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Superheroes and makeup

2009 February 18
by Michelle Bennett

So today’s panel of fictional characters got me thinking more about the superheroes and superheroines of popular culture (because my knowledge of comics and superheroes is REALLY limited) and how gendered they are. This train of thought, of course, didn’t lead me far, just because of how obviously gendered most superheroes are. Batman’s muscles are so prominent that they’re molded into his costume. Same with Superman. However, there are other facets of gender and technology to be considered. For example, has anyone else noticed that, while newer renditions of superheroes in film have still been centered around an average joe and his alter ego, the average joe has gotten more and more, well, average? Let’s take Edward Norton as the Hulk, or Toby Maguire as Spiderman. Both guys, while representing masculinity in their own ways, are a far cry from Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne, in terms of physique. It seems that popular culture is straying somewhat from the prototype of masculinity as illustrated by bulky muscles, and is instead replacing it with a newer, kind of geek/chic version of masculinity. 

Also, there’s the matter of masks versus makeup, both of which we have considered in this class as modes of technology. Both offer variability and programability of one’s appearance. Most superheroes have a mask, while most villains (and again, my knowledge of this stuff is really limited to the superhero hollywood movies) wear makeup. While the superheroes can take their masks on or off, the villains (like the Joker, Penguin, etc) are defined by their perpetual makeup masks. They really wouldn’t be recognizable without their makeup. Can we deduce a more generalized statement about makeup from this observation? That perhaps people use it to define their identity, rather than to disguise it? I can think of a couple of ruptures in this assumption, but I’m sure there’s more to say about this…

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  1. Emily Gould, “Blog-Post [Not-So] Confidential” | Gender and Technology Spring 2009

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