A Disease of Purchase: Consumerism Culture and Comic Books

No Thumbnail Available
McKenna, Lawrence E.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Middle Tennessee State University
"[T]he new medical system . . . emerged to protect the public and state from epidemics that threatened the economic system." - Kelly Tian, et. al, "Transforming Health Care"
This study will fulfill a task that scholars David Kunzle and Aaron Meskin called for in their studies of the comic book genre. It will answer their call to historicize the comic book and thereby more thoroughly define what is integral to the definition of comics. This study will show that the history of the comic book represents a criminal type of consumerism that is reflected in all salient aspects of the genre. This study supports the notion that a history of corruption resulting from criminal activities and a pathological obsession with consumerism are the two key elements that define the genre. These criminal consumerist elements continue to infect the industry still today, and the harmful consequences of these elements will be investigated; this study determines that antidotes to this sickness are empathetic advocacy narratives as well as other characteristics most cogently exhibited by the works of Alan Moore.
The introductory chapter will review prior scholarship that has attempted to define the comic book genre. Branching off from prior understanding of the genre, this study will extend beyond prior definitions by historicizing the comic book instead of focusing only on aesthetic and narrative aspects of the genre. It will reestablish the importance of a Marxist social morality, and will explicate the ways that comic books display and utilize such politicization by commenting upon topical societal concerns.
The second chapter will argue against the claims put forth by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green in Spreadable Media. The authors' signature claim is the belief that users of media are now forming what they call participants who have been empowered through their use of digital technologies and can, therefore, force the corporate world to acknowledge them and cooperate with them. A practical and grounded study of contemporary consumerism is presented to illustrate that users of media have simply turned digital technologies into another marketplace and that corporations have not deviated from former practices.
The third chapter will prove that the crime comic is the quintessential comic book subgenre because it surfaces from a need to reflect the industry's criminal origins. Crime comics continue to perpetuate a gangster ethos in contemporary comic books. Primarily, this chapter is informed by Michel Foucault's theories of archaeologies of language and nonaccidental omissions. Using these theories, this section will show how the comic industry produces texts of prevarication to distance the industry from its criminal origins. Current industry trends will be investigated to bring to light the ways that the comic industry continues to commit criminal and highly unethical acts.

The fourth chapter will present the ideas of Alan Moore as a corrective to the predominant narrative and business trends found in comics. Based on Moore's morally informed worldview, this study will thoroughly examine how his narratives are fictional constructs of empathy, advocacy, and connectedness. Moore's philosophical system of psychogeography will be used as a filter to study his works. Moore's abstention from current and historical industry practices will present a context for his view that the comic book genre is inherently anarchist, a term he defines as the creation of empathetic narratives of personal responsibility.
The conclusion will contend that future studies must use the criminal consumerism definition of the genre to study other time periods in comic book history. It will call for further studies of works like Alan Moore's that are empathetic liberation narratives that counter the comic book cliche of a dichotomous worldview.
Alan Moore, Comic Book History, Comic Books, Consumerism, Gangster Ethic, Spreadable Media