Superhero Films

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Copyright by Michael Tyler Welsh 2012

The Thesis Committee for Michael Tyler Welsh Certifies that this is the approved version of the following thesis:

Symbolic Heroes: Superhero Films in a Post 9/11 World

APPROVED BY SUPERVISING COMMITTEE:

Supervisor: Barry Brummett Shaun Treat

Symbolic Heroes: Superhero Films in a Post 9/11 World

by Michael Tyler Welsh, B.A. Comm.

Thesis
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Master of Arts

The University of Texas at Austin May 2012

Dedication

For Amelia

Acknowledgements

I would first and foremost like to thank my advisor, Barry Brummett, for his incredible guidance throughout this entire process. I do no believe I would have been able to handle the pressure and stress of a project like this without your amazing ability to always point me in the right direction when I was feeling overwhelmed. It is an honor to be able to work closely with someone whose knowledge, advice, and patience are invaluable to a young scholar like myself. I would also like to thank Shaun Treat for being a part of this project as well. It was your work in the area of superheroes that inspired me to combine my passion for heroes in primary colors and the field of rhetoric. Your support and help throughout this process has been immense and I could not have asked more from a “reader.” Without this supervising committee, I am confident that this thesis would have been nearly impossible to complete. I thank you both for your understanding and support. I also like to thank my mentor and amazing teacher Billy Earnest for encouraging me to pursue a graduate degree and being there with me every step of the way. Without your counsel and help I would never have thought of an academic life beyond the undergraduate world, and I forever indebted to you for that. I especially would like to thank my loving and wonderful wife Amelia. Your incredible ability to never once tire of listening to me ramble about the rhetorical significance of Batman and such, inspires me to a better husband and a better human. I promise one day you will not have to be my research assistant. Finally, v

although not by any means last, I wish to thank my parents and family for always pushing me to go further and always believing in my academic pursuits.

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Abstract

Symbolic Heroes: Superhero Films in a Post 9/11 World
Michael Tyler Welsh, M.A. The University of Texas at Austin, 2012

Supervisor: Barry Brummett

Abstract: 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 vii

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...
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