Tag: Eugenics

The Point of Popularity

This past week, Chris Gavaler came to speak with us about the origins of superheroes. While we spoke at great length, both during and after class, my response to his ideas on transgression and the literary tradition of eugenics in Superheros will be intertwined with my final essay. As for this post, I want to address his idea of a ‘point of popularity’ in relation to my ongoing development of the tree of origins.


If you have read any of my previous posts (you most likely haven’t), you may notice my fascination with the organization of origins. Specifically, I believe that each origin is a node on a hierarchical tree of all origins. The parent origin is unknown to us, but we can see how the origin of American short fiction traces to the origin of fiction writing which traces back to the written tradition of literature etc. etc. Gavaler mentioned something new to this theory: perception of origins construed by popularity. His theory is that we, as consumers and the uninformed, see Superman as his own entity. In reality, the origins of Superman is actually the summations of previous fictional characters, eugenics, and American diction circa 1938. We, as the uninformed consumer, do not notice the cultural influence, and instead focus on the cultural significance — we forget everything that led to this point.


I argue that this bottleneck of sorts fits into my hierarchical model quite well, and that we have a rather limited view of the tree of origins. For example, we are so struck by the invention of computers that we fail to recognize its predecessor: Alan Turing’s Bombe machine. Of course, with the creation of ‘The Imitation Game’ we ALL know that story. But what about the distant predecessor of computers? We often forget the importance of Ada Lovelace and diagram for the computation of Bernoulli numbers. Lovelace is credited by some to be the original ‘computer programmer’, but her work is often — dare I say, rightfully — overlooked, because… well… computers! That is to say, we — and I repeat –, as the uninformed consumer, are only aware of an impactful origin as long as it’s popular. When the next great thing rolls around, we are quick to move on. Granted, we all see the name Nintendo and think of the N64; but can we name all the summands that led to the creation of the SNES… probably not.


Of course this has a great impact on the public perception of the term ‘original’. In previous posts, I have noted that the ‘original’ is actually only the first origin — the thing which has been around since the beginning. Yet, if we lose sight of the influential factors of an origin, as Gavaler argued, we understand that lone origin to be the original. Take a moment to look at a term in pop culture: ‘OG’ or ‘original gangster’. Often times, OG refers to Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., but that’s because society has largely moved past Lucky Luciano and Bugs Moran.


If you’re looking for a grand conclusion, which I’m sure you are, take away this: nothing (except one thing) is the true original. Everything we interact with every second of every day, is a summation of predecessors and past influencers. Everything (except one thing) is an iteration.

Origins of Superheroes

This week we had, Professor Chris Gavaler from Washington and Lee University speak to us about the origins of superheroes. The origins of superheroes is a fascinating topic since American comic books and superheroes were essential to my early childhood development. The comic books I read were all about beings who had super abilities fighting villains, which I believe, subconsciously, embed a sense of duty to do social good in me. Frankly, serving the community with social good wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do, in my childish and naïve mind I thought I could develop superpowers within the boundaries of today’s science.

Professor Chris Gavaler’s book “Origins of Superheroes,” intertwined the ideas of eugenics, evolution, sports, and superheroes. Similar to the comic books I read during my childhood, in his book the superheroes he talks about are super beings who are good people that were providing outside justice for the society against villains. These super beings were thought to have very desirable traits and that these traits were only inheritable. This les to eugenics in the United States in the early 20th century.  Eugenics in the United States was led by wealthy Caucasians who believed that genetic quality of the human population would improve if they stopped reproduction of non-white children. People who led the eugenics in the United States believed white genes were superior and did not like the idea of diluting the white desired characteristics. The main idea that was widely accepted was that a superhuman would be created after generations of selective breeding. People believed that if they create superhuman, it will end all social problems like crime, poverty, epidemics, etc… Th.is idea of eugenics was more popularized in Nazi Germany when Hitler believed in the same ideology of superior Aryan race. Hitler wanted to make Europe with superior Aryan genes and thought eugenics would produce a pure Caucasian superhuman. Hitler believed that a new superhuman would bring greatness to Germany to the likes of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, however through eugenics and human testing led to deaths of millions of people.

In the lecture, Professor Chris Gavaler also mentions that in the superhero universe superheroes share the same trait and the root of all other superheroes could stem from the first superhero. However, the first superhero isn’t the origin of superheroes since there are many different factors such as, cultures, religion, and eugenics that came before the first superhero. We can conclude that superheroes came from different cultures and religions from all around the world creating its own unique superhero culture.

It is not surprising people want to become extraordinary. It is human nature to become better in all aspects of life and wants change within oneself. However, eugenics or any form of testing on humans or any living thing which can lead to harm should be avoided. Today, there are many breakthroughs, in the biotechnology industry and in the fields of artificial intelligence and genetic manipulation which has promising results that can improve human traits. We should look to always progress but at the cost of negatively affecting others.

Inner-disciplinary Darwin

I rarely critique lecturers in this post. In fact, I never have. Yet, something about this past lecture rubbed me the wrong way. Please, don’t mistake this note to be a criticism on Janet Browne herself. She is clearly the authority on Darwin and his corpus of books, essays, and letters. That being said, I didn’t feel as though the lecture truly fit the ethos of ‘Science-Technology-Society’. That is to say, I didn’t feel as though this lecture entertained the interdisciplinary nature of the STS department. This post, likewise, is a response to the material on hand — not framed in an interdisciplinary context.


After reading the vast majority of Janet Browne’s Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography, I was truly impressed with her breadth of included information. As a student in American schools studying biology, I learned about Darwin’s overarching studies and his underlying impact in biology. I had not, however, learned of his upbringing, studies, and marital life; both of which I feel greatly impact his research. More specifically, I feel that his inner battles with religion, coming from a religious family, may have impeded his self-awareness as an evolutionist. That being said, his brief stint in medical school brought his closer to science and biology. All in all, Browne’s approach to big history is refreshing and quite eye-opening.


As for Darwin himself: I do also find a great amount of interest in the causational relationship Darwin had on the eugenics movement. Specifically, I am intrigued by the nature of the purely observational science conducted at this time. Findings were simply observations grounded in truth, and so ‘genetics’ at that time was more a game of probability than biology. Therefore, it’s understandable that a great many individuals believe that the government could filter out genetic traits via selective breeding. Of course, this form of observational science has a great many number of faults, and it wasn’t for another one hundred years until scientists could fully discern behavioral qualities from genetic qualities — nature vs. nurture. Whether it be racism or simply ignorant, innocent aspirations, eugenics can be traced back to Darwin and his rooftop pigeon experiments.


I truly wish we could have further discussed the relationship between Charles Darwin and the ‘Origins’ lecture series theme: ‘order and chaos’. I believe that such an influential individual has left such an astounding impact on society, and it’s a shame we missed the opportunity to discuss this in great detail. If you’re looking for a great conclusion in this post, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one. That being said, I find it quite interesting that he reappears again in the Chris Gavaler lecture on the ‘Origins of Superheroes’ in the context of eugenics. Perhaps that’s something to note, but I think we can say without a shadow of a doubt that Darwin’s influence reached across more disciplines than he is given credit for.