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Superheroes and Justice

 
 
Reply Thu 15 Jul, 2010 01:09 pm
Hi, I am a final year student currently working on a research paper about how themes of justice and morality present in superhero comics reflect society's own pursuit of justice.

The data I am trying to acquire in this case would be information on society's views on justice.

1. Since the emergence of the modern day Superhero in 1938 with the debut of Superman, how has society's perception of justice changed throughout the times?

From the Great Depression, to the World War, the Cold War, to modern day events like the recent financial crisis, how has these events shaped and changed society's perception of what they consider justice?

Or can the changes be attributed to other factors?

Or has there even been a fundamental change in the core idea of justice? For example, throughout history and even now it has always been society's view that justice=retribution.

Even so, has the best means of attaining that justice changed in the minds of society?

2. Has there been significant superhero narratives in comics that have explored these changes of perception?

I know comics like Watchmen, DC's The Dark Knight Returns and Marvel's Kingdom Come have all explored it somewhat, I'm wondering whether there's more literature that can be found in this matter. I know other aspects of justice like social justice have been explored through narratives like X-men. Perhaps there are other aspects of justice explored through superhero narratives?

3. Also, how has the characteristics of superheroes changed throughout the years, in accordance to society's changing views on law enforcement, criminal punishment and vigilantism.

Any input on any of the questions or any other comments that have to do with the subject matter will be greatly appreciated. This is the first time I'm doing a research paper, and I'm working on a pretty limited timeframe. I have slightly less than a month to finish my paper.

Thank you very much!
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PUNKEY
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 Jul, 2010 01:19 pm
Common theme: injustice in the world, suffering people, victimization of the citizenry.

Now comes the hero, usually a common man or woman, who saves the day.

We keep looking for him/her to rescue us.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 Jul, 2010 01:26 pm
@Olejniker,
Olejniker wrote:
For example, throughout history and even now it has always been society's view that justice=retribution.

I've never heard anyone suggest that justice equals retribution. Are you sure you're not confusing "justice" with "punishment?"
Olejniker
 
  1  
Reply Thu 15 Jul, 2010 01:30 pm
@joefromchicago,
It's just an example.

There are many different versions of justice, most law systems employ a system of restorative justice to the victim, that's their 'idea' of justice.

I'm trying to figure obtain a more nuanced analysis on the concept of justice, or any of the 3 other questions posed.
0 Replies
 
SammDickens
 
  1  
Reply Fri 16 Jul, 2010 08:39 pm
@Olejniker,
My wife wrote the following article about true hillbilly justice for you, based upon her family heritage in Pike (and adjacent Hempstead) County, Arkansas, home of former President Bill Clinton, country singer Glenn Campbell, and "the better side" of the family that included old west lawman Wyatt Earp. The hillbilly character has been humorously portrayed in various ways, but the real character of these people is a portrait in simple human decency. Their social values are based in isolated communities where people rely on each other through good times and bad, where the county sheriff is not a phone call away, and where the survival and prosperity of a family depends on both father and mother, even children, to carry heavy responsibilities.

After the article, Becky includes a brief opinion piece about superheroes and how they've changed. Certainly they've gotten more complex since the first days of Superman as a good guy versus bad guys. But she feels they've become unnecessarily dark and ethically equivocal, a point with which I generally agree. Recent Spiderman, Batman, and X-men movies have explored their perilous perch on the precipice of moral integrity. Becky suggests that she "would like to see them square dance a little more", a point you will understand better when you have read her post below. She would like to see better exploration of them as uncommon decent human beings who have the same feelings, needs, and questions as most all of us do.

Let me add that I think you will want to explore superheroes in the context of the culture of the person who developed them as characters and the people who later "redesigned" them to fit into subsequent cultural arenas. Our contributions cannot go there, but can only give you some feel for the culture of our heritage and how it may have contributed to the development of superhero personas in our lifetimes.

melonkali wrote:
Social justice values of two small communities of rural Arkansas hillbillies, Ozark Mt and Ouachita Mt clans, circa1930's-1950's. My parents were born in the mid-1920's; both were first in their families to leave "the hills" for "the city" (during the first years of WWII). They both retained the social values of those Arkansas hills. My brother and I were imprinted with these same values not only from my parents' teachings and behaviors, but also from regular childhood visits to our relatives in Arkansas, and from the storytelling traditions of various relatives.

