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Heroism is fascist!

Tim O’Neil has returned to tell us (again) why superheroes can’t be taken seriously:

In a lot of ways, this hearkens back to the “literature of ethics” conversation of a few months back. As we discussed then, the “literature of ethics” concept was good except for one teeny-tiny fact: there is no examination of ethical dilemma in 99.9% of all superhero books. Black and white, good and evil, are pretty much accepted as is, and any shades of grey are presented as mere obstacles to be overcome. So, when you pick up The Avengers or Superman, the unspoken assumption is that the powerful superbeings whose adventures take place therein are morally infallible creatures whose strange abilities give them the obligation to combat “evil” outside of the traditional constraints of our legal system… Which is why I just don’t think an intelligent, grown adult can seriously accept most superhero books on face value…

Ignoring the unsupported blanket statement1, the problem with Tim’s argument is that phrase, “at face value.” As David Fiore pointed out, “what intelligent adult accepts anything they read at face value?”

But the really weird thing about Tim’s argument is that it implies that it’s good for children to read pro-fascist literature and take it seriously. What?

1 The only reasonable answer to the claim that an arbitrarily large percentage of items in a certain category suck is to cite Sturgeon’s Law. “99.9% of X sucks” and “99.9% of everything sucks” are both cop-out statements, because they seek to avoid addressing specific problems by throwing generalizations at them and hoping they go away. They deserve each other. The bulk of Tim’s argument is based on such a cop-out generalization, so it’s hard to take too seriously. His real point seems to be that he prefers to read superhero comics in a childlike (uncritica)l manner rather than an adult (critical) manner, and his elaborate justifications merely obfuscate this.


  1. Rose says:

    The weirdest thing to me is that if you read this argument in conjunction with O’Neil’s thoughts on blog discussion of The Filth, he seems to be saying that people who are upset or put off by superficial elements of The Filth are uptight and missing the point, whereas people who are upset or put off by superficial elements of superhero stories are intelligent crusaders against fascism. Hmm.

    I assume his rejoinder would be that the flaws he finds in superheroes are not in fact superficial at all but are endemic to the whole genre, but that brings us back to the problems with both unsupported generalizations and the relation between “face value” and “the point.”

    — 17 June 2004 at 5:13 pm (Permalink)

  2. Shane says:

    Can’t you read it in an uncritical manner as well as a critical manner? After all they are two very different types of reading. You can even look at childrens literature and take it as it is or read further into it and find something worth talking about. I can’t think of any work in any medium where you CAN’T do this.

    — 17 June 2004 at 6:23 pm (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:

    Exactly, Shane. All texts can be read on multiple levels.

    — 17 June 2004 at 7:27 pm (Permalink)

  4. Steven says:

    Sorry, that last comment is me, not Rose.

    — 17 June 2004 at 7:30 pm (Permalink)

  5. Shane says:

    Wow thats weird. You sounded exactly like Rose. :)

    — 18 June 2004 at 1:28 pm (Permalink)

  6. Rose says:

    He sounds like me because he’s right, Shane! Since I have a particular interest in children’s literature and now even non-book texts like movies, tv, popular magazines for teens, I’d definitely agree that they’re fascinating texts. You know, comics are too!

    — 18 June 2004 at 1:40 pm (Permalink)

  7. parrish baker says:

    fascism is such an easy word to throw around these days. only an academic would argue that superman was a fascist, while defending the fascist leadership of Dismal Hole X because they are *weaker* than (and morally superior to) say, oh, us.

    superman is a made-up character who fights evil beings that equally don’t exist. i’m *much* more worried about him shilling for american express with jerry seinfeld. what the hell’s up with that?

    — 18 June 2004 at 3:48 pm (Permalink)

  8. Rose says:

    Are you implying Superman’s participation in this ad campaign calls into question the existence of American Express?

    Seriously, though, that’s a good question, and an interesting one. How damaging is it to fans to see their favorite fictional characters shilling products? And how damaging or profitable is it to the trademarks/characters themselves? And is DC really phasing out Superman underwear for women, or is Target just selling off its holdings?

    — 18 June 2004 at 5:30 pm (Permalink)

  9. J.W. Hastings says:

    I liked the Superman AmEx ad a lot better than any Superman comic book I’ve read in the last few years.

    — 18 June 2004 at 5:45 pm (Permalink)

  10. Marc says:


    While you’re busy telling us what those politically correct academics would say about this insipid argument, you might consider one liberal academic’s criticism of the Tim O’Neil piece.

    Or just consider that you’re commenting on a thread started by two more academics.

    — 19 June 2004 at 4:08 pm (Permalink)

  11. Marc says:

    Also, having read O’Neil’s follow-up, I think it’s safe to say that he’s probably not an academic.

    — 19 June 2004 at 4:10 pm (Permalink)