Teachers usually encourage students to prepare thoroughly for final exams so that when students arrive to class on exam day, they are ready to demonstrate their full knowledge of course material. However, this year’s seniors in Rhetoric 2 were told they could not prepare for their final exam. Instead, they showed up to class on exam day, chose a topic from a previously uncirculated list, had 45 minutes to write out a full argument fleshing out their position and supporting reasons, and then were graded on oral deliveries of these speed arguments along with their content.
All of the seniors passed with flying colors – a testament to their consistent growth as thinkers, writers, and speakers over the last two years as they have been challenged in humanities, rhetoric, and other aspects of academic life at Petra. This week, we share with you the three most stellar arguments, ending with senior Maddie Dunham.
Are comic books literature? On what level should we interact with them? Should we engage them as we do work of literature by authors like Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth?
In our culture today, media and entertainment co-rule as king. Gone are the days when most of the population would pick up a book and take quiet time to read it. Now, many kids, teenagers, and adults constantly turn on their devices such as an ipad or laptop or phone and spend hours on games, Netflix, social media, etcetera. We live in a world that is based on entertainment.
This idea of entertainment is not just centered around screens, however. Magazines and modern books and activities have all been designed for the sole purpose of human enjoyment. And in catering to enjoyment, they have lost beauty and the standard rules that art and books must have. This brings us to a specific question. Since there are other forms of entertainment besides digital ones, do we classify comic books in the category of only entertainment? And if we do, does it fulfill the rules that are inherent to the world of literature, as they are books after all?
In this short presentation, I argue that they should not be considered literature. For this paper, I will argue that literature has specific characteristics that comic books simply do not align to.
Literature is beautiful in form, contains meaning below the surface of the story, and leaves the reader with a desire to contemplate and reflect on what they just read. First, I will explain a bit of how comic books are a part of our society and history and then explain why they do not fall under the category of literature.
As was stated in my introduction, our world lives on entertainment. Everyday, we constantly check our facebooks or emails, turn on our pop music, and binge watch Netflix for a few hours or so. We have become a generation that has not only lost the ability to communicate well with others, but to understand what the great arts and people of the past have given us to study. Books have turned from great works like The Space Trilogy or Lord of the Rings or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to cringe-worthy books such as Fifty Shades of Grey or The Twilight Series or Divergent. These books were not written with beauty or meaning, they are only in existence to entertain its readers. This is an abuse of what it means to write books and good literature. Comic books also come into play here with its purpose of entertaining and bringing enjoyment to the reader.
So to begin, we must understand what literature is.
First, literature is beautiful in form. There have always been certain characteristics specific to the form of art we label books under. It must have structure, the storyline must make sense, there must be a heightened plot at some point in order to break up the monotony of a simple story. But there is a difference between books and literature. While some books may be considered literature, not all books can be. Literature is beautiful, not just through what is being said, but the way it is said. A good author will know how to use just the right word in order to make their sentence sound good, thus leading to good paragraphs and chapters, and eventually, a whole book. Comic books do fall under several rules regarding structure, but it’s mostly full of dialogue (sometimes crass or harsh) and doesn’t set a very beautiful picture of what occurs inside. So comic books fail when it comes to beautiful form or content.
Secondly, literature contains meaning that goes beyond the surface. For many good works of literature, they need to be read more than once in order for their full meaning to be conveyed. Some works of literature could probably never be fully explained. And this is beautiful because it contains mystery that so many books lack today. For example, if a person were to take a look at The Divine Comedy by Dante, they would know simply by the beauty and extravagance of the language that it would take years and maybe even a lifetime for someone to extract all the hidden meaning and connections inside the story. This is such an important role that literature has, to keep its readers constantly invested in the story and for its readers to ponder what it is they read. So many books today, including teen series and comic books, are very shallow and lead to no such type of contemplation or beauty.
Thirdly, and as was partially mentioned earlier, a main goal of literature is to leave its readers with the desire to understand it and ponder it. This comes not only from investigating the form, but the meaning that is hidden inside. Literature also teaches about history and politics of certain eras, virtues and what goodness looks likes, literature should teach rather than solely entertain.
Many people might argue that it is important for a person to just relax and be entertained sometimes. But not only does this misuse the capabilities we, as human beings, have to be able to understand great works of literature, it is a waste of the very valuable and limited time we have on this earth. Some people may also argue that comic books do have storylines and truth to them. I am not denying that comic books do not contain truth. Even if the superhero triumphs over the evil scientist, it’s not enough to convict a person of the beauty of such goodness.
Because we have defined literature and explained how changed our culture has become, we should be able to recognize by now that comic books do not fall under such a category. They are entertaining and may contain some redemptive themes, but they fall short of what our definition of literature is. Literature is beautiful in form, contains meaning below the surface of the story, and leaves the reader with a desire to contemplate and reflect on what they just read. So, please enjoy your comic books, if you have some. I don’t, but you don’t want to know how much time I spend on Netflix. But we must also understand that we have the capability and time and resources to read greater things that should not only entertain and bring us joy, but should cause us to reflect and grow us into the persons we are becoming.