American National Identity Through The Lens of the Superhero and the Supervillain in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
American national identity has received much attention from multidisciplinary fields of research. Thus, this research deals with American national identity through heroes and villains in the American film industry—specifically in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). It investigates the nexus between the binary opposition of the superhero (Captain America) and the supervillain (the Red Skull) in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), cultural trauma, and the American national identity after the September 11 terrorist attacks. A deep analysis of the characters’ symbolic meanings in relation to their historical context would articulate their role in rebuilding faith and trust in America’s ability to fight its enemies and empower the national sentiments through captain America. Using a qualitative research method is necessary to analyze the heroes and the villains’ archetypes in the movie.
The key theories on which this research is based are Claude Levi-Strauss’s Binary Opposition theory, Joseph Campbell’s Hero Archetypes, Jeffrey Alexander’s ideas of cultural traumas and collective identity, and Michael C. Frank’s Cultural Imaginary of Terrorism in the post-9/11 context. Thematic analysis is conducted, which involves decoding the main characters by examining their binary opposition and their representation of the US national identity and its foreign enemies, as well as decoding the meanings of key events within the movies to their social and historical contexts and their connotations within a post 9/11 context. The findings of this research suggest a link between the binary opposition of cinematic heroes and villains and their symbolic meaning in a post-9/11 context through Frank’s concept of the cultural imaginary of terrorism. It should contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between popular culture, identity, and geopolitics.
Daniel Trottier & Sarah Young
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The Superhero and the Digital Vigilante.
The superhero is a popular trope in pop culture used to entertain audiences about how altruistic (although possibly reluctant) actors can wield unworldly powers to save humanity. The title of the “superhero” isn’t limited to the milieu of pop culture, however, and the label is often imposed onto real-life actors who commit heroic acts. One particular group of actors that often self-nominate themselves (or at least imitate pop culture) are what the public might consider vigilantes, or groups of individuals who take it upon themselves to carry out the law. While many times these vigilantes do reflect similar values of what might be considered the superhero like they are righteous, just, and preservers of society (Romagnoli & Pagnucci, 2013), the vigilante-as-superhero moniker is problematic, to include when the acts can be considered forms of digital vigilantism, or vigilantism carried out in digital means (Trottier, Gabdulhakov, & Huang, 2020). Looking at examples of digital vigilantes who have also been called real life superheroes (Real Life Super Hero Project, 2021), this presentation will explore questions of, what is “superhero-ish” about the examples, and what does this tell us about both superheroes and digital vigilantes? We ultimately conclude that collapsing the two concepts is problematic for both directions and really asks if even our own superheroes would be problematic if they existed in real life.
Super White Lies: Power, Privilege, Post-Truth and (Caucasian) Heroism Onscreen.
“It's a terrible privilege…” is a painful yet truthful statement uttered by the wealthy Tony Stark to his fellow Avengers on the joys and pitfalls of being a superhero, and this certainly speaks to the most dominant kinds of onscreen heroism we have seen over the past 20 years: all of which share similar traits of being white, male and cis-normative (e.g. Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, The Incredible Hulk, Winter Soldier, Spider-Man, Antman in the MCU; Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash in the DCEU). This paper explores what onscreen Caucasian heroism can now offer to the genre today (and in the decades ahead). In his seminal work White, Richard Dyer is well known for arguing that whiteness and white culture are seemingly invisible, unremarkable and ubiquitous, yet a ‘standard’ to aspire towards, being the normalised template and neutral blank canvas on which all ‘difference’ and ‘otherness’ is painted. In the last half decade there has indeed been increasingly more diversity in the representations of onscreen heroism: of white women [e.g. Wonder Woman (2017), Captain Marvel (2019), Black Widow (2021)], men and women of colour [e.g. Black Panther (2017); Luke Cage (2016); Black Lightning (2017); Falcon, War Machine (Avengers), Cyborg (Justice League), Monica Rambeau/Photon (in WandaVision), Sister Night (in HBO’s Watchmen), and Ms. Marvel (in Captain Marvel, 2022)], and LGBTQ+ portrayals [e.g. Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and the gender fluidity of The Eternals (2021)].
