Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Pedagogy of the Superhero"

Last week, I had the opportunity to do my very first guest lecture - a 95 minute piece that I titled "Pedagogy of the Superhero", after a book that the class spent 3 weeks reading, Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It was basically, as you might have guessed from the title, about the values that superheroes in American pop culture impart on to kids.

Given that the course is 'Worlds of Childhood', the lecture was structured largely around 1) an analysis of the childhood ideologies into which Superman and Spider-man (though mostly the Lee-Ditko era Spidey), respectively, interpellate their readers, and 2) a look at child superheroes and kid sidekicks; the narrative functions that they are purported to serve and the normalizing functions that they actually serve. In retrospect, I was probably too anxious about justifying my lecture, and while I don't think that I should've abandoned this aspect altogether - I can remember, as an undergrad, appreciating it when literary analysis was given a larger socio-cultural context and didn't seem hopelessly insular and inapplicable to anything outside the classroom - it also distracted from the far more enjoyable stuff, like discussing Superman and nostalgia or parsing the very systematic way in which Supes is constructed through the opening credits to the 50s Adventures of Superman show.

I've found out, though, that I'll have an opportunity to refine it and re-present it when this class is taught during the Fall-Winter session - albeit it at only half the length. This is where I need some help, though. I've been asked to come up with a couple superhero stories to add to the course's reader, and I'm thinking that I'll run with the Superman/Spider-man comparison again. Which means that I need to find an exemplary - and probably old - 'big blue boyscout' Superman story and a Lee-Ditko Spider-man story where both Peter Parker and Spidey get a chance to be misunderstood. And they need to be widely available in black-and-white reprints. (The latter shouldn't be hard to find, but I don't know anything about the availability of old Superman stuff.) A little help?


Primate said...

Sounds like a keen-o lecture, Neil! If you want cheap b&w Superman reprints, I strongly recommend DC's many, many Superman-themed Showcase volumes.

Perhaps starting w/ this one:

The sequential, color Superman Chronicles series is also very good, but is printed in publication order, and hasn't yet reached the Silver Age, you best bet for cheese.

neilshyminsky said...

The Showcase volumes have been recommended by others, but what stories or issues in particular? I'm not particularly keen to slog through silver age Superman stories, so a few recommendations would seem more manageable.

Primate said...

I humbly submit "Clark Kent's College Days" from Superman #125 (1958), pg. 159 of the first Showcase volume (the one with Brainiac on the cover).

Lots of moral do-goodery, including Clark trying to keep his secret ID confidential while simultaneously worming his way out of lying overtly. Plus the old "I must not engage in intramural athletics because of my mighty brawn" saw.

The juxtaposition of teenaged Peter Parker with teenaged Clark Kent could be effective.

neilshyminsky said...

Teenaged Clark Kent stories do sound particularly apt. I'm going to have to bite the bullet, I think, and actually find a Showcase to look through - starting with that story.