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The Myth of the American Superhero Hardcover – June, 2002

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

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?

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Robert Jewett is Visiting Professor of New Testament at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802849113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802849113
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The authors do a very good job of establishing a basic pattern for mythic storytelling in modern America. The pattern they establish of a heroic redeemer who enters an edenic community beset by evil and conquers by his superhuman powers before departing is a helpful matrix for thinking about many American cultural myths. The problem is that the authors ignore a great many of these myths in order to explore the more dubious aspects of their theory such as freudian sexual theory in Disney cartoons. (There is no deep sexual meaning to Donald Duck getting his rear-end stuck in a fish bowl. It's just written for laughs.) It is also a problem that mythic characters like Superman and his ilk are largely ignored in this work despite their prominent place on the cover. Furthermore non-iconic characters and films such as the Death Wish trilogy are elevated to great prominence despite the fact that they are not culturally pervasive enough to be classified as true myths.

I highly recommend the first two or three chapters, but not a lot else. Check it out from your library rather than buying it if you can.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Myth of the American Superhero" by John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett is an ambitious if somehwat turgid history of American pop culture's celebration of the superhero. The authors assess the societal implications of exposure to repetitive presentations of anti-democratic pop heroes and heroines, demonstrating how American life has come to imitate art on numerous occassions. Packed with engaging content and providing numerous insights, this interesting book highlights the often detrimental role that entertainment media plays in shaping public opinion and challenges us to demand entertainments that might help to bring us together rather than drive us apart.

Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Jewett contend that America's unique conception of the hero is rooted in Columbus' discovery of Eden and the belief that Westerners must rescue the continent for the sake of progress and destiny. The authors discuss how the mythical template of a lonely and sexless but heroic individual who selflessly rescues terrorized communities was developed, tracing themes of oppression and heroic liberation back to the Indian captivity narratives of the 1600s, the Western-themed dime novels of the 1860s, the superhero comics of the 1930s, and many movies beginning with "The Birth of a Nation" of 1915 to today. The authors recount the Wild West shows of "Buffalo Bill" Cody and the Swiss character "Heidi" to explain how heroic characterizations became defined along gender lines.

Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Jewett describe how male redemptive powers have steadily grown from the small-town heroics of John Wayne to the interplanetary adventures of Luke Skywalker.
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Format: Hardcover
An extremely revealing guide to an essential "great myth" of America, one that drives much of our politics and even religion, no less than film and novel plots. Not necessarily a healthy myth, but rather one more and more irrelevant to a culture that no longer lives on a "frontier" but in an enormously interactive megaculture whose borders are no more substantial than electronic. Hundreds of examples make the arguments unavoidable.
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