However, the dominance of white culture still persists in defining exactly how ‘truth’ is explored in terms of the power and privilege that comes with super-heroism. Earlier this year, in the Disney+ show Falcon and The Winter Solider, the controversial social media debate surrounding John Walker’s irresponsible incarnation of Captain America (who jealously seeks out the super-soldier serum for personal vendettas) is a stark contrast to the idealised mantle held by Steve Rodgers. Walker’s approach to what heroism ‘truly stands for’ brings into play these very difficult kinds of question surrounding white privilege and power in a post-truth age, both on and offscreen. As Plato declared, “Only those who do not seek power are qualified to hold it”, and so ethical tensions inevitably occur when this truism is applied to other onscreen white superheroes and their own inherited types of empowerment (e.g. Bruce Wayne’s wealth; Clark Kent, Arthur Curry or Thor’s birth right; or even Peter Parker and Bruce Banner’s ‘having the right social contacts to be in the right laboratories, at the right time, so resulting in getting the right kinds of genetic enhancement’). How then, do these powerful and privileged figures responsibly respond to the expectations of inclusivity and diversity currently taking place in superhero film and TV? How can Caucasian Heroism allow us to better understand inherent inequities of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class and social mobility in this Progressive Age of the genre?
Alex Van Ommen
Captain America as a Vessel for American Cultural Yearning.
Captain America has always been a potent vessel of morality in Marvel Comics’ pantheon of heroes. As Captain America, Steve Rogers embodied the best that America could strive for. First appearing in December 1941, he punched Hitler in the jaw a year before the US entered World War II. In 1974, Rogers underscored the link between Captain America and a lofty set of ideals rather than an institution as he questioned the legitimacy of an evil and corrupt Presidency. The 2021 series Falcon and Winter Soldier presents a world where Rogers is no longer present, and there is nobody to wield the red, white and blue shield. His long-time friends and partners explore what he and Captain America stood for, tackling contemporary discussions of race, confronting historical narratives, and struggling to place America into a complex, global world where there isn’t necessarily one set of ideals or even one dominant culture. This new adaptation sees a Black man pick up the shield, an action that is at once impossible and perfect, subversive and rebellious while fulfilling the destiny of a symbol which continues to grow with and reflect America. Captain America is a symbol perpetually out of context, an ideal which contrasts sharply with a reality that prefers pragmatism and compliance to struggle and ambition for something greater. By investigating historical and current examples where Captain America presents a virtuous moral counterpoint to contemporary events, this research hopes to broaden an understanding of the ideological struggle central to the character.
Do You Wish to Save or Delete Your Progress? Representations of DC Comic Book Women in Contemporary Video Games.
In August, 2020, The Guardian newspaper ran the headline “Games firm Rocksteady accused of inaction over staff harassment.” In the article, one anonymous staff source offered that this same “dismissive attitude towards women had in the past carried over into the company’s output.” As a subsidiary to Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Rocksteady Studios is best known for its work in the Bafta award winning Batman: Arkham series. This is a franchise where senior character artist for Arkham City, Pablo Hoyos, stated their brief was simple: “Ugly men and beautiful girls”. But going further, we also see the same tired tropes of exploitation; where the game designs are innovative, representations of women fall back on comic and game industry stereotypes. Meanwhile, in the Injustice series of games developed by another Warner subsidiary, NetherRealm Studios, one may see in a genre traditionally reserved for story-deficient ultra-violence echoes of female cooperation as seen in the Gotham City Sirens comics or empowerment in a storyline for Harley Quinn, leading her to become a member of the Justice League.
I propose a paper that surveys these contemporary cases of DC Comics women that have been adapted into video games. I will compare the content of the games within industrial frameworks and against cultural boundaries, and would also consider how these texts then feed back into comic books and other convergent media products. I will end the paper by examining the current games that are in development, seeing how – if at all – the Warner companies have reacted to their 2020 headlines and promises of change.