Monday, October 16, 2006

Class, Dismissed

So, when exactly did the lower class take over comic books?

Comic books used to be a refuge from the grimy tedium of the workaday world. It was all about sitting around in your smoking jacket with your pipe in your study, reading about murders in the paper, and muttering out loud to yourself, "The time's not ripe yet to go after the Eviscerating Bandit -- but soon...!"

It wasn't just Bruce Wayne; all the old gang were stand-up regular upperclass joes. Sure Clark Kent was originally a farmboy, but in the Golden Age, he used to sport his tuxedo all around down, shufflefooting on high society dancefloors and getting grapefruits shmushed in his face by toothpick-chewing toughs. Alan Scott, engineer/broadcaster, stank of privilege, and his replacement, Hal Jordan, spent half his conscious hours in a white dinner jacket doing the samba with society swells.

Jay Garrick? Successful (if somewhat clumsy) chemist. Ted Knight? Never seen without a tuxedo and a nearby manservant. Ollie Queen? Wealthy gadabout.

But, somehow, somewhen, the world changed. NASCAR became a "sport"; poker became a spectator event on television; Las Vegas became acceptable; Target & Wal-Mart supplanted Saks & Bloomingdales. Men stopped wearing hats in the streets and started wearing them in restaurants. Women turned in their high heels for sneakers. Ties were replaced by bluetooths and gowns by jeans. People no longer aspire to higher class, but struggle to maintain a lower- class facade, no matter what their finances.

Back in the day, Carter Hall was an archeologically-oriented sophisticate; Ted Grant was a medical student, then a wealthy celebrity. Nowadays, Carter is some sort of barely restrained savage and Ted Grant is some beer-swilling Wolverine-lite, and a reader can only assume that criminals can literally smell either one of them from a block away.

Was it the younger generation's fault? Nowadays, people are permitted to call themselves college graduates who should be secretaries and chaffeurs, and, in any previous decade, would have been. But, Roy and Dick, wards of millionaires, never went to college? Donna Troy? Wally West? Kyle Rayner? Slackers, hanging out at coffee shops, instead of hitting the books. And don't get me STARTED on Jack Knight... The main next generation hero I'm certain went to college? Helena Bertinelli -- gangster's daughter.

In Gilbert & Sullvan's The Gondoliers, the Grand Inquisitor sings the story of king who promoted everyone in his domain, so that he would not be the only person enjoying wealth and privilege. The end result? Once the marks of privilege became commonplace, people disdained them, and sought out the styles and delights of the underprivileged.

That's the world we live in now. Our comic books reflect it.

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Comments:
I am ashamed to admit that the first thought that entered my head when I looked at the accompanying illustration was:

"There's an opera about a tiny, motor-mouthed Italian lesbian, contrarian academic? I'd love to see that! Especially if there's an aria based on Madonna's "Into the Groove"."

And I also regret the absence of lazy, foppish gadabouts in our modern society. Who else are we going to execute when the revolution begins?

Oh, wait, I think I kinda missed your point, didn't I?
 
You are so right. Apart from Phantom Lady, senator's daughter with a degree in quantum physics and fashion modelling. And Batwoman, who spends her time swanning around society parties when not jumping around the rooftops looking for bad guys to hit. And Doctor Light (the good not dead one), who is a, you know, doctor and occasionally company director. Green Lantern Salakk, also a doctor. Heck, even Giganta has a doctorate in the current continuity. In the good old days of the Golden Age, she started out as a gorilla! Not forgetting Wonder Woman - I mean, hello, princess? Could you BE more upper class?

So, um, what was your point again?
 
Ted Grant was a MEDICAL STUDENT as well as a boxer??
 
Does the abundance of lower class tie in to Lee and Kirby's approach in the 1960s?

I'm not well-versed in that time period, but not many of those characters were from well-to-do families, and the ones that were still didn't tend to hit the high society events, given a lot of them were in their teens-early 20s.

There was more of a focus on hitting the malt shop and picking up girls, even with the more bookish types like Peter Parker and Hank McCoy.
 
Dick Grayson went to college at one point. Never finished it, and the entire experience has probably since become the victim of timeline compression, but he at least started.

Ronnie (Firestorm) Raymond went to college as well; don't think he finished it. And the new Firestorm is a current student.
 
Serpent--Yes, Ted Grant was indeed a medical student before financial hardships forced him to drop out and take up boxing as a career. He's only actually in college for a panel or two in Sensation #1, but it is specifically referenced.
 
Tradition fades and capitalism marches on.

People like to hear about themselves, and as more and more common people have the money to spend on stories, the producers of stories will cater to them. The warrior kings of ancient Greece hired Homer. Chretien de Troyes was in the employ of royal courts. So they wrote about the greatness of heroic kings and nobles. Now everybody's got a nickel to blow on stories, and they get stories extolling their own virtues.

There's also the flip side of the aristocratic hero ideal to consider: that in ye olden days, it was a (sometimes) unspoken assumption that the aristocrat was, by virtue of birth, the superior being. Even when placed amidst the proles and at disadvantage, the Man of Breeding would emerge superior through his natural capacities. The passing of such an idea is not one that many mourn.

All that being said, would it kill a modern superhero to wear a friggin' tie once in a while?

And check out the new Atom--a highly respected academic and scientist. Rock!
 
You missed my point, Marionette?

What, again?
 
Don't get ME started on Jack Knight. He happens to be the patron saint of legacy heroes.

Being anti- most things and therefore a Marvel fan, I am naturally for heroes being more like the rest of us and less 'pampered punks.'

I'm sorry. That just makes me laugh.

Anyway, Morrison has Bruce attending gallery showings, Ollie is a mayor so he's obligated to wear a tie at least, and Clark, well... You get smooshed in the face enough times, you dress accordingly.

Do we need every hero to be some upper-crust billionaire with parent issues waiting for a crime to duck out of the society party that's boring them to tears? And college is hard, especially if you plan on learning anything. Add superpowers and a secret identity to that stress and you got a super-villain. And I'm pretty sure Ollie thinks colleges are conformist factories, so Roy wouldn't see the need to go.

