Turning ideological history into personal history through Superheros

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 by gjm102


In Jill Lepore’s history of an idea, a symbol becomes the bridge between the politics of feminism and the personal connection to its present form.

The history of Wonder Woman is not only unavoidably tied to the feminism of the 20th century, but illustrates the approximate two decade gap between feminist politics of the 1940s and their revival in the 1960s. In reconstructing Wonder Woman’s history through the lens of her creator’s involvement with both major figures of 20th century feminism and the development of his own ideas of feminism, however, Lepore not only describes a personal narrative of 20th century feminism (of her creator, William Marston), but connects this history through the familiar cultural icon of Wonder Woman in order to insert this history of feminism into the personal histories of individuals today.


If Lepore’s narrative history is seen as an attempt to bridge the history of feminism with the current state of feminist politics, I, at least, can appreciate the value of a symbol (i.e. Wonder Woman) to give the history of an abstract movement a face, a personal aspect that is relatable to an individual’s history, rather than the history of something else which he only conceptualizes, rather than experiences.


From this use of symbolic characters as gateways to the history of abstract ideas, however, I would like to link Lepore’s exploration of feminism through the history of one super hero character, to the way that other super hero characters have been used to understand today’s place in the context of other ideas’ historties.


The case I am most familiar with is the characterization of Superman to understand the ways in which American culture reimagines religion in relation to America’s national identity religion through the culture’s own images, settings, and rhetoric. The reliance upon  a Christological interpretation of Superman’s charactereven lies at the core of Superman v. Batman which Lepore references for its promotion of Wonder Woman on the silver screen. (I haven’t even seen the movie but  this particular review has me utterly convinced that the philosophical struggle at the core of Batman v. Superman is the Euthyphro Dilemma).


To a lesser extent, I’m familiar with the use of films such as 300 (based upon Frank Miller’s graphic novels of the same name) and perhaps even The Dark Knight, to understand the Iraq War in terms of personal narratives. By recasting an ideological struggle as a struggle between individual characters, the individual can project himself into a world in which human characters (albeit, not necessarily complexly enough) and thus find his own position in the history of that ideological tension.


One comment on “Turning ideological history into personal history through Superheros

  1. paulmpb82 says:

    This is an excellent example of drilling down, starting with the Lepore text, and then systematically working your way down to various related items. Your post actually functions like the mapping out of your own ideas, as a response to the original reading response post. What interests me most here is the way your ideas develop and spread organically. Your post is an excellent starting point for a future project – a podcast, a video piece, or even a longer essay that critically and creatively explores the items that you have introduced here.


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