• With Great Power: A Narrative Analysis of Ethical Decisions in Superhero Films

      Fernback, Jan, 1964-; Mann, Larisa K.; Iliadis, Andrew (Temple University. Libraries, 2019)
      This study examines ethical decision-making processes as practiced by the cultural mythic hero of our time: the superhero. This study conducts a rhetorical narrative analysis of three key superhero films (The Dark Knight, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War) to locate moments when superhero characters make ethical decisions. The study evaluates their decision-making process using three ethical frameworks selected for their popularity in ethics courses as well as their relevance to the subject material; deontology, virtue ethics, and utilitarianism. Superheroes are famous for doing ‘the right thing’, and the purpose of this study is to determine to what degree these films function as an ethics education tool for the public which consumes them. In other words: do these films have a potential to instruct the viewer in answering ‘what is right’? This study looks closely at the ethical decision-making process in superhero films and determines the ways in which superhero films may indicate a potential for teaching ethical theory when these characters make the moral decisions for which they are famed. This study determined that utilitarianism and virtue ethics are both highly visible in superhero films, but rather than serving as a medium for learning, these films build and glorify a cult of personality. Ultimately, these films create messages which encourage the viewer to blindly accept ethical decisions made by the powerful, and to tolerate – and even crave – a tyrannical ruler. Because of the cultural impact these films have, a propagandistic message like this reaches millions of people, and it is vital to understand what the contents of that message are.