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article imageOp-Ed: Amazon Down — Another failed attempt at a Wonder Woman TV show

By Julian Chambliss     Jan 15, 2014 in Entertainment
Despite being linked to escapism, the struggle to adapt comic book characters to other media highlight broader social, political, and economic issues.
With news of another failed attempt to bring Wonder Woman to the small screen, it is worthwhile to step back and consider cultural tensions linked to superheroes.
While the political debate rarely spills directly onto the comic page, the feel of the sociopolitical environment does, and often with startling results. Whether pro-war sentiment associated with Captain America’s first appearance punching Adolf Hitler or a flurry of President Obama appearances, comics are not divorced from the cultural climate.
Instead, superhero comics can contextualize values, beliefs, and concerns associated with contemporary society. Thus, feminist critiques elicit change in the status and action of female characters and concern about racial equity trigger the introduction of diverse characters. While we can argue about the quality of these changes, the fact of these shifts is inescapable. Indeed, in an era of excess rhetoric, the historical and cultural consistency in the superhero genre offers much to the careful observer. Uniquely linked to the United States’ social, political, and economic circumstances, superhero comics offer a continuously updated narrative of the U.S. experience shaping and being shaped by Americans’ view of themselves and the world.
Since the September 11th terror attacks both major superhero comic publishers (Marvel Comics and DC Comics) have provided stories that heighten the drama and put the spotlight on established characters. In a post-Cold War global community facing terrorist threats, heroism and villainy have added meaning, forcing superhero comics to re-focus their attention on definition of heroism.
Incorporating the morally challenging circumstances of a “war on terror” and asking what heroes represent, comic properties have focused attention on community protection, individual agency, and ethical ambiguity. In print, superheroes are not just physically challenged; their code is suspect and their actions under scrutiny. The heroes answer this challenge by continuing to be the icons fans want, despite a shifting landscape.
Saddled with accusations of “regressive storytelling,” debates around adapting superhero to big and small screen simply serve to highlight wider social debates. Historically, superheroes were created in a time of unequal social expectations. While these characters signify national pride, moral certainty, and social stability linked to the United States’ rise to global prominence in the late 1930s, they also carry some of the cultural baggage associated with that period.
Comic books are cultural artifacts from a period before Americans confronted the problems of access and equity that challenged the status quo of white male control. Thus, superheroes from 1930s and 1940s have an appeal rooted in societal aspirations that are pro-social and universal, yet assume male guidance and agency. Bringing these characters to a mass audience today, media companies wish to capitalize on the cultural awareness, but they also call attention to the uncertainty linked to contemporary debates around equality.
While the audience may seek to embrace the power and reassurance signified by superheroes, they cannot escape cultural debates. Like so many things connected to popular culture, contemporary circumstance must content with historical reality. In truth, labor strife, calls for gender equity, and demands for racial justice have been enduring parts of the American experience. In a subtle way, the tension around Wonder Woman and other superheroes in modern media are the latest expressions of an ongoing effort to achieve a more equitable society.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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