Of man, his dulness, madness, and their feats
All jumbled up together, to compose
A Parliament of Monsters. Tents and Booths
Meanwhile, as if the whole were one vast mill,
Are vomiting, receiving on all sides,
Men, Women, three-years' Children, Babes in arms.
---William Wordsworth, THE PRELUDE, Book 7.
What Wordsworth scathingly calls a "Parliament of Monsters" (including an "Invisible Girl" who apparently appeared long before H.G. Wells' "Invisible Man") was nothing more than the many attractions of the St. Bartholomew Fair in London. Yet clearly to Wordsworth these "freaks of nature" signify something more. He's greatly affronted by the base appeal to the sensation-loving audience, to their love of "far-fetched, perverted things." Although the archaic myth-figure of Prometheus often carried favorable connotations in Wordsworth's era, this poet is surely conferring no approval in speaking of such sights as "Promethean thoughts." I would hazard that his invocation of the famous Titan is meant to suggest rebellion against the proper order of things, as also seen in the subtitle of a more famous work from the same era: FRANKENSTEIN, OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS.
Wordsworth was by no means original in decrying base appeals to sensationalism. Socrates, insofar as he spoke through Plato's REPUBLIC, endorsed the state control of poetry, because it could set bad examples for youth. Much of the history of literary criticism has been the history of validating "good literature" over "bad literature," with the implication that bad literature wasn't just formally bad, but existed as a snare and a trap for the unwary.
I am reminded of this salient fact by a particular excerpt from the post of comics-fan Synsidar, which I previously reprinted in OFF THE BEAT AGAIN:
There’s little effort made to write superheroes as people in stories for children, because the children don’t need the realistic details.This is yet another permutation of that comics-fandom phenomenon I've called the Pedagogical Paradigm. I coined the term with Gary Groth in mind in this essay.
Groth said of Will Eisner (among other things):
Eisner refused to take the [superhero] genre trappings seriously -- which was about the only intelligent way to approach a strip that was designed to imitate the look of comic books, which were at best semi-literate, yet appeal to the adult readership of newspapers.I replied in part:
The Grothian superiority dance here also evokes the adult/juvenile distinction. Groth makes the assumption that Eisner's SPIRIT feature was superior because it (unlike all or most superhero strips in the juvenile-oriented comic books) chose to appeal to adults.Of course not every individual who subscribes to the Pedagogical Paradigm follows it in the same manner. Groth has said on many occasions that he regards the superhero genre as inherently for kids; that's why he approved of Eisner treating the genre in semi-serious fashion. In contrast, as I understand Synsidar's frequently-repeated arguments on THE BEAT, he's convinced that by writing "superheroes as people"-- that is, with "realistic details"-- could garner an adult audience beyond the one that exists today.
On this issue, given that I've repeatedly expressed my view that the DM audience already comprises such an audience for "adult pulp" in the form of sueprheroes, I'm closer to Synsidar than to Groth, though both of them seem to be on a similar page as far as unilaterally condemning what's currently produced for the DM. Yet while the two writers are far apart on the Matter of the Superhero, they are alike in thinking that there's some intellectual "upgrade" that can be made to superheroes to make them intellectually respectable-- "realistic details" for Synsidar, an "unserious" approach to "genre trappings" for Groth.
At base, the two have in common a particular kind of "pride": a pride in one's own ability to discern what aspects of literature are best-- aspects which are almost always oriented upon some intellect-based comprehension of some given subject matter. It could be argued that in so doing those guilty of this form of "pride" are guilty of Kant's pronouncement upon Leibniz, that of "intellectualizing phenomena."
I understand the appeal of this pride; I've felt it myself. But I also take pride in my ability to see the many-faceted appeals of sensationalism in both genre-fiction and canonical literature. The best writers do not, in my opinion, simply turn up their noses at sensation as do Groth and the poet Wordsworth. They harness the power of the "Parliament of Monsters," without prejudice against the role it plays in their work.