Is there anything about upper-class that's worthy of emulating besides having lots of disposable cash? Are grand balls just for the sake of showing off that important? Not saying dressing up for a party or functional is horrible, but I don't really feel the need for my heroes to do it on a monthly basis. We all have different appreciations.
 
Interesting post, but does the same trend hold true for villians? With all the Dr. Sivana/Morrow/Magnus etc. in 52, what class do the new ones come from and with what education? (And whither Mallah or Grodd?)
 
Man, things would be so much better if we still had The Gipper in office, then those dames and darkies and slant-eyes and queers would remember their place, at the back of the bus behind us good, God-fearing wealthy WASP types.
 
Note from the picture, by the way, how our knowledge of "classiness" has faded...

the artist drew people wearing gloves with BLACK tie.

Shudder.
 
those dames and darkies and slant-eyes and queers would remember their place

Does that imply you think they are inherently lower class?

Apparently, you think such people can't be college-educated or wealthy.

I do.

I'm talking about evidence in our comics of American anti-intellectualism and class paranoia that verges on Marxist, and you seem to have succumbed to both?
 
What this thread has left me with is the feeling that we could have the worst of both worlds if Paris Hilton became a superhero.
 
Well, I was joking, but -

Since you brought it up, I think the very notion of "class" implies the kind of traditional societal divisions that necessarily breed racism, sexism, and of course - classism. I think the ideal is a totally classless society, and if that makes me a Marxist, well, so be it. Wouldn't be the first time I branded myself a socialist in word and deed.

How that equates with anti-intellectualism, I can't quite follow you... most popular culture, period, has a strong anti-intellectual slant. Doesn't make it right. I don't much care for the left's typical condescending attitude anymore than the right's outright medievalism, but ask me which I'd prefer, and I'd go with the one that doesn't subliminaly reinforce neo-fuedal class identity at every turn.
 
Roy and Dick, wards of millionaires, never went to college? Donna Troy? Wally West? Kyle Rayner?

Dick did go to college- Hudson U.

Donna Troy went to community college, where she met her college professor husband.

Wally West was on his way to a Ph.D. in Physics when he won the lottery.

Didn't Kyle go to design school?

Anyway, in the real world, Golden Age comics were largely written by poor Jews without a lot of formal education working out their power fantasies. Remind me- did Siegel and Schuster go to Princeton or Yale?

Therefore, Golden Age comics are all about being Joe College, being a rich WASP dude who doesn't have to work, knocking out Hitler, beating the shit out of Lower East Side gangsters (Jack Kirby did this IN REAL LIFE, BTW) and banging hot socialites (I'm looking at you, Hawkman and Sandman).

Today, comics fans and creators are likely to be older and educated. And ethnicity is not as big a handicap to success as it used to be. They get their cheap thrills from the seamier side of life, like hookers (Sin City, Catwoman), ultraviolence (Ultimates, Authority, Civil War, Superboy Prime), and working class Joes who get revenge.
 
I can't tell if this post is a response to others that have discussed class in comics recently or if it originated independently, but I like it. I guess the class demographics in comics characters has changed over time. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the superhero population is not still disproportionately upper class, but I suppose it is less so than... well, certainly than in the Golden Age.
 
Scipio, your point doesn't hold water, even on its own terms. It's just as easy to find examples of working class heroes in the Golden Age as it is to find examples of upper class heroes today. Off the top of my head:

The Guardian and Newsboy Legion (a beat cop and street kids)

The Marvel Family (orphan turned radio reporter, newsboy, and middle-class school girl)

The Spirit (cop)

Superman (farmboy turned beat reporter; sorry Scipio, the ability to put on a monkey suit and attend a ball on the newspaper's dime doesn't make you upper crust)

Captain America (tenement kid/art student turned Army private)

Plastic Man (gangster)
 
Hey, I'm with Scipio here. I think that he's talking about a lack of STYLE, which we are sadly lacking in. Of course my grandmother used to put on gloves and a hat just to walk out and get the mail, so I'm a bit crazed on that subject.

On the subject of college, John Stewart as an architect, obviously went to college, and Guy Gardner of all people graduated with a double major in education and psycology! So there.
 
Actually, Dick Grayson attended two differnt colleges, first Hudson, which he dropped out of for undisclosed reasons shortly before the founding of the "New" Teen Titans, and then Gotham State, which he briefly attended shortly after said founding (I'm pretty sure this happened while the "Batman" office and the "Titans" office were fighting for sole custody of Dick, which ultimately resulted in the creation of both Nightwing and Jason Todd).

Interestingly, as near as I can tell, Aqualad is the only one of the original Titans who seems to have actually completed college (he attended one near Loch Ness in Scotland), altho it's never been revealed what degree he attained, or in what subject.

I completely missed the part where Wally was on his way to a PHD in Physics--when was that? I remember a stint at Blue Valley Community College, followed by a few semesters as Central City U, but he never seemed to be majoring in anything besides Auto Shop.

-Mindbender
 
SallyP might have a point - I would definitely agree that style is lacking in many modern superhero books. Used to be most artists had some background in illustration, so they could make even downtrodden characters look glamorous - now, it looks like most artists don't even know how to draw clothes, let alone nice clothes.

Using "class" is sort of a lightning rod, I suspect.
 
Cole, the Spirit was a wealthy gadabout who decided to be a criminologist. Once he was "killed" by Dr. Cobra, he simply dropped out of society as Denny Colt.
 
I think that early comic writers drew inspiration from characters such as Zorro, Robin Hood, and the Scarlet Pimpernel. The formula being that of a wealthy, talented guy getting sick of injustice and using his resources to do something about it. Note that many of the golden age heroes were wealthy people with simple gimmicks or super powers. Just like Robin Hood was a great archer and Zorro was a skilled swordsman. Batman, Starman, Sandman, Dr. Mid-Nite, Dr. Fate, Spy Smasher, Crimson Avenger, the original Angel, Green Arrow, Green Hornet, Mr. Terrific, the Shadow, Mr. Scarlet, the Challenger...they all arise out of that paradigm.

