More Power, More Responsibility
(Soundtrack: Live —The Distance To Here)
Okay. Here’s why the “superheroes are fascist” argument is ludicrous:
1. the genre is uniquely American
2. As Louis B. Hartz has demonstrated, quite convincingly I think, American culture was “born liberal”…
3. Fascism cannot take root in a culture that has never embraced the concept of hierarchy… In North America, the only example of this type of society is my own home province–which still has metro stations named after Nazi-boostin’ cleric Lionel-Groulx and Ultramontane pro-slavery pontiff extraordinaire Pius IX…
This is why the shrillest complaints about the authoritarian implications of superpowers have tended to be voiced by Europeans. As Milo George points out:
All this [talk about Fascist superheroes] may sound silly to us, but that’s mostly because the only Fascist dictators we’ve ever personally encountered were our parents when we reached our teens and maybe some really really strict teachers in high school.
So much for that.
However, this is not to say hyper-individualistic societies don’t have problems of their own, or that superhero comics can’t help us to think about them!
Take a look at this passage, by Stanley Elkins, one of the most important American historians of the twentieth-century:
…Transcendentalism was quite unable to “transcend” its culture and its age at all: far from revolting against the age, Transcendentalism embodied, in aggravated form certain of its most remarkable features–its anti-institutionalism, its individual perfectionism, its abstraction, and its guilt and reforming zeal. Moreover, the intellectual features of the reform movement most relevant to this inquiry–abolitionism–very strikingly duplicated those very features just enumerated, particularly guilt and its counterpart, moral aggression.
Sound like any characters we know? Elkins’ betes noires are “intellectuals without responsibility”–maverick moralists like Garrison, Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Theodore Parker, etc. who refused to moderate their rhetoric or work to find institutional solutions to the problems of the Antebellum period. Basically, he blames these folks for the Civil War. Personally, I don’t think the conflict could have been avoided, but more about that later… For now, I just wanted to point out that Spider-Man, Animal Man, and, perhaps most importantly, Gruenwald’s Captain America, are perfect examples of this American type–for whom “great power” brings a “great responsibility” to act out upon their convictions which, from a certain point of view, can actually seem irresponsible!
I’m not a fan of Elkins–and, since I’m a supporter of PETA, I’m sure you can guess which side of this argument I fall on!–but he must be dealt with. We can just forget about the fascism stuff though–it’s a “red harangue”…
Alas, I must be off to work!
Good Afternoon Friends!