Some books say that Arkansas rural clans (hillbillies) differ from Appalachian hillbillies largely because of the matriarchal nature of Arkansas clans. I know little about Appalachia and certainly can't speak for all Arkansans, but in the areas where my grandparents lived and where my parents were raised, I can confirm a "very strong female presence". But the phrase "very strong female presence" really seems like an understatement, perhaps akin to describing the late Boris Yeltsin as an occasional social drinker?

I've read one account, written in the 1800's by a Brit traveling through Arkansas, which described Arkansan women as intolerably rough and bellicose. The Brit related, with horrified incredulity, an incident in which his Arkansan host stumbled home from the local tavern, slightly injured from being punched by some bully; the fellow's wife stormed off to the tavern and gave that bully a sound thrashing.

I wonder if you might find it fruitful to investigate general differences, if any, between social justice systems in matriarchal vs. patriarchal groups, bearing in mind that while most groups of my generation appeared patriarchal, the reality of group norms, internally, was often not that simple.

Assuming my family remembrances are representative of the whole, the type of "strong female presence" found in these clans differed significantly from the later feminist movement or recent Great Mother Goddess movement. We shot people-- really. But rarely with the intent to kill (or even seriously harm). Serious shooting was reserved for outside intruders intent on doing harm to members of our family or community, but even in those instances, "shoot to kill" was not an action to be undertaken capriciously, although the decision might have to be made quickly. But you learn that with some of the community's "rowdier" members, birdshot can work moral miracles when applied judiciously to the buttocks. Why bring out heavy artillery when a BB gun will suffice?

A more accurate label (instead of "matriarchal") for our clans' social systems might be "familiarchal". The system wasn't perfect, but it was a natural, workable system in these small, isolated agrarian communities where almost everyone was related to everyone else (and the few non "blood relations" were treated equally as newly grafted branches on the family tree.) What else would a decent person do? Isolate them and let them suffer for lack of community support? This is a community that has survived the Great Depression by pulling together and taking care of each other. Some are more industrious than others perhaps, but all share a deep, familial kind of bond. Those with extra were never reluctant to share with those in need.

I can imagine both my grandmothers as very much like the first moms who founded these little communities, who came as pioneers and settlers to a new land. Our isolated community had begun with about four families. The dads left the house many days at dawn to work the fields, while the moms tended the homestead and raised the children. Siblings sometimes squabbled, but they didn't maim or kill each other, and if an outsider attacked one, he attacked them all. There were no passive bystanders. This is a natural development of being an isolated community relying on its own members for protection and social justice.

Social justice situations arose at the homestead, but moms couldn't always be calling dads from the fields to handle "difficult ones". The dads had plenty enough on their shoulders. If the farm failed, there was no "Plan B" to fall back on. So the moms learned the necessary "traditionally masculine skills" required to handle social justice situations, even those involving intruders, but they used their negative skills judiciously. They didn’t just go around shooting at people, much less trying to kill them, for no good reason! But when faced with no reasonable alternative -- then they were prepared to do what had to be done, without hesitation.

Spousal or child abuse was tolerated less in these communities than in modern ones where law enforcement is alienated from the populace. No-one was so mean or strong as couldn’t be converted to a kinder, better way of life by enough angry relatives and friends. One of my grannies had a sister who was sweet, gentle, as good-hearted as could be, but not strong enough to defend herself. She was loved and cherished by the community, and to borrow a phrase from Mr. T, “God help the fool” who ever tried to harm her.

My other granny had seven brothers -- reportedly she could ride and shoot as well as any of them, perhaps even better. She helped me improve my aim with a rifle, but I never saw her shoot at anyone or any living thing. She did tell me about the "birdshot in the buttocks" incident (her target was a chicken thief who'd already hit a couple of other farms -- they discovered his identity when he went to the local doctor for treatment of his aching behind.) Though good with a gun, this granny loved square dancing more than anything; the man she married, my grampa, was a square dance caller.

The social justice protocols included more positive "social justice" tools than negative ones, with more emphasis on redeeming the miscreant than punishing him, at least whenever I was there. Specifically:
1) A school.
2) A church.
3) Alcohol prohibition laws in the books -- which made little sense to me back then, because everyone knew that some of the men drank. But now I can appreciate never having to deal with groups or gangs of drunks in public. I recall, as a child, a "Eureka" moment when I finally figured out why some of the men went on two-day "fishing trips" but never caught any fish!
4) The (singular) sheriff. The fellow in uniform I met relaxing on my grandma's porch one day, visiting with her and my mother, was a likeable, easygoing fellow, but as a child I wondered why he wasn't out doing "cop" things, chasing down bad guys and stuff. I wondered why people still "took care of" some of their own affairs. In hindsight, of course, I realize that he functioned as a kind of overseer, keeping an eye on "things", available whenever needed, blind and invisible when not.

