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The Myth of the American Superhero

Hardback|Jun 2002
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$45.99

From the Superman of comic books to Hollywood's big screen action stars, Americans have long enjoyed a love affair with the "superhero." In this engaging volume, Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence explore the psychological and spiritual roots of the...


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From the Superman of comic books to Hollywood's big screen action stars, Americans have long enjoyed a love affair with the "superhero." In this engaging volume, Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence explore the psychological and spiritual roots of the superhero myth and its deleterious effect on America's democratic vision. Arguing that the superhero is simply a distinctive form of the classical "monomyth" described by Joseph Campbell, the authors show that the American version of the monomyth derives from tales of redemption. It secularizes the Judeo-Christian drama, combining elements of the selfless servant with the lone, zealous crusader who destroys evil. Thus the supersaviors of pop culture are replacements for the Christ figure, whose credibility has been eroded by scientific rationalism. Drawing widely from books, film, and television, the authors trace the development of the American superhero during the twentieth century and expose the mythic patterns behind the most successful elements of pop culture. Challenging readers to reconsider the relationship of this myth to traditional religious and social values, the authors show how, ultimately, these fantastic narratives both gain the spiritual loyalties of their audiences and, in the process, denigrate America's democratic institutions and ethos.
-Publisher

From the Superman of comic books to Hollywood's big-screen action stars, Americans have long enjoyed a love affair with the superhero. In this engaging volume John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett explore the historical and spiritual roots of the superhero myth and its deleterious effect on Americas democratic vision.Arguing that the superhero is the antidemocratic counterpart of the classical monomyth described by Joseph Campbell, the authors show that the American version of the monomyth derives from tales of redemption. In settings where institutions and elected leaders always fail, the American monomyth offers heroes who combine elements of the selfless servant with the lone, zealous crusader who destroys evil. Taking the law into their own hands, these unelected figures assume total power to rid the community of its enemies, thus comprising a distinctively American form of pop fascism.Drawing widely from books, films, TV programs, video games, and places of superhero worship on the World Wide Web, the authors trace the development of the American superhero during the twentieth century and expose the mythic patterns behind the most successful elements of pop culture. Lawrence and Jewett challenge readers to reconsider the relationship of this myth to traditional religious and social values, and they show how, ultimately, these antidemocratic narratives gain the spiritual loyalties of their audiences, in the process inviting them to join in crusades against evil.Finally, the authors pose this provocative question: Can we take a holiday from democracy in our lives of fantasy and entertainment while preserving our commitment to democratic institutions and waysof life?
-Publisher

PRODUCT DETAIL

John Shelton Lawrence

Lawrence is professor emeritus of philosophy at Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa. He is a writer, consultant, and Senior Coonservation Fellow at the Sierra Club in San Francisco.

Robert Jewett

Robert Jewett is Visiting Professor of New Testament at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

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