Saturday, February 4, 2017

Why Frederick Douglass Is Being Portrayed On Twitter As A Contemporary Super Hero

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II in a three part pancocojams series on Frederick Douglass in contemporary United States culture.

Part II explores why Frederick Douglas is being portrayed on twitter as a contemporary superhero.

Click for Part I of this series. Part I documents United States President Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicers' ambiguous comments about Frederick Douglass and provides a summary about the many accomplishments of that 19th century African American.

Click for Part III of this post. Part III provides examples of tweets from and about a fictionalized Frederick Douglass (from

The content of this post is presented for cultural and political purposes.

Thanks to Frederick Douglass for his life's legacy. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, the composer of the song that is featured in this post, and the publisher of the video that is embedded in this post.

PART II: Frederick Douglass And Super Heroes
From Twitter lampoons Trump for Frederick Douglass comments
by Sean Rossman , USA TODAY Published 4:55 p.m. ET Feb. 1, 2017 | Updated 5:57 p.m. ET Feb. 2, 2017
President Donald Trump's meeting Wednesday with African-American leaders provided his critics on Twitter with plenty of ammo — and they didn't shy from taking fire.

"The White House meeting involved Trump praising black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass while weaving in shots at media outlets...

The statement getting perhaps the most attention was his roundabout way of lauding Douglass, the famed abolitionist: "Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice."

Here's what Twitter had to say about Trump's comments:
Daniel Dale ✔ @ddale8
Does the president or the White House press secretary know that Frederick Douglass is dead
3:47 PM - 1 Feb 2017

jelani cobb ✔ @jelani9
Learned today that Frederick Douglass is still alive, which I found oddly comforting.
3:32 PM - 1 Feb 2017"

From The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories

How does following the adventures of Spider-Man and Batman inspire us to cope with adversity?
By Robin Rosenberg, February 2013
..."At their best, superhero origin stories inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose. (Wearing a cape or tights is optional.)"...

"In modern popular fiction, a superhero (sometimes rendered super-hero or super hero) is a type of costumed heroic character who possesses supernatural or superhuman powers and who is dedicated to fighting crime, protecting the public, and usually battling supervillains. A female superhero is sometimes called a superheroine (also rendered super-heroine or super heroine). Fiction centered on such characters, especially in American comic books since the 1930s, is known as superhero fiction.

By most definitions, characters do not require actual supernatural or superhuman powers or phenomena to be deemed superheroes.[1][2][3] While the definition of "superhero" is "a figure, especially in a comic strip or cartoon, endowed with superhuman powers and usually portrayed as fighting evil or crime",[4] the longstanding Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the definition as "a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also: an exceptionally skillful or successful person...

Minority superheroes
In keeping with their origin as representing the archetypical hero stock character in 1930s American comics, superheroes are predominantly depicted as white Anglo-Saxon American middle- or upper-class heterosexual young adult males who are typically tall, athletic, educated, physically attractive and in perfect health. Beginning in the 1960s with the civil rights movement in the United States, and increasingly with the rising concern over political correctness in the 1980s, superhero fiction centered on cultural, ethnic, national and racial minority groups (from the perspective of US demographics) began to be produced. This began with depiction of black superheroes in the 1960s, followed in the 1970s with a number of other ethnic superheroes.[47]."...
By any standard Frederick Douglass was "an exceptionally skillful or successful person". (Read a summary of Frederick Douglass' background and accomplishments in Part I of this series).

And 6 ft tall. attractive, lion-like coiffed Frederick Douglas even fits the physical characteristics of a super hero (if you ignore the bias that super heros must be White.].

The photographs of Frederick Douglass that we have don't portray him in any way that would be antithetical to the image of a larger than life super hero.

Here's an excerpt from
"Douglass considered photography very important in ending slavery and racism, and believed that the camera would not lie, even in the hands of a racist white, photographs being an excellent counter to the many racist caricatures, particularly in blackface minstrelsy. He was the most photographed American of the 19th Century, self-consciously using photography to advance his political views.[58][59] He never smiled, specifically so as not to play into the racist caricature of a happy slave. He tended to look directly into the camera to confront the viewer, with a stern look."[60][61]

SHOWCASE VIDEO: Shrek 2 - I Need A Hero

frontera2032 Published on Jul 1, 2013

El tema de Bonnie Taylor en Shrek 2.

