Superman, Wonder Woman, & the Subliminal Message

Superman New.jpg

Some tend to think of the comic strip as a childish or immature art form.  A closer look, however, will reveal the powerful influence of this artistic medium.  Like any other art form, comics have the ability to influence their readers through subliminal message – making subtle changes to their way of thinking.  This is something we need to appreciate, and is something we should be cautious of.

Super Hero Roots

The Great Depression had just hit in 1929, and quite honestly, the poverty-stricken public needed something else to think about.  Enter writer Jerry Siegel and illustrator Joe Shuster, two high school students from Cleveland, Ohio who joined forces to publish a small fanzine in 1933.  Their first story featured a villain called “The Superman,” a man given telepathic powers which eventually lead him to villainy.  Siegel and Shuster later recycled the name and attached it to a hero who was very much like a modern-day Hercules, and sold the character to Detective Comics in 1938.[1]

The public fell in love with the idea of an unassuming person, such as news reporter Clark Kent, who could do extraordinary things, and the age of the modern super hero had begun.

But not everyone viewed the comic book medium simply as a way to escape reality, or as mere fun and games.  Many realized the powerful influence that popular art could have on the public audience.  One such person was American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who published the first Wonder Woman comic in January 1942.

Created during World War II, Wonder Woman was depicted as a strong, liberated woman who is every bit as strong as Superman, but also manages to maintain her feminine beauty.  The character eventually becomes a secretary for the Justice Society of America and spends her time working against the Nazi regime.[2]

In a time where women were being called to join the workforce and support the war effort, the psychological message behind this new comic held widespread appeal.

 Subliminal Messages

So what exactly is the point of all this?  When engaging in any type of art (music, movies, books, you name it), we simply need to be aware of the fact that all works of art carry a hidden message.  Simply being aware of this can help us to listen carefully for the message behind the storyline and special effects, and decide for ourselves whether it is a message we ought to accept or reject.

The Bible often reminds us to be cautious of what influences we subject our minds and hearts to:

“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.” – Psalm 101:3

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

Comic Caution

We might expect a documentary or bestselling book to try and influence our way of thinking, but we often let down our guard with art forms that appeal to our more innocent and juvenile side, such as the comic strip.  In the end, however, art is art… if we allow ourselves to completely lose our grip on reality, then we may unknowingly internalize hidden propaganda before we even realize it.

Don’t let the primary colors fool you.  Just like Superman or Wonder Woman, the comic strip may seem unassuming at first, but it can pack quite a punch.


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