A semiotic and cultural anthropological interrogation of popular North American superhero narratives, such as those of Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman, provides insight into how media’s messages influence the culture’s ethical values. Since emerging in the late 1930s, the superhero has become a pervasive figure in North American popular culture. As an extension of ideas presented by Friedrich Nietzsche, Joseph Campbell, and Umberto Eco, this dissertation argues that superhero tales must be regarded as modern mythology. It follows that people observe and learn social norms of justice from such narratives, since these ideals are intrinsic to the tales. In investigating the superhero’s role as a contemporary figure of myth, this project focuses primarily on three areas: an account of the history of the superhero from 1938 to present; an examination of the cultural functions of contemporary superhero narratives; and, an interrogation of vigilantism, responsibility, and justice in these narratives and how those concerns further relate to ideologies and practices in North American culture.
David Reynolds studied at Memorial University, where he completed his BA in Philosophy and English Language and Literature in 2006 in addition to completing his MPhil in Humanities in 2008. His graduate research focused on the cultural significance of superhero narratives and culminated in his dissertation Superheroes: An Analysis of Popular Culture’s Modern Myths. Presently, Dave enjoys teaching English at Memorial University and plans to research how BioWare’s videogames (such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age) are a significant part of Canadian literature and culture. His other research interests include moral philosophy, justice, philosophy of literature, semiotics, rhetorical persuasion, and various forms of popular culture.
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