Annotation: The Comics and the Super State

In this article, Ong argues that comics produced in the mid-1940s have shifted from reflecting the lives of normal Americans to presenting models of behavior influenced by the “super state” ideology. While Ong does not directly define or discuss the term “super state,” he identifies countries such as Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini as examples of super states: governments that were totalitarian, imposed a “herdist” mentality on its citizens, and created a new kind of “hero,” the Nietzschean super-man who can conquer anything with “machine-like precision.” In American comics, this hero is best represented by Superman (and his female counterpart, Wonder Woman).

While Ong’s purpose is not to condemn American comics entirely, he asserts that comics such as Superman and Wonder Woman illustrate that Americans have accepted new informational forms that make them less critical and more unaware of ideological biases. In fact, Ong argues, there are two “superstitions” that have allowed the super state ideology to infiltrate comics: the “normalcy superstition” and the “folklore superstition.” The former claims that anyone who is normal likes comics, a theory that prevents people from questioning what is in comics, and the latter ties comics to other art forms, particularly folklore, in an attempt to justify all content in comics.

In this article, Ong seems to express the same ideas he voices in “Contemporary Readings in the Higher Sophistry”: that the American public must read new forms of media and art as critically as possible and not be awed by the newness of the forms.