For those not familiar with the term "higher toned" it refers to the Emotional Tone Scale that plots human emotion on a scale from Body Death at the bottom of the scale, up to Enthusiasm at the top of the scale, with all of the various emotions in between. The higher up the scale, the more likely you'll survive, the lower down the scale, the more likely you'll succumb. It has been my observation, being a comic book and superhero fan, that Superman has experienced a decline in popularity in society while Batman has experienced an increase in popularity over the last two decades. Why is this important? I believe it tells a tremendous amount about us and I want to explain why it is all tied up in emotional tone level.
Superman was the first real comic book superhero and his popularity spawned an entire boom in comic books across the world. Kids looked up to him and he symbolized what was best in people, a real hero that did what he did because it was right and no one had anything to fear because Superman would save the day. His emotional tone level was high, right around cheerful or higher, if he ever came down the tone scale it was when he was disguised as Clark Kent, but even then his tone level was conservative. He was popular decades ago because his tone matched the tone of society. Superman's first years were spent in an America convinced it could do anything. It was a productive country where you felt you could work hard and build a good life for yourself and your family regardless of where you came from, and Superman was an immigrant too. Something happened to society after a few more decades. No longer was there the cheerful George Reeves version of Superman or TV shows like Happy Days. Things got a little more serious right around the late 1970's and a big shift occurred in the 1980's which saw society exchange one hero for another.
Batman used to be a colorful personality in the Adam West TV show version of the character. When Batman and Robin punched someone it looked animated like a cartoon and a big "Kapow!" showed on screen. But when the 1980's happened people were phasing out of a Christopher Reeve Superman and headed into a Tim Burton Batman, much darker and inspired somewhat by the graphic novel "The Dark Knight" by Frank Miller. Soon Batman got darker and darker, taking us to the most recent Batman films, "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." By the time we get to "The Dark Knight" Batman has become way more serious in tone. He goes from a cheerful/conservative guy in Adam West's version to an angry, resentful hero. More alarmingly is the fact that the last Batman film won more fans for the villain of the movie rather than Batman, Heath Ledger's Joker being the real star of the film and the one kids sport on t-shirts everywhere.
We've gone from a higher toned society of people looking up to a cheerful Superman to a society connecting with the dark, brooding, anger of Batman, to now one that idolizes the Joker, a psychotic villain that paints his face like a clown and wields a knife: a classic, covertly hostile character. Forget the tone level of current television with it's Real Housewives, Jersey Shore, Nip/Tuck and Gossip Girl, and cast aside popular music like Lil' Wayne, Lady Gaga and Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, what does the tone level of our superheroes tell us? When we see Superman tossed aside for Batman and Batman tossed aside for the Joker, we should be concerned. The hero is no longer the guy in the white hat, he's now the guy in the black hat. And you may argue that it's more fun to root for the bad guy and say what's wrong with liking Al Pacino's Scarface character? There isn't anything wrong looking at and confronting evil, but there is something wrong when our society as a whole starts wanting to be more like it.
I have hope in mankind. I know that tone levels can be raised. I know that it doesn't happen overnight. I know that I am not alone in my observations and that some of you may relate to and understand what I am saying enough to do something about it. I know my course of action: to create higher toned entertainment and art and try my best not to support lower toned entertainment, especially low tone superheroes. For the record I enjoy Batman. I know a criminal killed his parents and he's out for revenge because of it but an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. I'd rather have Batman working to rehabilitate criminals so they never commit another crime because if you just lock them up they come back worse. I look forward to the future and I hope it takes a turn up the tone scale instead of further down it. I know it'll be an adventure either way and maybe someday we'll get as high toned as Erol Flynn's Robin Hood. I really hope we all hit that target.
Join my mailing list to receive new blog posts and updates.
Click here for more on the Tone Scale.
5/17/2012 02:53:49 am
Very interesting. I used to look at similar aspects of life against the tone scale as well. One of my favorites was my own game of "the Tone Scale and The Thousand Acre Wood" - being the setting for the Winnie the Pooh stories. I could narrow down someone's tone by the character they most related with. My general bands were:
5/17/2012 11:34:29 pm
Vanessa, your Winnie the Pooh and Tone Scale usage is brilliant! I will definitely have to spread it too!
Leave a Reply.
I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.