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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, January 10, 2014


The short one appeared here:


In that essay I admired the succinctness of Berlatsky's theme statement, though I regard the statement itself as wrong-headed on every possible level.  Thus I rewrite Berlatsky's theme statement like this:

Superheroes exemplify goodness in their willingness to place their lives on the line in defense of the greater good. For the superhero genre, the best person in the world is the one who recognizes the world as a constant struggle of egos-- Hobbes' "war of all against all"-- and realizes his own ego by defending the good.

This formulation of course relates to my concept of the "idealizing will." I will not explore this concept and its near relations except to re-iterate a relevant "theme statement" from one of the "will" essays:

I advanced a theory of the hero and villain as dominantly positive or negative incarnations of a type of will, "the idealizing will," that aspires to go beyond the bare functions of the maintenance of life.

In less theoretical terms, I also referred to the ego-based nature of the superhero-- which for me applies to the hero-persona generally-- in the comments section for Berlatsky's essay.  A respondent named "Mywa" comes much closer to my "might makes ego" formulation, though finally agreeing with Berlatsky:

Superheroes negotiate through violence, but at their core they (are supposed to) embody agency, of which violence and aggression are just a form. We like violence because we value agency, and if that agency happens to find itself situated high among the echelons of power, well, that merely transposes what we like to a rule under which to live and a status quo to value

In my formulation, "might" equates to what Mywa calls "agency," though given that we later argued on the question of "the status quo" it seems likely that he (or she) might not view agency as being integral to the individual ego, as I do. Mywa defined the character Green Lantern as an "intergalactic space cop" and asserted his relationship to his bosses the Guardians as a typical "defense of the status quo,"to which I responded:

I said that the authorities would bring GL back to the fold because they couldn’t do without him, which is not quite the same thing as [their] tolerating the hero’s tantrums. It’s a power fantasy, all right, but it’s one in which the hero, despite his occasional failings, shows himself to be the center of the cosmos and the upholder of life. That’s precisely why I don’t find the heroes to represent “ideological unity;” they’re close to being solipsistic in their emphasis upon the individual ego. Not that one can’t find the same ego-fantasies imbedded in many more allegedly sophisticated works, including those that purport to be “liberal.”

I noted in the previous essay that the principal strategy used to conflate superheroes and fascism is to disregard the actual representations of any superhero narrative's diegesis.  One maneuver is to insist that the villains attacking the status quo should be viewed as liberating influences, while the status quo automatically deserves to be torn down, as Mywa assumes:

...your exploits and desires do little to challenge the pre-existing power structure (which you are a part of) in any meaningful way. What an exhilarating, quid-pro-quo power fantasy!

But as Mywa said, "agency" logically takes in every form of agency, not just violence.  And with that in mind I present an example of a work generally deemed more "sophisticated" and "liberal" than GREEN LANTERN, but which still demonstrates the same type of ego-fantasy:

There is no violence at all in these final panels of WATCHMEN, but there certainly is "might:" the might of the written word in Rorschach's diary, where he has chronicled the truth of Ozymandias' murderous scheme.  It's true that Alan Moore keeps the conclusion ambiguous.  We do not know positively that the redheaded dunce will choose to print Rorschach's diary and reveal the scheme, just as the late Rorschach would have wanted.  But there is a strong possibility that he will do so.  If this happens, this act of truth-telling will validate Rorschach's will over that of far more powerful entities like Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan, even though Manhattan has the power of a vengeful deity.

Clearly Moore is choosing to emphasize the triumph of "lesser might" over "greater might" in defiance of what others would call the "might makes right" aspect of superhero comics-- even though Rorschach himself is one of Moore's vehicles for critiquing "might makes right" in other sections of WATCHMEN.

Nevertheless, whereas other heroes in the narrative end up going along with Ozymandias' scheme once it's a fait accompli, Rorschach the Fascist Believer in Violence is the vehicle through which truth is realized.  To me Rorschach's "attack on the status quo"-- a status quo represented by Manhattan and the other heroes-- is no more or less egoistic than Green Lantern's supposed "defense of the status quo."

I should note in closing that in the still ongoing comments-argument between myself and Berlatsky, Berlatsky has not yet responded to one of my observations re: "non-fascist superheroes:"

BTW, if there was a superhero series where the character ran away helping insurgents throw off their chains– wouldn’t that still be a case of “might makes right?”

More to come.

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