But then, as already noted above, there are plenty of guys who fit the "average guy gets extraordinary powers" pattern. Captain America, Hourman, Flash, Green Lantern, the first Blue Beetle, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Hydro-Man, the first Daredevil, Human Bomb, Black Condor, Whizzer, Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, for example.

Basically, one route to being a hero is that of Zorro, the other that of King Arthur (in his case, finding a magic sword).

Of course, you had your oddities...beings who were not human who chose to become superheroes. Guys like the original Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, or the original Vision.

I think that with the advent of mutants at Marvel and the meta-gene at DC, there is more of a prevalance now for the "anybody could be a superhero" paradigm. However, I think the whole "wealthy society guy/gal who fights crime" character type still has its charm. Batman and Iron Man still have their own series, alongside the likes of Captain America and Wolverine.

Though the original Justice Society was very much balanced towards the Zorro type, and the Justice League has a balance of both Zorro and King Arthur types, the Avengers have mostly King Arthur types. Sure, you have Thor (Prince of Asgard), Iron Man (wealthy industrialist), Black Panther (king of a nation), and Wasp (wealthy socialite), but then you have Captain America (WPA artist), Hank Pym (brilliant man, but all his money was his wife's), Hawkeye (circus carny), Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (Jewish orphans raised by Gypsies and former terrorists), Falcon (social worker), Luke Cage (ex-convict and hero for hire), Spider-Woman (secret agent), Wonder Man (stuntman and struggling actor), Spider-Man (teacher and photographer), Black Knight (not wealthy, but I don't know why, considering he's a brilliant scientist and inventor), Quasar (security specialist), Living Lightning (college student), Stingray (marine biologist), etc.

Had the Justice League not been a descendant of the Justice Society, I would be willing to bet that the JLA would be more like the Avengers.
 
But the social construct called "style" invariably turns to class, doesn't it? Draw those nice clothes, and the nice clothes signify something about the social status/aspirations of the wearer. And what does it mean to put a glamorous veneer on "downtrodden" subject matter? As Harvey says above, there are good reasons why we no longer permit aristocrats to deify themselves. But I don't blame Marx for that. I credit the Marx Brothers.

Scipio's initial post is pretty clear about what bugs him; societal aspirations to the good taste and refinement of the moneyed elite have been overwhelmed by mall and trailer park culture, with its race cars, belching and supposed disdain for bathing. It's as if the costumes and rituals of the old leisure class somehow justified (or, if you like, perfumed the amoral horror of) their conspicuous consumption, even elevated it to some kind of human ideal. But consumption in blue jeans is somehow embarrassing, "grimy"? Really, fuck that. I'm glad it's dead.

This kind of class complaint is of a piece with George Will despairing that men no longer wear suits on airplanes, or Lee Seigel's screed against baseball caps at the New Republic web site. Scipio writes "Nowadays, people are permitted to call themselves college graduates who should be secretaries and chauffers." Good god. That sentiment smells far worse than anyone's classist fantasy of a working-class Wildcat.
 
I'll concede The Spirit, but only to a point; The Spirit always seemed to me to evince entirely middle-class attitudes--neithr to the slum or the manor born. As the Wikipedia entry says, the character was referred to by the New York Herald Tribune as "the only real middle-class crimefighter".
 
I will also point out that from its inception, auto racing was a sport of the wealthy as much as a sport of poor grease monkeys, and that long before "Las Vegas became acceptable," rich people were known to gamble on occasion. Of course, they had the good taste to race and gamble in Monte Carlo, beyond the financial reach of the subhumans.

As to the other complaints about how unwashed poor people have ruined the world, should the masses be denied entrance to department stores? Should the rich not use their gobs of money to buy comfortabale footwear? Should cable systems track viewers' incomes, so that they can replace trout fishing shows with ballet once the viewers make enough money? Should means-blind college admission be ended, so that we can get back to teaching the rich physics, and the poor their places?

Class paranoia goes both ways, Scipio.
 
I completely missed the part where Wally was on his way to a PHD in Physics--when was that?

I could have sworn I had an old Who's Who that stated this. I'll try to dig it out. If I can't back it up, I retract.

I have some questions for Scipio:

1. Dick Grayson apprenticed with one of the world's smartest men, who taught him not only the physical arts and combat but also detective skills, philosophy, history, etc.

Why does he need to go to college? What would he learn there that Bruce, Barbara, and Alfred could not teach him? Why does he need a degree? He has all the money he wants. His 'job' does not require a degree or training beyond what he has. It is his chosen dream profession. He already hangs out with peers his own age in the Teen Titans.

Ditto for Wally West.

2. Is there ANY superhero, ever, more "low-class" than Vibe? Unless, of course, breakdancing Puerto Rican gang members in parachute pants with 'comedy' racist accents who belong to a third-rate Justice League (in DETROIT, natch) hang out with Brooke Astor these days.

Maybe Jason Todd, who got to be Robin because of his skill in jacking the Batmobile, but it's a tough call.

This has got to be a comedy post, right Scip? Because this blog used to be about Gay Octopus jokes and encomia to all that is wonderful and silly about comics.

Used to be most artists had some background in illustration, so they could make even downtrodden characters look glamorous - now, it looks like most artists don't even know how to draw clothes, let alone nice clothes.

Yes, the complaint is "they can't draw", not "the characters are low class".
 
I thought it was a joke until the response to Tim O'Neil.
 
Well, if the complaint is about a lack of elegant style in popular culture then I can support that to the extent that there's a genuine lack. But it's not a class issue.

I mind me of an episode of Angel where Gunn (who, for those of you who didn't watch it, is a black street guy who formed a gang of vampire hunters before joining Angel's merry band. The writers sort of forgot what to do with the character toward the end, but at his best he was a really cool guy) puts on a tux to accompany Gwen the electric thief to a superswanky party. Now, Gunn's about as lower-class as it's possible to be, but he exhibited considerable style and poise in this episode, and it worked great.
 
