UNT students to study superheroes in summer class

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

DENTON (UNT), Texas — The 2012 summer movie season may be a superhero movie season, with “The Avengers” breaking U.S. box office records by earning more than $200 million its first three days of release and reaching global earnings of $1.18 billion.

Expectations are also high for the July releases of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a reboot of the three “Spider-Man” films that were released beginning in 2002, and “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third in a series and a different version of the “Batman” films that were released beginning in 1989.

At the University of North Texas, superheroes are more than characters in popular movies. They’re serious study in the “Mythic Rhetoric of the American Superhero” course, which is being offered during UNT’s five-week summer session June 4-July 6.

The class is open to all undergraduates and graduate students as a special topics course in UNT’s Department of Communication Studies. Students study some of the recurring cultural issues, mythic themes and rhetoric that are communicated in the superhero genre in comic books and movies. The topics discussed will include mythic American values championed by superheroes; power and its ethical responsibility to humanity and society; vigilante justice and democracy, and superheroes’ perspectives on contemporary issues.

“The class is intended to be challenging and engaging, and it’s a fun way to introduce students to everyday rhetoric and philosophical issues,” said Shaun Treat, assistant professor of communication studies.

Treat started the course in the fall of 2008 as a graduate-level course with only 15 students. This summer, 70 students are enrolled, including art, English, environmental science, philosophy and education majors.

The class has its own blog, a reading packet the size of a large phone book and a textbook, “The Myth of the American Superhero,” a scholarly nonfiction book published in 2002. During the five weeks of this summer’s class, students will read two comic books a week, and must complete a paper analyzing a superhero featured in a movie or TV show.

Treat noted that half of the students who previously took the class said they had never read a comic book. He said that at although comic books are often viewed as a children’s genre with little to no value to adults or educated readers, comic books have become ”increasingly complex and culturally relevant even as they have spawned a whole blockbuster genre of U.S. cinema.”

“The ‘graphic novels’ of the 1980s are now recognized as serious literature for political and socio-cultural critique regarding issues of political power, race, class and gender,” he said.

He said the class has evolved to include more discussion on comics and their influence on film.

“We’re seeing a trend toward the darker heroes. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy delves into ideology and politics. The same is expected to be true of the new Spider Man,” he said. “But ‘The Avengers’ is lighter, as are some of the previously released movies that featured the superheroes in that universe.”

Treat said student demand for the class resulted in it changing from a small graduate-level course to a large undergraduate course with no prerequisites.

“Students have given really great evaluations for it, and I’m often asked when it will be offered again,” he said.

Note to editors and reporters: Beginning June 4 (Monday), “The Mythic Rhetoric of the American Superhero” class will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays in Room A419 of UNT’s Life Sciences Complex. Contact Nancy Kolsti at 940-565-3509 or nancy.kolsti@unt.edu to arrange to attend the class.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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