torsdag 22 september 2011

Heroes inherit their wealth, villains earn it

Julian Sanchez  makes an interesting point. Worth reading in full.

Just off the top of my head, here are some of the most prominent superhero characters who have, for some significant chunk of their histories, been portrayed as CEOs of large corporations:
• Bruce Wayne (Batman)
• Oliver Queen (Green Arrow)
• Tony Stark (Iron Man)
• Ted Kord (Blue Beetle)

Here are the first four CEO supervillains who spring to mind:
• Lex Luthor
• Wilson Fisk (Kingpin)
• Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias)
• Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) (...)

While the pattern in comics inverts the meritocratic ideal that seems to rule in most modern American fiction, it fits quite naturally with a pre-capitalist aristocratic ethos, which persisted at least through the early 20th century in the form of Old Money’s contempt for the nouveau riche.  Jane Jacobs, in her bookSystems of Survival, contrasted this aristocratic view, which she dubbed the “Guardian” moral complex, with “bourgeois” or “mercantile” ethics. In this worldview, while wealth and the leisure time it affords may be necessary preconditions of cultivating certain noble qualities (whether that’s appreciation of classical art and literature, or the martial, deductive, and scientific skills of a masked crimefighter), the grubby business of acquiring money is inherently corrupting. The ideal noble needs to have wealth, while being too refined to  be much concerned with becoming wealthy. It’s permissible for Stark and Kord to be largely responsible for the success of their companies because their contribution is essentially a side effect of their exercise of their intellectual virtues. Along similar lines, while the Fantastic Four have plainly become enormously wealthy from the income stream generated by Reed Richards’ many patents, I don’t recall many scenes in which we see Richards stepping out of the lab to apply his intelligence directly to their commercialization: His inventions are presumably sold or licensed to others who concern themselves with transforming Richards’ genius into cash.
A similar pattern holds for literally noble or aristocratic power in comics. Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) and T’Challa (Black Panther) are hereditary royalty. Doctor Doom and Magneto are members of despised and oppressed minority groups (Doom is Roma; Magneto a Jewish mutant) who actively seize leadership of Latveria and Genosha, respectively. Democratic power doesn’t fare too much better: Lex Luthor was briefly president of the United States. 

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