The following is intended as a series of sweeping generalizations, not an informed opinion based on objective reality:

If you're young and poor, you aspire to be rich. You wear nice or cool clothes, you spend more on accessories, you try to bely your economic status.

If you are young and well-off, however, you aspire to be "you," however you define that. The cliques (partly) defined by dress sense (including punks, goths, preppies, jocks, etc.) seem to be more prevalent among middle- and upper-class kids of all types.
It becomes cool to dress down, even to put on your clique's "uniform." You see yourself as more "real." In many cases, dressing down is seen as being "real."

Many super-hero comics are geared towards middle-class adolescents, and many middle-class adolescents don't see rich people as "real." I think that's one reason we don't see so many suits in super-hero comics.
 
"Dick did go to college- Hudson U."

That was pre-Crisis...

"Wally West was on his way to a Ph.D. in Physics when he won the lottery. "

That pre-New Earth; now he's a mechanic.

To me, that's more evidence of the phenomenon I'm lamenting; at one point, the writers made sure these characters went to college. Now, they haven't.
 
Tenzil; your theory about the shift in the authors' focuses is very interesting! I was thinking it had to do with the readers ... but you've probably pegged it; the nature of the writers has changed.
 
You missed my point, Marionette?

What, again?


Yuh, well I don't have your fancy ejukashon nor nothing.
 
"Because this blog used to be about Gay Octopus jokes and encomia to all that is wonderful and silly about comics."

It did?

I don't recall writing a manifesto, or signing a contact as to my duties and appropriate subject matter for my blog.

Have I violated my "no serious discussions" clause? Will my pay be docked?
 
I think there are more "degreed" superheroes than not.

Look at how many superheroes run their own large corporations or at least used to. No board of directors is going to accept a company president who doesn't at least have a Bachelor's Degree.

Any superhero who is a military officer or a former military officer has a degree. Ditto for superheroes who are scientists.

And to back up Tenzil, many of these men and women don't NEED to go to college. They have skills learned in apprenticeships to other people or they have connections to organizations (the Avengers, Xavier's School).

And since when did someone need to go to college to be "upper class"? In my opinion, a person's "class" is measured in the respect they show towards ALL their fellow men and women. Stuck-up, holier-than-thou, elitist, classist snobs are no more classy to me than belching, beer-swilling, foul-mouthed, unwashed dirtbags.
 
To me, that's more evidence of the phenomenon I'm lamenting; at one point, the writers made sure these characters went to college. Now, they haven't.

To reiterate my point, why does it matter?

Nightwing is cool because he catches crooks, Flash is cool because he is fast. A fictional B.A. from a fictional school adds nothing to these particular characters or their stories. Also, when do these jokers have time to write papers or go to class if they are saving Bludhaven or Central City? Archie Andrews barely has time to do this crap, and all he does is go to class, drink malteds, and try to get into Veronica Lodge's pants. STORIES ABOUT SCHOOLWORK ARE BORING. Superhero comics are punchy-punch first, soap opera second.

As for Wally West being a mechanic- cool. Because the message becomes "even a mechanic can save the world-disrespect him at your peril" not "better get that Ph.D. in case this Speed Force thing doesn't pan out". Which is more heroic?

Trivia question: Where did Ozymandias get his degree?

Answer: Who gives a fuck? But it was a PLOT AND CHARACTER POINT that Dr. Manhattan went to Princeton. Because "Princeton and Physics" signifies something to readers. So, for some characters it's important. But not as a blanket rule for everyone.

If the message should be "Stay in school", then Tim Drake is a good role model there. If the message is "learning is important", there are dozens of DC heroes who are self-made and self-educated. There are even heroes who are academics, like the Atom.

It's not hard for a parent to point out to young readers that Batman and Robin study hard so they have the skills to catch the bad guys, and that Superman is a writer who needs the news to help him figure out how to save people. Presumably older readers can figure out for themselves that formal schooling is advantageous.

If the message is "facts are important and useful", well, I guess we are going to have to bring Julie Schwartz back to life because comic stories nowadays revolve around the COSMIC RESET BUTTON and CONTINUITY CHANGES and IS POWER GIRL KRYPTONIAN rather than how Barry or Ray can cleverly use their powers to exploit a physics hack.

If the message is "If you didn't go to college you are a bum", well, we have the Absorbascon blog, right, mang?

(You can write what you like, BTW, it just was a little surprise.)
 
The same thing DOES happen to villains. Take our prime and shinig examle, Killer Moth. Once, a rich and powerful socialite who dined with Bruce Wayne. Now? A psycho who had dreams of everybody laughing at him with a different name.
 
The same thing DOES happen to villains. Take our prime and shinig examle, Killer Moth. Once, a rich and powerful socialite who dined with Bruce Wayne. Now? A psycho who had dreams of everybody laughing at him with a different name.
 
Whoops, double post. Sorry!
 
It's Kirby. Superhero comics are still pretty much followin' Kirby's lead, and virtually all of his pre-Silver Age protaganists were poor schlubs.

I'm all for it, but I am deeply, Deeply, DEEPLY motivated by class predjudice and a distrust of the "moneyed elite."
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
"It did?

I don't recall writing a manifesto, or signing a contact as to my duties and appropriate subject matter for my blog.

Have I violated my "no serious discussions" clause? Will my pay be docked?"

*gasp* memory loss! Tell me, Scipio, have you been rather forgetful lately? Have you been experiencing frequent headaches, sometimes followed by blackouts? Do you often find the colors yellow and green on your mind? Then you, my friend, may be suffereing from Hal Jordan syndrome. I suggest you contact your nearest physician or elderly blue midget as soon as possible.
 
suffering*
 
The slipping back and forth from "class" to "classy" is possibly not making any of this any easier to discuss. Living in Britain, I have long supposed that the lazy contempt for people from the USA, which is easy to find, was a creation of our owning class. They might have lost the war, but that didn't mean they couldn't sneer at the people and their lives. In an elegant and witty fashion, of course. This has spread through our society and I find myself rather embarrassed by it, as it's so resistant to argument.
 
