Heroes, Villains, and Victims: Hagiography, Demonization, and Narrative's Role in Assessing Who Matters

deadline for submissions: 
April 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Midwest Modern Language Association

Literature and history are rife with figures who are difficult to assess. For example, the television show Dexter was premised on the question of whether or not a murderer who only kills other murderers is a villain or a dark hero. Likewise, both historians and authors have attempted to determine whether John Brown was a hero, a terrorist, a victim, or a madman? Similarly, depending on the perspective from which he is analyzed, Che Guevara was a heroic revolutionary, a violent executioner, or, perhaps, a bit of both? Was Bertha Mason the madwoman in the attic as Charlotte Bronte would have us believe or a victim of the forces of both colonialization and patriarchy as Jean Rhys describes? What impact does rhetorical and literary production play in how these individuals are understood? What is the impact of our own subject position as we read and analyze these texts? How might we see beyond those subject positions?

This panel seeks to uncover how we understand such ideas as victim, enemy, revolutionary, and terrorist through a study of the language used to produce or encode each of these groups. What role does language play in developing the hero and castigating the villain? This conversation will, hopefully, open doors to help us understand how, in the polarized political world of the 21st century, language creates heroes and villains as well as unpack the implications of this type of rhetoric. It will also give us a lens by which to understand how individuals are either humanized or dehumanized in literature, media, and historical narratives. And it will force us to consider what role literature, media outlets, social media, and the classroom play in casting individuals and groups as either hero or villain.

This panel will accept papers that look at the construction of figures from both fiction and the world outside of the pages of the book.

* What constitutes an acceptable victim? Is it tied to notions of gender, race, or age?

* What are the hallmarks of a villain? What are the ethical implications of “humanizing” the villain? What are the benefits?

* How does language impact the ways in which figures are come to be seen as either a victim or the enemy?

* What is the purpose of hagiography and what needs does it serve? What is the role that demonization plays in the development of heroic figures and why do we seem to need villains as well?

* What is the impact of understanding both our heroes and our villains as morally complex characters? What is gained by engaging in the work of undoing hagiography even of those we personally revere? What is lost when we don’t do this work?

Please submit 300-500 word abstract with a short biography to erika.mccombs@elmhurst.edu by April 15th.