This paragraph from Judith Halberstam’s examination of what she calls the “Gothic technologies of subject production” entitled Skin Show struck me as also an interesting way to think about superheroes and supervillains:
Postmodernity makes monstrosity a function of consent and a result of habit. Monsters of the nineteenth century – like Frankenstein, like Dracula –
certainly still scare and chill but they scare us from a distance. We wear modern monsters like skin; they are us, they are on us and in us. Monstrosity no longer coagulates into a specific body, a single face, a unique feature; it is replaced with a banality that fractures resistance because the enemy becomes harder to locate and looks more like the hero. What were monsters are now facets of identity;
the sexual other and the racial other can no longer be safely separated from self.
But still, we keep our monsters ready.
So much effort and anxiety and narrative energy is expended, in contemporary texts that make gazillions of dollars, into making both superheroes and their foils somehow appear to be realistic, flawed, or otherwise clearer. Halberstam neatly identifies how Gothic texts produce subjects, but in this chapter she uses Arendt’s the banality of evil concept to look at Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, and I wonder if that film isn’t a cultural marker from which filmmakers feel the need to make all characters like Hannibal Lechter, recognizably human while also monstrous (and carrying their monster inside).
Dead Synchronicity takes this approach, methinks, as does The Detail, and all cop shows from Hill Street Blues on down do as well. Hell, we no longer need Sam Spade to negotiate those spaces for us – the bureaucracy, the large organization, the place where we all just sort of go, does just fine, thank you…
Every once in a while, especially when reading someone super smart like Halberstam, I get frustrated with cultural studies and American studies and all the studies and think, shit, story-tellers don’t worry about this stuff, why do we have to bring in Freud, oh shit, there’s Foucault again. And then I remember that millions of peoples read these texts, and they become cultural markers for a (or many) reasons, or even if *only* thousands read them, that there are pulls and draws and ways to get inside our cultural heads through our lizard brains that remind me that maybe, just maybe, these cult studies folks know that something indeed is going on.