A year ago Richard Cooper wrote a piece for Salon decrying superheroes as a bunch of fascists. What triggered him in this instance was The Dark Knight Rises, and the similarities he saw between Bane’s revolutionary movement and Occupy Wall Street.
“Where are the left-wing superheroes?” he asked, “Maybe one day we will see a superhero movie championing something other than fascist or hypercapitalist values: a superhero movie in which it isn’t physical superiority that saves the day.”
|Every other left-wing revolution has been like this, why would OWS be any different?|
One can’t blame an east-coast, rumpled-shirt Liberal type for not understanding the finer points of right-wing politics. To them there are the anarcho-socialist good guys and everyone else, who is fascist. Cooper is mostly correct though—the superhero is a reactionary archetype and always has been.
Sound like I’m reaching? I’m not. The connection isn’t obvious when dealing with modern American heroes, but much clearer when one investigates the history of the genre and realizes that the first superheroes were aristocrats.
|How secure in your masculinity do you have to be to use a flower as your hero name?|
The mask of the idiot is ideal cover from which to deliver indictments of French Republicanism such as this:
|For the people but not of the people.|
Later, when the superhero moved to comic books, there was a tendency to alter the particulars of the stories to make them more agreeable (and comprehensible) to an egalitarian audience. The heroes of the comic book universe also have secret identities and live separately from the public, but their superiority is no longer spiritual but material, bestowed upon them by some scientific accident or by virtue of being born on another planet.
These stories make much less sense.
Superman, for example, retains all of these aspects of the pattern established by Pimpernel, even when they are of dubious utility to the story. Does the Man of Steel really need an alter-ego? Does the alter-ego need to be clumsy and stupid? For that matter why does he need a job? Can’t he ﬁght crime under the name “Jorel,”or even as “Clark?” And if he were so alienated from society that he felt like he needed to disguise himself, why would he chose to ﬁght for the “American way?” I can think of many other ways that would be better suited to the son of Krypton. Sooner or later he’s going to start asking why a person of his ability has to accept the same lot as every other workaday jerk.
The character doesn’t make sense because it’s a clumsy adaptation. It’s as simple as that.
The first superhero stories, published over a century after the Reign of Terror, address the same issue the anciens régimes were facing when they found themselves fighting for their survival against the French Republic: How does an individual of noble character survive modernity? What place is there for an aristocrat in a world of mass-politics that values quantity over quality, where a revolutionary rabble can murder its own monarch and where the finest militaries can be overwhelmed by hordes of poorly-trained conscripts?
How does one Ride the Tiger, as it were?
One answer appears to be that one must to withdraw from society and live in secret—partly to preserve one’s own identity, and partly for physical protection against the egalitarian hordes who consider the existence of superior men as an affront to progress.
Which is why there can never be such a thing as a left-wing superhero. The principles are diametrically opposed. It is the principle of quality vs. the principle of quantity. A hero can ﬁght for the rights of ordinary people (as Zorro and other similar heroes certainly do), but he can never be an ordinary individual himself.
It should come as no surprise, then, that this kind of ﬁction should be most popular in the United States. It’s a truism that people only fantasize about they things they don’t have, and Americans make a career out of debasing their real-life heroes.
|The British haven’t torn down this fascist relic yet but I suppose it’s only a matter of time.|
This is impossible for Westerners today. Elevating anyone in such a manner would be a tacit admission that they themselves were not practically perfect in every way. And that is more than the fragile modern self-esteem can bear.