Symbolic heroes : superhero films in a post 9/11 world



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This thesis seeks to offer a rhetorical explanation to the sudden rise of superhero films in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This study draws on the theoretical writings of Kenneth Burke and his concepts of equipment for living and form. I argue through the rhetorical usage of form these films have constructed symbols that respond to the trauma and fears audiences experience living in the context of a post 9/11 world. Chapter one outlines a historical literature review tracing the origins of superhero films to their literary roots in comic books. This literature review outlines the history of comic book characters addressing social fear and trauma throughout the United States' history and suggests that superhero movies continue this tradition through the visual medium of film. Chapter two constructs a methodology in which to critically examine these films. The chapter outlines Burke's concept of the Symbol and Barry Brummett's notion of the rhetorical homology. With this methodology in place, chapter three and four present case studies explicating how form manifests itself in specific superhero films and explores the rhetorical influence these movies have on audiences. Chapter three examines the Symbol that is found within three films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Spider-man. Chapter four looks critically at the rhetorical homology that exists between the film 300 and the Bush administrations justification of the Iraq invasion. Furthermore, chapter four defines the Mask found in V for Vendetta as a site for political protest and a rhetorical source of empowerment for the disenfranchised. The concluding chapter investigates the ramifications of these symbols and critiques the messages some of them suggest to audiences and also discusses the opportunity for further research in the subject area.