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Fantastically reasonable: ambivalence in the representation of science and technology in super-hero comics

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Disciplines
  • Astronomy
  • Communication
  • Linguistics

Abstract

A long-standing contrast in academic discussions of science concerns its perceived disenchanting or enchanting public impact. In one image, science displaces magical belief in unknowable entities with belief in knowable forces and processes and reduces all things to a single technical measure. In the other, science is itself magically transcendent, expressed in technological adulation and an image of scientists as wizards or priests. This paper shows that these contrasting images are also found in representations of science in super-hero comics, which, given their lowly status in Anglo-American culture, would seem an unlikely place to find such commonality with academic discourse. It is argued that this is evidence that the contrast constitutes an ambivalence arising from the dilemmas that science poses; they are shared rhetorics arising from and reflexively feeding a set of broad cultural concerns. This is explored through consideration of representations of science at a number of levels in the comics, with particular focus on the science-magic constellation, and enchanted and disenchanted imagery in representations of technology and scientists. It is concluded that super-hero comics are one cultural arena where the public meaning of science is actively worked out, an activity that unites “expert” and “non-expert” alike.

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