I dunno. Think of, say, the Boy Commandos. Or Billy Batson, newspaper boy. Black Canary was a florist; middle-class at most.

IMHO, class in older comics was mostly a plot device to justify expensive gimmicks.
 
Actually, I always figured that the inordinate number of independantly wealthy types who fought crime was just the practicality of not having a to schedule crook catching around the confines of a typical 9 to 5 job. Batman can go anywhere because Bruce Wayne doesn't need to be anywhere else. About the only "working stiff" heroes who've actually worked out in the long run have been newspaper men Clark Kent & Peter Parker, since their jobs pretty much require them to take off in a hurry whenever there's an emergency. If Clark was an insurance agent, or Pete was a sales clerk, they'd either lose their jobs or seriously limit their crime-fighting activities (sort of like when Clark was a TV anchorman, and could only fight crime during his commercial breaks!)

-Mindbender
 
I've lurked for a while, but never commented before - I just want to say that I found your post to be very thought-provoking. It's too bad that many of your readers appear to have gone with their first knee-jerk reaction rather than giving it some thought.

I think you've raised a very valid point - at one time, people aspired to be more than they were. They often looked to the upper class for an example of what they wanted to achieve in their own life. The upper class had education, style and etiquette, and people that wanted to one day be upper class themselves sought to emulate these things. Now, even the upper class seeks to be part of the lowest-common-denominator.

There is no special virtue in being poor, nor is there any special vice in being wealthy.
 
But Arielle, despite your nostalgia for the old fashioned class ladder, please remember that there is also no special vice in being poor, nor special virtue in wealth.

Your romantic vision of bottom-to-top class aspiration has partially disintegrated as access to higher eduction has become more available, and standards of living have risen. Scipio seems to suggest that this is a bad thing for our society, in quite strong terms. If knees have jerked in response, I'd say it's because he whacked them with a reflex hammer--equating lower classes with smelly savages, opining that many young people have no business trying to better themselves through college when their proper places are as servants, running through the stereotypical litany of crap culture and anti-fashion ascribed to the proles. Even his thesis statement is a class-war confrontation: "when exactly did the lower class take over?"

The story of 20th Century America is the story of gradual disillusionment with traditional authority--economic, cultural, political--all for very good reasons. Many of the people who benefited from being looked up to for their status, from the robber barons to Nixon, were revealed as corrupt assholes undeserving of respect. Yes, the bathwater of civility and natty dress went out with the babies (in terms of cultural tastes--the privileged still run everything, and are still corrupt assholes, often demonizing "elitism" for political advantage while masquerading as proles), but there's no use crying over spilled champagne.

At any rate, I think we can safely say that no one is better positioned to complain about American anti-intellectualism and the Death of High Culture than an adult superhero comic blogger.
 
Many of the people who benefited from being looked up to for their status, from the robber barons to Nixon, were revealed as corrupt assholes undeserving of respect.

I'm lower class. I've been on welfare before. I can tell you that the lower class has just as many corrupt assholes undeserving of respect. The only difference is that most of them have little ambition and no skill.

opining that many young people have no business trying to better themselves through college when their proper places are as servants

You have to take that entire paragraph in context. What he was saying was that if any slacker, who in previous years would have been living as a servant, can now get a degree, what excuse do the scions of the upper and middle class families have for not bothering to go to college?

Scipio also seems to be bothered by the fact that people with wealth and privilege now waste that wealth and privilege on trash and trashy pursuits. (If my interpretation is incorrect, hopefully he'll let me know.)
 
"at one time, people aspired to be more than they were. "

Bingo.

And our heroes USED to provide the example for doing so.
 
Comic book heroes lost their class as soon as Green Arrow and Green Lantern slummed it across America on that road trip.
 
"And our heroes USED to provide the example for doing so."

Ah. yes, the good old days--when water tasted wetter, the rich dutifully fulfilled the obligations of their birthrights instead of watching Reba reruns, and there were so many stars in the night sky you could read Red Bee comics under a 200-foot oak tree at midnight.

Pretending that people no longer have aspirations and that heroes fail to inspire because nobody wears fedoras anymore and a few sidekicks skipped college is rhetorical nonsense, built on a pile of false stereotypes and ignored evidence to the contrary.

Tim O'Neil is right--it's almost impossible to talk about class without invoking classism.
 
Considering you write a blog about and read sueprhero comics, you might want to consider that to the rest of the people in the world who, y'know, don't, you're as low class as any beer swilling, jeans wearing, NASCAR-watching, non-tuxedo wearing uneducated secretary orchaffeur.

In other words: get over yourself.
 
"You have to take that entire paragraph in context."

But if I do, it's even worse! He seems to be saying, look at these low-caste drones who today "earn" "college degrees" instead of accepting their places in the natural order cleaning toilets. If even *they* can get their little social-promotion degrees, then the children of the aristocracy, for whom the academy was designed, and whom actually deserve higher education, truly have no excuse.

Actually, that's what you seem to be saying too, automatically calling the less privileged "slackers".
 
Amen.
 
I think this is a particularly interesting aspect of comics to explore and I don't think it should be avoided just because talking about class inherrently invokes classism. Might as well admit that the post-modern/post-structuralist turn has paralyzed us all into being unable to talk about anything where we might create an "other" and so we should all just shutup and go trainspotting. Bleh.

If we recognize the issues that "class" dredges up, if we're carefully aware of the pitfalls and help each other out with talking about it, we could have a pretty productive dialogue. Some things I think it'd be interesting to investigate are how maybe the characters might (or might not) identify themelves within a certain class. Or (and, to the historian in me, more importantly) investigate how the authors and creators of these characters might be situated in class for their time period, how they might have envisioned their own class (explicit or implicit), and how they might have communicated this through the characters (intentionally or not).

