Tuesday 24 April 2012

John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett, The Myth of the American Superhero

john shelton lawrence and robert jewett the myth of the american superhero

Superheroes sell like fresh bread rolls.  They draw thousands to movie theatres.  They provoke scores of admiring 'oohs' and 'aaahs'.  They inspire...  even if this inspiration usually translates to buying a t-shirt.  Oh my, we love superheroes.  After all, they are so cool.  So strong.  So righteous.  So often saving the world.  What would we do without them? 

Lawrence and Jewett take a good look at your average hero model and they analyse it to bits.  And well, let me put it like this - they are definitely not buying into the myth.  The American superhero gets quite a trashing.  No icon is safe - not Chuck Norris, not Steven Seagal, not even Luke Skywalker.  They are all exposed as a modern version of mythological heroes:  invincible, fascinating and - totally unreal.  Not only that.  The authors seem to be worried that our superheroes are completely undemocratic, even if we live in a so-called democratic society.  That's a hell of criticism to pour onto poor old Hollywood creations. 

If you're detecting a slightly mocking tone in my words, you're quite right.  Somehow I can't be completely serious when Star Trek and Jaws get analysed by academics, with all the vocabulary and high style proper to this group.  I mean - they are just stories, right?  No one sees them as more than phantasmagoriae, figments of somebody's imagination, right?  Right?  (Please tell me that I am right, otherwise I will be seriously worried)  Sending Rambo to a shrink is slightly too much for my tastes.

Otherwise, the book is totally readable.  It's a decent selection of cinematographic reviews written from the psychoanalytic angle.  In places impossible not to agree with.  In other places irritating but hey - what isn't?  Truly, The Myth of the American Superhero is worth reading.  If only to watch the heroes fall from their pedestals.

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