Sunday, July 10, 2011

Power Fantasies

So, superhero comics are often characterized as stemming from adolescent male power fantasies. At the bottom, it's the average, powerless person actually (and secretly) having the power to do the things they dream of doing. I suspect Spider-Man is probably the most purely distilled version of this--a bullied, powerless geek is secretly the hero that his bully idolizes.

So, I'm curious: what's an example of an adolescent female power fantasy? If it's basically the same, then why do we gender the characterization?

I think the example that gets thrown around most is similar in the "secret princess" archetype, the "I'm not who I appear to be, I'm actually someone famous/powerful/magical" story that underlies "Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld" and other stories.

But is that it? Is that even accurate? It seems like there's considerable overlap, "Matilda" fits the male power fantasy model, but "Harry Potter" falls into the female one, suggesting more to do with the author's gender than the protagonist's, which makes sense.

I'll probably do some additional looking around on this, but it's been awhile since I wrote something literary here, and I figured I'd put the call out for input.


Matthew E said...

All fictional stories are, at least partially, power fantasies. I believe this. Any story you read, you're fantasizing about being that person instead of being you, on some level. And all those characters have power: they have the power to not be you, to not care about the specific circumstances of your life, to get to deal with the more exotic demands of fiction instead of the quotidian details of reality.

I think the superhero stories and the princess stories are just more obvious about it.

Of course, if they're all power fantasies, then it becomes uninteresting to point out that any one story is a power fantasy. I believe that too.

Tom Foss said...

That's an interesting perspective, and one that makes a lot of sense. It does suggest the existence (or possibility) of an anti-power fantasy story, where the appeal is that the character is so put-upon and powerless that the reader feels the catharsis of having a better life than that.

The question then becomes whether or not different groups of people have different kinds of power fantasies. I suspect that the power fantasy of the child (to be a hero!) is different from the power fantasy of an adult (to do all the stuff I can't get away with!). So do men and women (on average) have different kinds of power fantasies? And how do they differ?

Will Staples said...

Re: Female power fantasies: You could probably analyze the whole magical girl genre to see if you can pick out any fundamental differences from male power fantasies, along with western equivalents like Amethyst, She-Ra, Jem, etc. (Right off the bat, pimped-out frilly costumes seem to be a common thread.) You could write a thesis on Sailor Moon alone.