Scipio's (and i apologize for referring to you in the third person on your own blog...) choice of wording does leave something to be desired, but he's not the only one. I don't think his language excuses borderline attacks on the fellow as a classist jerk. I'm just saying that the dialogue could be a little bit more productive.
 
'"at one time, people aspired to be more than they were. "

Bingo.'

I thought superheroes were supposed to be morally inspiring, doing the right thing no matter what the odds. I didn't know class was involved. Also thought that heroes born into privilege wouldn't be role models of social mobility. Guess I was wrong.

Isaac.
 
I would add that we should be careful about imposing modern conceptions of class on characters that were created up to over half a century ago, which is particularly tricky when discussing characters that have been continually written about over all that time and been handled by various artists.
 
A friendly, dispassionate, academic conversation about the ways class shape comics and reader response would be very nice. "So when exactly did the lower class take over comic books", followed by broad slams at NASCAR fans and Wal-Mart shoppers is not the way to start that conversation.

All of this makes me think of Howard Chaykin's shockingly out-of-character JSA story where the society types all sat at a different dinner table from the working class members of the team--perhaps the most explicit portrayal of class differences I've ever seen in a mainstream superhero comic--and one that contradicts the famous image of the entire team seated together in common cause at one table on the cover of All-Star #3.
 
I thought superheroes were supposed to be morally inspiring, doing the right thing no matter what the odds.

Aren't they?
 
"Aren't they?" Yes, but when Scipio and Ariel say that superheroes used to be inspiring, they are talking about how superheroes have gone lowbrow opposed to the golden age sophisticated upper class characters. Supposedly, now that superheroes are working class slobs they aren't proper role models. I don't think class or classyness has anything to do with their appeal.

Isaac.
 
Boy ... and here I thought I lived on a "Mountain of Judgment"...!
 
"I thought superheroes were supposed to be morally inspiring, doing the right thing no matter what the odds. I didn't know class was involved. Also thought that heroes born into privilege wouldn't be role models of social mobility. Guess I was wrong.

Isaac."

Yeah. Pretty much everything I think in a nutshell.

And I can SO hate rich people without living on a "mountain of judgement." That's a bout the only prejudice I have. Hill of judgement, maybe. But it's a medium-sized hill at best.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
at one time, people aspired to be more than they were. "

Bingo.

And our heroes USED to provide the example for doing so.


Apparently standing up and helping those who can't defend themselves, like all superheroes do, isn't enough? They have to be rich and upper class for them to be inspiring? Wow. Just....wow. Its one thing to say you like your super heroes more when their alter egos are men and women of affluence...its another to state that there are some people with college educations should be nothing more than servants that drive rich people around and take their phone messages for them. I think they call that elitism, no?

EDITED
 
Super hero stories are Romantic Fantasies, and the Fantasies of their readers have changed. IN older, poorer times the younger audience dreamed about being powerful, respected adults.

Now we live in vastly wealthier times, and the readers are a lot different, and are used to having their prejudices flattered, and tastes catered too, so you get the peculiar fantasy of the 'outcast' rebel against a corrupt system, who at the same time has all the privileges of wealth.

Take the X-men; 'Outlaws' and alleged Victims of Prejudice who live in a mansion, have no need to get real jobs, and who can commit any crime with impunity, and don’t have to dress up in itchy clothes.

The reader of today wants it all.
...or is it just the readers, who are still around.
 
Scipio's lament is undercut by the simple fact that all his examples are Americans and hence inherently lower class, no matter how many servants they have.
 
Actually, that's what you seem to be saying too, automatically calling the less privileged "slackers".

Neither Scipio nor I were referring to the underprivileged as a whole. I said "slackers" because I specifically meant slackers!

Don't forget, what made America great was not that class didn't exist - but rather that anyone, regardless of birth, could attain affluence through hard work and ambition.

And what is wrong with Scipio lamenting the end of society's efforts to look nice in public? Which would you rather look at - pictures of women from the 50's and 60's wearing dresses and high-heels, or pictures of women wearing jeans so tight they've got fat rolls around their bared midriff? Pictures of men wearing suits and ties, or pictures of men wearing wrinkled slacks and scruffy t-shirts? Scipio's remarks in regards to style don't indicate that he's shallow - just honest. We all like to look at what's aesthetically pleasing, and there's precious little of that to be seen in public these days!

And for all of you that hate the rich - but I daresay, probably would like more money than you have - consider this: the majority of the art from the Renaissance would never have existed if it weren't for the rich patrons that sponsored the artists. If you want a society without class distinctions, you'll have to go back to a stone-age hunter/gatherer society. Otherwise, you could do what sensible people do - acknowledge that class exists, and either accept your current class standing, or work towards placing yourself in the class you'd like to be a part of - since this is America and we can do that here. And be honest - who really wants to be part of the lower class?
 
My God! I just looked at the original picture again, and Bruce is WEARIMG GLOVES with black tie! I believe that somebody already pointed this out. WHITE TIE BRUCE! Nice opera glasses though. Oh,and Paglia is the name of an annoying author, not an opera. Were they actually going to see Pagliacci? And what are Bigby Wolf and Frau Totenkind doing behind Bruce anyway?
 
This all shouldn't seem that controversial.

Helping others isn't the only admirable ideal we should look for in our heroes. It's nice if our heroes do more than that, like developing themselves intellectually and culturally.

I can think of a lot of reasons why it's preferable to be rich rather than poor (e.g., the ability to support oneself and one's family, the availability of more options in life). Notably, wealth can be a useful tool in intellectual development. A wealthy person can buy a lot more books, travel to more exotic places, and purchase a better education than a poor person can (I emphasize the word "can"; many wealthy people waste the ample opportunities they have to better themselves, a habit that Scipio bemoans in his post).

Accordingly, accumulating wealth should also be considered a heroic ideal, at least to the extent that such wealth serves as a means for achieving an admirable end (like helping others, or pursuing intellectual development and refinement).