I hope you were able to glean an idea or two from this rambling post. There might be some information about these kinds of social systems available about Hope, Arkansas (Bill Clinton's birthplace), which was just across the creek from my mother's people. Or information about relatives of Wyatt Earp (also try an Erp spelling), especially look for any from Arkansas.

Good luck with your paper,
rebecca

A Little Ranting About Modern Social Justice

Would it surprise you to learn that coming from this "vigilante" social justice system, I'm a strong advocate of gun control? There are just too many nut-jobs running around in public with guns. I wonder if some of them have ever watched "Real Life on Planet Earth". Just taking a squirrel rifle away from an upset drunk, without his ending up looking like a sieve, or Warren Beatty at the end of Bonnie and Clyde, is not a lot of fun. I can understand why an increasing percentage of law enforcement agents apparently feel like they have no choice but to shoot anything that moves and fill out the forms later. The situation is out of control, and the solution is NOT passing out more guns to more crazies. Which should we (civilized society) be more afraid of? Law enforcement agents or minions of gun-toting lunatics?

And I'm not just talking about street thugs. Those "tough-guy" thespians flashing their shiny leather holsters and "licenses to carry" and "protesting" with big red painted signs saying "I'm certifiable and I demand my constitutional right to bear arms!” …and kill …somebody …anybody …don't really care who …but, I demand my Biblical and Constitutional right to shoot!! What the hell is wrong with these people?! Some (not all) of them look and act like cartoon characters, wanna-be "superheroes" who've watched too many "cop shows". We (decent responsible citizens) really need to take their toys away from them ‘til they grow up.

So-ooo, I guess that last paragraph gave you a clue about the overall attitude we oldsters from my neck of the woods have toward modern superheroes, eh? The "Superman" of the '50's was acceptable -- kids liked the show, anyone over the age of twelve realized that he was a purely fictitious character, for entertainment purposes only. He was portrayed with decent moral and ethical values, and with an "ideal son-in-law" persona. What harm?

But this new superhero breed, what do they represent? The personification of juvenile angst, combined with raging hormones, on amphetamines, packing an Uzi?! Why do they exist? What purpose do they serve? Who gains anything from their psychotic pseudo-existence? Is this nonsense all about making egregious profits from an easy target, a fragile, gullible populace? What will the term "dumber-than-bricks, psychologically-disturbed, marketable demographic" mean in a post-apocalyptic society? Do people really believe some Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner will come along and "save humanity -- civilization -- the world -- the universe -- the multiverse -- infinity and beyond" from the "ultimate embodiment of all evil" which looks kind of like my 5th grade Halloween costume?
roger
 
  1  
Reply Fri 16 Jul, 2010 09:11 pm
@SammDickens,
Expand it into a book and I'll buy it, Rebecca. It'd probably be a lot different than John Grisham's short stories from Jones County, Mississippi.
melonkali
 
  1  
Reply Sat 17 Jul, 2010 05:41 am
@roger,
roger wrote:

Expand it into a book and I'll buy it, Rebecca. It'd probably be a lot different than John Grisham's short stories from Jones County, Mississippi.


Is it even possible to write about the Deep South, especially Mississippi, without those creepy dark undertones? Can you imagine trying to create a Deep South version of "A Prairie Home Companion"? Eeeeyeeeuuuuww.....

Actually, I spent considerably more childhood years in Alabama than in Arkansas ("Oh, no..."), but I refrain from talking much about it ("Whew!") -- might trigger a post traumatic stress disorder attack.

How about this idea for a song:

"Goin' back to Alabam',
Molotov and match in hand,
Whoo Hoo..."

Sorry.

Ugh -- I'm beginning to feel some creepy dark undertones. If I don't sign off now, all life around me might wilt and die.

rebecca



0 Replies
 
Olejniker
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Jul, 2010 09:23 am
On another example, some superheroes are reluctant heroes, such as Spiderman. He doesn't want to be a hero, but feels compelled to do so, because he's been blessed with power, power that can protect society.

So it begs the age-old philosophical question, is it immoral for a man who can make a difference in protecting society, to refuse to do so out of his own self interest?

From a utilitarian perspective, does this age-old, one should sacrifice one's own interest for the betterment of the entire society, does this concept hold true to you?

Do you think that the appeal of these concepts in modern day times may be greater than the past due to the environment of fear and terror we live in now?