From Spanish to English: Bonnie Taylor's theme [song in the movie] in Shrek 2
(Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford)

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the morning light
He's gotta be sure
And it's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life

Somewhere after midnight
In my wildest fantasy
Somewhere just beyond my reach
There's someone reaching back for me
Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat
It's gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet


Up where the mountains meet the heavens above
Out where the lightning splits the sea
I would swear that there's someone somewhere
Watching me

Through the wind and the chill and the rain
And the storm and the flood
I can feel his approach

Like the fire in my blood


Click for information about this song.
In the context of this discussion of Frederick Douglas being portrayed as a superhero, perhaps this line should be changed to "Isn't there a black knight upon a fiery steed?"

SHOWCASE VIDEO: what Superheroes are Made of: Phillip Thurtle at TEDxRainier

TEDx Talks Published on Nov 28, 2012 [given with on screen text]

This talk explores in a novel way the underpinnings of the superheroes who permeate our culture and who inspire millions.

Phillip Thurtle is an interdisciplinary scholar using the tools of cultural and intellectual history, continental philosophy, media theory, and science and technology studies to discover how the material culture of information processing redefines life and the potential of human beings. He is director of the Comparative History of Ideas program, associate professor in History, and Adjunct in Anthropology at the University of Washington.

This talk was given at TEDxRainier in Seattle on November 10, 2012. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Social media-especially twitter- has taken advantage of ambiguous statements about Frederick Douglass that were made by United States President Donald Trump and his Press Secretary Sean Spicer, to mock* Trump and his administration. In those tweets Frederick Douglass often is portrayed as a super hero.

Frederick Douglass also is sometimes mentioned in tweets about a later gaff about the fictitious "Bowling Green Massacre" that was made by Trump's advisor/spokesperson Kellyanne Conway**

This is one way that super heroes (and gods) are created: Take a larger than life historical figure and give him (and much less often "her") super human characteristics and powers.

Transforming Frederick Douglass into a superhero may be needed as a temporary respite from resistance actions, and/or anxiety, disgust, or dread about Trump’s administration and other real life happenings and potential happenings.

But is it disrespectful?
* The words "mock", "lampoon", "ridicule" have all been used in articles about the ways that comedians, people on twitter, and others have used Frederick Douglas to poke fun at Trump and his Press Secretary's administrations) statements about Frederick Douglass.

**Kellyanne Conway cites a ‘Bowling Green massacre’ that never happened to defend travel ban" February 3, 2017

Click for Tweets that mention a contemporary Frederick Douglas are among these postings.

Here are a few examples of these tweets:
Alec MacGillisVerified account ‏@AlecMacGillis, February 3, 2017
"One still shudders to think how bad the Bowling Green massacre would've been if not for the heroic intervention of Fred Douglass."

Natasha RothwellVerified account ‏@natasharothwell, February 3, 2017
"Saddened and sickened by Frederick Douglass' silence surrounding the Bowling Green Massacre.

Matt ‏@StartedTweeting, February 4, 2017
"I'll never forget the eulogy Frederick Douglass gave at the memorial for the victims of the Bowling Green Massacre."

Eric Wolfson ‏@EricWolfson, Feburary 4, 2017
"I hope someone from the Trump Administration asks Frederick Douglass his thoughts on the Bowling Green Massacre."


I first added this a comment in Part III of this pancocojams series.

"The February 4, 2017 Saturday Night Live opening monologue in which Alex Baldwin again portrayed Donald Trump contained a mention of the fictionalized Frederick Douglass.

In that skit, "Donald Trump" called German's Chancellor Angela Merkel and said "Tomorrow I'm having lunch with a very important up and comer. His name is Frederick Douglass. I'm trying to get a hold of him right now. I think he's pretty busy though." [around 3:40 in this video:

That portion of that skit and tweets that mention a contemporary Frederick Douglass are meant to show how utterly clueless Donald Trump (and his administration) is. After all, the real Frederick Douglass died before the beginning of the 20th century, but Trump (and his Press Secretary) didn't seem to know that.

This concludes Part II of this series.

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