There's nothing wrong with wanting our heroes to be more than just nice people.
 
"Accordingly, accumulating wealth should also be considered a heroic ideal,"

It was then that Cole belatedly realized that he had stumbled into a meeting of the College Republicans.
 
"Accordingly, accumulating wealth should also be considered a heroic ideal,"

It was then that Cole belatedly realized that he had stumbled into a meeting of the College Republicans.


The ad hominem attack would be less effective if you quoted the entire sentence, rather than just the first clause (I was also unaware that wanting people to become wealthy was exclusively a Republican ideal).

For a guy who is obviously intelligent, you sure seem to have trouble accurately characterizing your opponents' positions.
 
At any rate, I think we can safely say that no one is better positioned to complain about American anti-intellectualism and the Death of High Culture than an adult superhero comic blogger.

That says it all, really.

There are so many places I could start in this post that are so dreadfully wrong that I honestly don't know where to start. I think I will start here:

Was it the younger generation's fault? Nowadays, people are permitted to call themselves college graduates who should be secretaries and chaffeurs, and, in any previous decade, would have been.

Are you suggesting here that if someone of less than well means manages to complete college (and thereby winding up with some backbreaking and immediate student loan debt), they can't say it because they're not wealthy? Because, you know, degrees aren't qualified with "WARNING! IN A DIFFERENT TIME, THIS PERSON WOULD NOT HAVE ATTENDED COLLEGE!" Or are you suggesting that college is only the right of a privileged, elite few?

Of course, the entire premise-that superheroes are more inspiring when they are depicted as being rich and classy-is inherently flawed, because that implies that such things are actually virtues to everyone, and thereby inspiring. Uhm, they're not. And in fact, the inspirational part of Bruce Wayne is not that he's from High Society, he chose to fight crime. High society was his context, principally because the character of the masked vigilante, historically, IS a rich man who chooses to fight crime and better the world. (Zorro ring a bell?) Being privileged did not make Bruce Wayne a better man, fighting crime did. The inspirational part of Peter Parker is not that he's a photographer, it's that he learned a cruel lesson about personal responsibilty and has vowed not to make that mistake again, even when his actions cause him to be hated.

You imply that people should aspire to wealth and the appearance of a certain style, as well as being heroic. By that context then, no one would certainly want to imitate a computer nerd who started working out of his own garage...but oddly enough, that's how the richest man in the world got his start. The subtext of your post is simple, albeit two fold:

Everyone should aspire to the ideal of your view of what is better...but everyone isn't entitled to achieve it.

Me, I'm silly. I look at my father, a man who didn't complete high school, let alone college, and yet taught himself trigonometry and calculus, speaks German fluently, and is more well read about history, politics, and religion, and has provided a good life for my family...that I find inspiring. The fact that he overcame what should have left him living in poverty in rural West Virginia, that's inspiring. The fact that Bruce Wayne was born rich? Not inspiring in the least.
 
"Don't forget, what made America great was not that class didn't exist - but rather that anyone, regardless of birth, could attain affluence through hard work and ambition"

Well, that's the story, anyway.

Arielle, as far as I can tell, the American economy has managed to chug along despite the downturn in cravat sales. And all over the world, people still strive to make art, contribute to society and improve their lives despite the desires of millionaire class-traitors to undermine the engine of human progress by attending tractor pulls in dirty, moonshine-stained overalls.

I'm not calling rich people bums and poor people saints--I'm saying that it's a mistake to divine a person's worth from her social class, no matter where she is on the ladder. I admit that I think it can be more dangerous to idealize/idolize the trappings of privilege than of poverty, given that privilege = power. But we all have our biases. Here's yours: Your generic lower-class-college-kid-who-doesn't-represent-all-poor-people just *happens* to be a slacker, while your generic rich person possesses "ambition and skill." You contrast a hypothetical smartly-dressed woman in a dress and heels (we'll call her "June Cleaver") with a hypothetical fat chick in overly tight jeans whose lard rolls spill out from her midriff shirt (We'll call her "Nancy Reagan.") Great question. Here's another: would you rather see a youTube video of a fuzzy kitten playing with string or of a rabid weasel eating a baby?
 
"For a guy who is obviously intelligent, you sure seem to have trouble accurately characterizing your opponents' positions."

I'm sorry, you're right; the first part of your sentence blinded me to the qualifiers that almost salvage it.
 
I'm sorry, you're right; the first part of your sentence blinded me to the qualifiers that almost salvage it.

You should have stuck with your first reply. Inaccurate, true, but at least it had wit.
 
"Tim O'Neil is right"

Why can't we just stick with the one thing we all certainly agree on?
 
Cole, I'm going to have to disagree with you, in that I don't see it as more dangerous to idolize/idealize the trappings of privilege than to idolize/idealize the trappings of poverty. Obviously I think that "idealizing the trappings" is the most dangerous thing of all, for any civil society! But if it were a choice between idealizing the trappings of one or the other, I'd pick privilege, because it seems to me that a culture idealizing poverty's trappings would be a cruelly repressive one, that insisted on class solidarity at the expense of individuality -- and worse, made the compulsory show of solidarity not only one that kept people poor or uneducated, but forced them to prefer it that way. A wealthy and well-educated snob may be a fool, or even potentially a tyrant; but a blue-collar snob is potentially a person ready to join the mob and start cutting off heads, and I call that worse. If I happen to like Don Giovanni better than Friends I don't want to be judged for it, but if I must be judged then I don't want to be judged an effin' class traitor and have to keep my liking for Mozart a secret! Trying to climb the greasy pole for all eternity would be a better fate than that.
 
"Cole, I'm going to have to disagree with you..."

