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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Superhero Comics as Moral Pornography

By David Pizarro and Roy Baumeister
Superhero Comics as Moral Pornography.
In R. Rosenberg (Ed.) Our Superheroes, Ourselves. Oxford University Press.

Here is an excerpt:

Modern superhero comics (and the films they’ve inspired) are moral tales on steroids.  While they present variations on the theme of good versus evil, these stories describe individuals who commit moral deeds of global (and often cosmic) significance on a weekly basis. In this chapter we will argue that superhero comics, like other moralistic tales, are popular in part because they satisfy a basic human motivation: the motivation to divide the social world into good people and bad, and to morally praise and condemn them accordingly. In their modern superhero comic incarnation, however, these tales depict an exaggerated morality that has been stripped of its real-world subtlety. In tales of superhero versus supervillain, moral good and moral bad are always the actions of easily identifiable moral agents with unambiguous intentions and actions. And it is these very qualities that make these stories so enjoyable. Much like the appeal of the exaggerated, caricatured sexuality found in pornography, superhero comics offer the appeal of an exaggerated and caricatured morality that satisfies the natural human inclination toward moralization. In short, the modern superhero comic is a form of “moral pornography”— built to satisfy our moralistic urges, but ultimately unrealistic and, in the end, potentially misleading.

The entire chapter is here.

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