If you can do it, you ought to?
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Mon 19 Jul, 2010 09:54 am
Vigilantism is taking the law into one's own hands. Supposedly the law is the creation of the people, or at the very least the people's representatives, duely elected. A superhero in modern society would really only be justified if s/he were working directly with law enforcement, duely appointed by it, and regulated by it. Otherwise s/he could be seen as a despot in the making.
0 Replies
 
melonkali
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Jul, 2010 08:43 am
@Olejniker,
Olejniker wrote:

On another example, some superheroes are reluctant heroes, such as Spiderman. He doesn't want to be a hero, but feels compelled to do so, because he's been blessed with power, power that can protect society.

So it begs the age-old philosophical question, is it immoral for a man who can make a difference in protecting society, to refuse to do so out of his own self interest?

From a utilitarian perspective, does this age-old, one should sacrifice one's own interest for the betterment of the entire society, does this concept hold true to you?

Do you think that the appeal of these concepts in modern day times may be greater than the past due to the environment of fear and terror we live in now?

If you can do it, you ought to?


Good question. I would answer with a question: do you think that the majority of people in this society, in the world, are hopelessly helpless sheep? That only "superheroes" can "save us", though, of course, these superheroes exist rarely, if at all? Or are we simply programmed to think this way, intensified by our increasing sense of isolation and an "every man for himself" mentality -- and a culture focused on fantastic superheroes, with few, if any, "average joe/jill heroes"?

I'm all too well aware of today's pervasive feelings of helplessness and terror, but I wonder if instead of waiting for some deus ex machina superhero (Super Godot), we'd be better served to begin uniting in small groups, guided by the BEST common values we share (vs. mob-psychology's lowest common denominators)? Not necessarily roaming the streets wearing berets and camouflage (which, IMO, equates to having a bulls-eye painted on your back), but simply prepared not to run -- prepared to act rightly in whatever situation one encounters -- whatever the consequences.

How many other people do you think might follow suit if they saw even ONE person acting rightly, courageously? Could it be that most of us are capable of being small ordinary heroes? What's stopping us?

Whooops -- did you notice I just countered my own argument against cultural superheroes? Could these characters be fostering an "inner" hero inside of their audience? Hmmm..... Maybe that would be a good thing if these guys were just a little more creative and humane in their administration of justice. Like MacGyver (and his famous mantra, "Think, MacGyver, think!").

I never had the privilege of meeting a "hero" who was not a "reluctant hero", so I've always assumed it's a package deal. But when the heroics are done, why not go square dancing?!

rebecca
0 Replies
 
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Jul, 2010 09:15 am
@Olejniker,
Olejniker wrote:
I know comics like Watchmen, DC's The Dark Knight Returns and Marvel's Kingdom Come


i'm not sure you know comics, all three titles are from DC

http://gocomics.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/10/07/000watchmen.jpg
http://img228.imageshack.us/img228/8096/batmantdkr0000introductfs2.jpg
http://www.moltenthought.com/images/kingdom%20come%201%20GIF.gif
0 Replies
 
Dave Allen
 
  1  
Reply Tue 20 Jul, 2010 10:06 am
Sandman played a lot with classical concepts of justice and retribution.
0 Replies
 
Sentience
 
  1  
Reply Thu 22 Jul, 2010 11:19 pm
My favorite ethical comic book is Watchmen (as evident in my thread), as it was one of the earlier ones to meld from black and white to gray as our stories and culture evolved. Perhaps it had something to do with coming out of more black and white moral situations such as the Depression, World War Two, and perhaps even the Cold War (debatable.)

I also happen to have it at my desk as I type this.
0 Replies
 
HexHammer
 
  1  
Reply Sat 7 Aug, 2010 06:15 pm
@Olejniker,
Usually in most action hero comics, it's very isolated view on crime, and not looking the greater picture. The general attitude is unforgiven and merciless punishment, it doesn't really solve anything in the long run as new villans will just take over and serve the supervillan.
To solve crime in the long run, they should use more effort in solving the social aspects. go to the root of the problem.

Least here in Denmark we have with great success resocialized criminals with jobs, avoiding a fall back to crimepath.
0 Replies
 
Olejniker
 
  1  
Reply Sun 3 Oct, 2010 12:06 pm
Hi guys, just as an update I got an A for my paper. Many thanks to those who have contributed to this thread, I did get a few ideas of what other areas I could explore and incorporated it in my research. Thank you all once again!
0 Replies
 
 

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