Dilution of Symbolism

By | Saturday, April 15, 2006 Leave a Comment
I was driving on the highway and saw a truck ahead of me with a Batman symbol trailer hitch. First thought: "Hey, cool." Second thought: "Wait. Why does ANYONE have a Batman-design trailer hitch?"

It got me to thinking. If you see someone with a t-shirt or backpack or whatever with a Green Lantern or Mage or Fantastic Four symbol on it, it's a fair bet that the person actively likes those characters. It further follows that you can guage something of their character -- their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc. -- based on what characters they're drawn to. Fans of the Flash have some different qualities than fans of, say, the X-Men or the Avengers. But if someone is sporting a Superman or Batman logo, that doesn't necessarily translate to a fan of the character per se. The logos so permeate our culture of symbolism that their original meanings have become lost. Does the Superman "S" symbol still represent "truth, justice and the American way"? (Of course, what exactly the "American way" is another question altogether!) What does the Batman symbol even mean?

The problem, it seems to me, is that DC has done so much marketing with their main characters that the buying public have been too far removed from the actual characters. Marvel has a similar -- but lesser -- issue with Spider-Man.

The question, then, becomes does that actually work in DC's and Marvel's favor? It's not really raising awareness of the characters and it's not drawing more people into comic shops. Sure, the licensing generates some revenue for them but is that worth it?

I don't know, honestly. But I have to wonder if the folks at Marvel and DC have really put that much thought into it.
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