Whereas I find I can't disagree with you. Like Tony Snow, I wish to amend my earlier statements:

I grant that wealth and privilege make much possible, as Arielle said--from the patrons of the Renaissance to Hearst giving Herriman the space to develop Krazy Kat over 30 years in the face of reader apathy and editor antipathy. I acknowledge that fancy dress is pretty to look at and serious art is good for the individual soul and the whole of society. (But so is a good dirt track race.) I simply don't condemn those of privilege for disdaining the fashions and entertainments associated with their class. It's the scornful value judgments on display that stick in my craw (and yes, I admit I've got a mountain of value judgments of my own--I just happen to get along with mine.)

Technology drastically alters our access to, and relationship with culture. The further you look into the past, the stronger the walls that separated the activities which largely defined the various classes. Long ago, to experience a great opera in a great space took money and position beyond the reach of of the vast majority--but now, for those of us in the first world at least, it only takes a TV, a CD player, or tickets to the opera house on the credit card--just as the printing press, in its time, tore down class barriers defined in part by access to literacy skills. The spreading of culture was only made possible by the spreading of wealth, and vice versa. People bought the tools they needed to advance, then mastered the tools to advance further. Again, Arielle is right about that. But as Harvey said up top, tradition fades as capitalism marches on. Those hats and three-piece suits used here to represent the dress of high culture were themselves less formal than earlier generations' waistcoats and powdered wigs. The look of those Depression-era upperclass joes Scipio is wistful for represent a historical moment, one which has warped by being captured on film or saved in comics which were never thrown away as they should have been, suspended in time and reinforced for all the years since. So instead of fading, all those fashions linger like nearby ghosts.

But I wonder, as a society like ours reaches a baseline living standard, perhaps the cosmetic heirarchy of class fades too, and our public identites are freed to become more flexible? I hope so. I'm bothered by suggestions that casual dress and affection for so-called low entertainment by the elite (somewhat overstated, I think) represent a squandering of potential or a disintegration of society. And I'm *really* bothered by the sentiment expressed in the paragraph that seemed to make the most heads explode around here, about what certain people of certain station "should" be, and the implication that a poor person's (suspect) achievement is an underachieving rich person's shame. That's all.
 
Yes, heroes are getting more realistic and everyman... that's a great thing! I'm sick of those stupid tuxedo wearing flamboyants who don't know suffering pretending to be heroes... Give me more Peter Parker and Jack Knight!
 
'Lower' class? Do you mean 'working' class or 'blue-collar'?
 
And now I find I must agree with you, Cole, but with a caveat. Well, two caveats:

One (and I concede it isn't a big one), though I think it's generally true that social/technological progress and rising living standards have had the effect you claim, I also think it's important to remember that even in the earliest days of the twentieth century it was possible - even easy - for opera-lovers of slender means to attend productions. They just had to sit in the cheap seats. At the Met in New York, people could often see the performance at no cost, if they were willing to stand in the balcony. My point being not that class boundaries are inactivated at the opera house, but that the high-class cultural event did seek, and still does seek, to make itself available to the masses if they are interested in it. It isn't just high-class stuff for the high-class, and it isn't just largesse on the part of the rulers: art can be a community, as I'm sure you would agree, even if it happens to be one steeped in a delicacy that appears elite.

And two, if you're willing to remove the word "suspect", I wonder if in some sense a poor person's achievement shouldn't be an underachieving rich person's shame...just as a poor person's sense of charity might be (or even ought to be) the shame of a wealthy miser.

Room for further discussion? For my part (maybe you can tell) I don't really feel all that emotionally exercised by the goings-on here, but I do think there's something to talk about, and I'm enjoying the conversation.

Thank you for your response!
 
Oh, God...once again I'm the last person on the thread, aren't I?

I'm a thread-killer.

Good grief.

You know, now I actually wish I'd never cursed that Jesus guy....I mean you guys were all telling me how cool it was, but I look like kind of an idiot now...
 
I'm a thread-killer.

Nah, keep going! Let's see if you make it to 100 comments. I don't think I've ever seen the comments on a blogger entry reach three figures.
 
'Lower' class? Do you mean 'working' class or 'blue-collar'?

I can't speak for anyone else, but when I say 'lower class', I mean 'really poor people'. The homeless, petty criminals, street thugs, people on welfare, slum dwellers, people who can't come close to making ends meet. I know that there's a pejorative connotation to the word 'lower', but I don't know what to do about that; I don't intend anything other than to distinguish that economic stratum from 'middle' and 'upper' class.

'Working class' and 'blue collar' don't have the same negative connotations, but on the other hand you can make a pretty good living and still call yourself either one of those, so to me they both cover parts of both 'lower class' and 'middle class'. I guess it just depends on what distinction you're trying to draw.
 
Anonymous,

Perhaps you've only become a thread-killer because your comments were too sensible to argue with! =)
 
"People no longer aspire to higher class, but struggle to maintain a lower-class facade, no matter what their finances."

The higher-class facade is outdated for most people and was replaced by something else. Nowadays a millionaire can wear jeans instead of a hat and white gloves. He's still a millionaire, though. People no longer aspire to [the] higher class [facade]. So, what's the big deal again?
 
Interesting discussion of class in superhero comics even though people's definition of class seems to vary from comment to comment. I'm willing to believe that there is more of a prole "vibe" in terms of taste and style in current U.S. superhero comics (the lower class "facade"). It seems that this is just a reflection of the general attitude of the readership and popular culture in general. But are the majority of the characters truly lower-class in an economic sense? This would be interesting. There were virtually zero working-class superheroes in the 1940s:
Working Class Heroes
 
I'm puzzled by Scipio talking about "American anti-intellectualism that verges on Marxist". The Republican Party seems to favour potential presidents presenting themselves as "just plain folks" (an odd form of sychophancy for millionaires), was "Tail-Gunner Joe right?
 
Do ya think Morrison's run on Batman is trying to tackle on that?

Stoping with all the self-mutilating grim & "christian work ethic" (the guy thinking all the time "I should work". Only because he never does, really) and appreciating the common fun between reader and character ("listen, you're reading a comic. Have fun. Batman's trying to re-learn fun as well, so have fun with him and at his expense at the moments of his responsabilities").
 
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