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Alvares & Salzman-Mitchell Hercules' self-fashioning on screen

Jean Alvares and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell

Hercules' self-fashioning on screen: millenial concerns and political dimensions

This chapter concerns self-fashioning, an important component of life with social and political dimensions, as found in three movie versions of Hercules: the sanitized, Disney 1997 Hercules and two more traditional productions, Hallmark’s 2005 TV miniseries and the 2014 Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Hercules. Their presentations of self-fashioning contrasts both with the classical Hercules myth and with each other. The classical Heracles’ self-construction is tied to atonement for his innate brutality and inevitable societal conflicts. Reflecting modern perspectives, our hero’s self-making centrally involves gaining knowledge and new perspectives while confronting evils symbolic of our culture’s inherited flaws, benefiting the wider society. In all three movies re-fashioning connects with socio-political change.

Disney’s Hercules, through self-fashioning, overcomes a conflict of brothers (Hades vs. Zeus) by whom he was victimized, and eliminates the Titan’s primal threat. His self-making, as in today’s commercial media, allows merchandizing opportunities; consider connections to the body-builder/muscleman ideal. In keeping with Disneyesque moralizing, his final act of reformation remains self-sacrifice for love. Hallmark’s Christianized version subverts the standard Hercules myth; the evolving Hercules rejects a compromised culture, causing the (metaphorically significant) deaths of his parents. He disavows all faith in the brutal classical gods to be ‘born again’, perspectives familiar in fundamentalist Christianity. The 2014 Hercules, thinking himself a murderer and mercenary, allows himself to be rebranded as Zeus’ son, hated by Hera. In this tragic context Hercules must transform himself and embrace his innocence, true heroism, innate individual potential and community.