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Fascism Victims

In all this talk about superheroes and fascism, I’m struck by an obvious question I haven’t seen addressed. If we read superhero comics and these comics are so harmful, who has been hurt personally by the ideologies or politics or narratives of superhero comics?

I have a story of my own, but I think I’m in the minority. I think of it as being more about the dangers of interpretation than with any problems in superhero stories anyway, but I want to see if I can get any other responses before Monday, when I’ll have time to write about myself.


  1. parrish baker says:

    maybe we should have an official comics code so that the comics won’t mention, suggest, or advocate ideologies that aren’t pre-approved as non-fascistic. heck, we could get kids across the country to burn superhero comics as politically incorrect.

    we ought to be having hearings in congress about this, by george. or at least at berkeley.


    — 18 June 2004 at 6:55 pm (Permalink)

  2. Rose says:

    Well, Parrish, that definitely wasn’t my point (or yours, I gather) but I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t get any answers! Ok, not really. But there seem to be a lot of ways people feel betrayed by comics or as if creators they trusted have deserted them or that characters they idealize have been stolen from them, and I was hoping someone would own up to it, but I’ll just have to do without.

    I know I’ve used comics in ways that were detrimental. I stayed in a bad relationship for a long, long time and justified it by reading Peter David’s run on The Incredible Hulk and then crying all the time, because I thought it applied. Like the Hulk, he clearly couldn’t see how much he was hurting me, and like the Hulk, he’d been hurt to the point where he couldn’t behave like a normal human, and so I created an elaborate metaphorical (metonymic?) justification to keep suffering. Eventually of course I realized there was a reason that superhero stories don’t get resolved and decided to put an ending on my own storyarc, but I have to some extent left The Hulk behind, even though I retain a certain affection for the character, if not the thoughts he inspired in me. I wouldn’t say I was buying into fascism, though, as much as looking for some sort of meaning and doing a lousy job of creating my own.

    — 22 June 2004 at 10:39 am (Permalink)

  3. Dave Intermittent says:

    Sounds like a lousy time; glad things are better now.

    Even so, though, it sounds like the comics at best exacerbated rather than caused the problem. Maybe I’m splitting hairs. For me, I can’t say that comics, or any art, has ever really hurt me; though I have developed weird emotional reactions to art as a result of other things happening in my life. Songs that seemed appropriate, books that echoed my mood. No one should read Cormac McCarthy while feeling lonely; but the problem wasn’t McCarthy so much as it was the loneliness.

    — 24 June 2004 at 3:28 pm (Permalink)

  4. Rose says:

    I agree entirely, Dave, but I think Tim O’Neil’s argument was that uncritical acceptance of fascist superhero stories would create all sorts of problems for the readers, and this example was the best I could come up with to support that point.

    — 24 June 2004 at 4:02 pm (Permalink)

  5. Jamesmith3 says:

    Rose- first, good luck on the move. Second, Warren Ellis claimed in an interview that his GLOBAL FREQUENCY was a response to someone on his forum. When the WTC and Pentagon were hit, this person had a vague wish that someone, a superhero, could reach out and save those people. Ellis’ reaction was that this was wrong– that it’s our job to save ourselves.

    I’m not willing to say that superheroes cause such thinking, but they certainly encourage it. And this is where the fascistic elements come in, I think. Superheroes are not heroes. That is, they don’t inspire others to selflesness or greatness. In fact, they actively oppose it. Anytime someone gets a bug up their bum to protect Gotham, Batman beats all hell out of them until they prove they’re in his class. Spider-Man has it literally written into his origin: I am more powerful than you, therefore I am responsible for you. The Avengers reflect it in their very name– even more directly in their new incarnation as The Ultimates.

    But that’s not what heroes are for. Historically, heroes have been people who encourage others to help and defend themselves. They’re leaders, yes, but not lone wolves. And I agree that it’s fine for children to read these things, despite this possible interpretation. Regardless of my reservations regarding cops, I would still tell any child to trust the police and seek their aid when in trouble. If this is contradictory, then that just shows up the limitations in reading superhero comics as any sort of moral instruction: life is more complicated than they can realistically account for.

    But that’s fine. Limitations are what make a genre, and I don’t think superhero stories are inherently bad because they can’t encompass the whole of human experience.

    — 25 June 2004 at 12:41 am (Permalink)

  6. Dave Intermittent says:


    Are you saying that the fascist themes in the Hulk were to blame, or that reading non-fascist (but still unhealthy) themes from the Hulk onto your life was the problem? I thought it was the latter, in which case Tim might (might) have a point about comics being unhealthy but, it wouldn’t really support his larger point about the dangers of fascist heroes.

    Anyway, off to the beach I go.

    — 25 June 2004 at 6:58 pm (Permalink)

  7. Rose says:

    Getting to Dave first, although he may still be at the beach, I still don’t think superhero comics are any more fascist than anything else, but I’m not sure whether it really matters. I don’t think it was because of the overwhelming power of any superhero tropes that I hung onto an idiosyncratic reading of The Incredible Hulk to support my own negative choices, and I blame neither Peter David nor any fictional characters. I’m just not sure to what extent O’Neil and others can come up with even tenuous connections like the one I made to support the argument that superhero comics promote unhealthy thinking.

    I tend to think, as you seem to in talking about when to avoid depressing literature, that unhealthy thinking promotes unhealthy thinking, and that if you’re in an unhealthy state and do an unhealthy reading of any piece of art, you may not come up with a positive interpretation. That was really all I was saying, that even when I was able to give a pretty negative reading to a superhero story (and boy can I come up with negative readings for stories I don’t like) I don’t think those stories themselves hurt me or caused me to be a less healthy person.

    — 28 June 2004 at 2:27 pm (Permalink)

  8. Rose says:

    James, I think you raise some interesting points, maybe the core of which is a difference between what superheroes do within a story versus what they “do” to readers of that story. Even if superheroes don’t always encourage characters they meet, that doesn’t seem to me to mean they would not inspire readers (though perhaps they don’t) to a sort of greatness characters can’t achieve.

    Relatedly, I wonder whether the WEF poster actually agreed with Ellis. Wishing there were a superhero to save the day is a secular version of asking why God lets bad things happen to good people, just a way of saying that certain things are lousy and it would be better if they were good, but that envisioned good seems unreachable. I’m not sure the poster thought that we couldn’t actually save ourselves as much as that salvation doesn’t always seem possible.

    I think the basic problem I have with all this wrangling over the propriety and intellectual import of superhero comics is that life is more complicated than anything can account for, as far as I can tell, so it’s not as if this is some unique problem. That doesn’t mean I think any of this is not worth talking about, only that I’m not sure all the terms in use are actually useful.

    Anyway, you’re both saying better things than I find myself able to address right now, so I may come back to this later if I can sort things out.

    — 28 June 2004 at 4:53 pm (Permalink)