Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Worldviews Matter Even in Comic Books

Here is one reason why I love Dr. Albert Mohler's daily Briefing podcast. In Today's edition, Mohler talks about comic books and how the "evolution" of comic book storylines reveal a change in cultural worldview.
When we think of the culture war and the great worldview clash in America, we often think of how the battles in this particular kind of intellectual conflict are meted out. And in so many cases, they’re demonstrated in conflicts that occur in terms of Hollywood entertainment, national politics, economic theory. But as yesterday’s Wall Street Journal also makes clear, you can see this basic intellectual worldview conflict on the pages of America’s comic books. Writing in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, two men with vast experience in the comic book industry write about how the worldview issues are now being hammered out in terms of the transformation of American comic books. The two men are Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche.

. . .

In the 900th issue of Action Comics, Superman decides to go before the United Nations and renounce his U.S. citizenship. “Truth, justice and the American way’—it’s not enough anymore,” he despairs. That issue, published in April 2011, is perhaps the most dramatic example of modern comics’ descent into political correctness, moral ambiguity and leftist ideology.

We are comic-book artists and comics are our passion. But more important they’ve inspired and shaped many millions of young Americans. Our fear is that today’s young comic-book readers are being ill-served by a medium that often presents heroes as morally compromised or no different from the criminals they battle. With the rise of moral relativism, “truth, justice and the American way” have lost their meaning.

. . .

In a very important paragraph, they write:

The superheroes also changed. Batman became dark and ambiguous, a kind of brooding monster. Superman became less patriotic, culminating in his decision to renounce his citizenship so he wouldn't be seen as an extension of U.S. foreign policy. A new code, less explicit but far stronger, replaced the old: a code of political correctness and moral ambiguity. If you disagreed with mostly left-leaning editors, you stayed silent.
He then offers the following worldview analysis:
This article in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal is priceless in terms of its worldview content. Here you have two insiders in the comic book industry making clear that a comic book is never merely a comic book. It is an artifact of culture and it is sending an intellectual and a moral message, and as these writers make very clear, the message, in terms of so many comics these days—indeed, coming from the mainstream comic industry—is no longer one that has clear distinctions between good and evil. There are no longer clear good guys and bad guys. Instead, not only is moral ambiguity now the order of the day, but even something more pernicious, and that is the glorification of violence and the questioning of whether there is indeed even a distinction between good and evil.

There’s a political dynamic to this, of course, when it comes to the United States and Superman renouncing his American citizenship, but far more than that there is a worldview issue here. And it’s one that should have the attention not only of young people, but of parents and all others. There is no sector of our culture that is untouched by this basic cultural conflict. Every artifact of culture, no matter what the medium, is making a play for hearts and minds, trying to convince and to conform the heart and the mind to the worldview that is being presented. It’s very important to us to know there is no worldview neutrality, and those of us who are committed to developing a Christian mind need to understand how other messages are being sent very effectively throughout the conduits of culture. We know that that’s true in terms of Hollywood and movies. We know it’s true in terms of the mainstream media, but yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal helps us to understand something else that is profoundly true and urgently important. Not even the comic books are immune, not by a long shot, as these two insiders have made abundantly clear.
Though this is not the place for a further treatment of this issue, I will simply say that as a father of a young son, we have entered the comic book world. The superhero stories, from Superman to Spiderman, have traditionally told stories that reflect certain Christian assumptions. Superman, for example, is an alien savior. Spiderman struggles with the meaning of his bug bite (with great power comes great responsibility).  Batman walks a careful line between justice and revenge. These are stories that I want my child to experience and grow up reading.

In most classic comic book stories, the contrast between good and evil is clear. The Joker is always evil. Green Arrow is always good. Superman always wins. The Green Goblin always loses.

However, one cannot deny the worldview changes within the comic books themselves of recent decades. One iconic character, Green Lanter, has "come out." We have even had Superman, as Mohler discusses above, renounce his US citizenship (truth, justice, and . . .). There has been a blurring of the lines between good and evil (The Watchman) and between justice and bloody revenge (The Punisher). As a result, our world of comic book stories has been mostly guarded and limited preferring the old over the new.

Nevertheless, as a superhero fan I appreciate Mohler even talking about comic books. But as a Christian I especially appreciate Mohler's broader point. Every part of of our lives and culture is directly affected by worldview. Fictional comics are no different.
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