The Myth of the American Superhero

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Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002 - Social Science - 416 pages
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From the Superman of comic books to Hollywood's big-screen action stars, Americans have long enjoyed a love affair with the superhero. In this engaging volume John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett explore the historical and spiritual roots of the superhero myth and its deleterious effect on Americas democratic vision.

Arguing that the superhero is the antidemocratic counterpart of the classical monomyth described by Joseph Campbell, the authors show that the American version of the monomyth derives from tales of redemption. In settings where institutions and elected leaders always fail, the American monomyth offers heroes who combine elements of the selfless servant with the lone, zealous crusader who destroys evil. Taking the law into their own hands, these unelected figures assume total power to rid the community of its enemies, thus comprising a distinctively American form of pop fascism.

Drawing widely from books, films, TV programs, video games, and places of superhero worship on the World Wide Web, the authors trace the development of the American superhero during the twentieth century and expose the mythic patterns behind the most successful elements of pop culture. Lawrence and Jewett challenge readers to reconsider the relationship of this myth to traditional religious and social values, and they show how, ultimately, these antidemocratic narratives gain the spiritual loyalties of their audiences, in the process inviting them to join in crusades against evil.

Finally, the authors pose this provocative question: Can we take a holiday from democracy in our lives of fantasy and entertainment while preserving our commitment to democratic institutions and waysof life?

 

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User Review  - nuwanda - LibraryThing

An interesting take on American popular culture and society, this book takes Joseph Campbell's monomyth as its starting point and tries to construct an American monomyth - an archetypal story that is ... Read full review

Contents

OVERTURE
1
The American Monomyth in a New Century
3
COMPOSING THE MYTHIC SCORE
19
The Birth of a National Monomyth
21
Buffalo Bill Staging World Redemption
49
Heidi Visits a Little House on the Prairie
65
DANCING THE MYTH OF REDEMPTION
87
John Wayne and Friends Redeem the Village
89
The Sound of One Hand Killing Monomythic Video Games
199
Star Treks Humanistic Militarism
224
Star Trek Faith as a FanMade Religion
247
Fascist Faith in the Star Wars Universe
265
Monomythic Credotainment
283
CADENZA SEARCHING FOR DEMOCRATIC MELODIES
307
The Discordant Music of Catastrophes
309
Deceptive Fugues Democratic Dances
338

Cleansing Perilous Cities with Golden Violence
106
Superheroic Presidents Redeem the Nation
126
Lethal Patriots Break the Rhythm
151
HYMNS AND CREEDS OF THE AMERICAN MONOMYTH
177
Cheerful Saints and Melodious Lions
179
A Comment on Sources
365
Endnotes
367
Afterword
400
Index
402
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About the author (2002)

John Shelton Lawrence is professor emeritus of philosophy at Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa.

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