Holding Out for a Hero

Holding Out for a Hero - Holding Out for a Hero: Reaganism,...

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Unformatted text preview: Holding Out for a Hero: Reaganism, Comic Book Vigilantes, and Captain America M I K E S . D U B O S E The world about us has changed and is continuously changing at an ever-accelerating pace. So have we. With the increase in media cov- erage and information technology, we see more of the world, com- prehend its workings a little more clearly, and as a result, our perception of ourselves and the society surrounding us has been modified. Consequently, we begin to make different demands upon the art and culture that is meant to reflect the constantly shifting landscape we find ourselves in. We demand new themes, new in- sights, new dramatic situations. We demand new heroes. Alan Moore, The Mark of the Batman Hes gotta be sure And its gotta be soon And hes gotta be larger than life Jim Steinman, Holding Out for a Hero H EROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT IN AMERICAN SOCIETY, BUT they were particularly vital in the eighties. In the previous decade, America had been victimized both abroad (the 444- day kidnapping of American embassy employees in Iran) and at home (with double-digit inflation and an oil shortage), and the country suffered from the resulting low self-esteem. Ronald Reagan ran his 1980 presidential campaign on the assumption that the worst thing wrong with the country was that America was losing faith in itself (Reagan 205), and that the people needed new faith, a renewed sense of purpose, a hero to make them believe in themselves again. Reagan The Journal of Popular Culture , Vol. 40, No. 6, 2007 r 2007, Copyright the Authors Journal compilation r 2007, Blackwell Publishing, Inc. 915 believed he could be that hero, and the majority of voters, in electing him, agreed. But as the decade rolled on and cracks in Reagans hero facade gradually appeared (record deficits and the Iran Contra affair, among other things), the true nature of this new American hero be- came increasingly questionable. Perhaps more importantly, however, many Americans (as evident in some elements of the popular culture) began to wonder if such things as heroes could even exist in the eighties. This article, then, will analyze superheroes in eighties comic books to find out how heroship in popular culture actually worked. Specifi- cally, I will look at three things. First, I will examine how the 1980s particular intersections between morality, politics, and conceptions of justice and order necessitate more specific definitions and labels for those who try to be heroes, whether within or outside the law in light of Reagan and Reaganism. Secondly, I will analyze Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moores Watchmen (1988) to demonstrate two separate ways in which comic books in the eighties portrayed vigilantes, mainly based on the characters relationship to the status quo. Finally, I will look at the Reagan-era portrayal of the World War II superhero, Captain America, to show how past norms of herodom reacted with the political climate of Reaganism, and to show...
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Holding Out for a Hero - Holding Out for a Hero: Reaganism,...

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