Aleksandra Gruszczyk, The Punisher: A Cultural Image of the ‘Moral Wound’ (2020)

Most of you won’t remember, but way back in 2017 we did a post on Marvel’s The Punisher Netflix series. It was a cool, energetic discussion, limited out of necessity, and we hinted there at some other posts on the topic coming soon. While this didn’t happen, something even better did, and the initial idea of delving deeper into the eponymous vigilante’s character and motivations has been transformed into a much more ambitious endeavor ;).


Finally it is here: the highly academical (beware!) essay I wrote about the Punisher and his role and roots in American culture and identity has been published by Berkeley’s Cultural Analysis (with many thanks to my editor Robert Guyker!). You can read it here.

31 thoughts on “Aleksandra Gruszczyk, The Punisher: A Cultural Image of the ‘Moral Wound’ (2020)

  1. Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to reading it. I actually stopped watching the first season halfway through because it started to feel like torture-porn. I much preferred his appearance in season 2 of Daredevil…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s my pleasure! 😊
      Oh, I agree, it’s not an easy series to watch – but I’d argue that the first season brilliantly depicts the problems and feelings of war veterans, which in general deal with violence. It’s not pleasant, and it shouldn’t be – but yeah, I have trouble finishing the second season because of the violence, too.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Phew! I’ve just finished watching Season 1, Episode 11: “Danger Close” in which–*spoilers*–Frank eliminates a whole squadron of soldiers in ever more inventive and bloody ways. Violence in films never used to bother me that much unless it was exploitive, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m older?

            Well done on researching, writing and having your essay published. It’s very well written and argued. A little bit difficult for me in parts but you’ve taught me about moral wounds, themis, and ekpyrosis. And finally, who do you think would win in a fight between Frank Castle and Achilles?..

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you! πŸ˜€

              I find myself less and less inured to violence as I get older – but I’m not sure if my rising squeamishness is a result of empathy and sensitivity growing with age, or maybe more with having family πŸ˜‰

              I’ll be frank with you (I know, terrible pun! ;)) I think Frank Castle is a modern equivalent of Achilles; his new, Americanized embodiment. As befits an American hero, he’d be more a son of Ares than of Thetis; his unchecked revelry in violence, as well as the belief in the necessity of destruction and eradication of evil are purely American. But apart from that, he’s very much our own modern Achilles. And you can’t really fight with yourself, can you? πŸ˜‰

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Um, on that link you provided, where IS the article?

    Oh, found it. I had to click the little person head. Is that normal? I would have thought the words below it would be the link?

    Anyway, here we go.. I’m numbering them for ease of response πŸ˜€

    1) I found it interesting that you noted “belongs to the sphere broadly associated with modern ethics and morality, but infused with a strong religious component”
    as I simply take it for granted that ethics and morality MUST be rooted in the religious. By their very definition they can come from no other source. If one would try to create “ethics and morality” in a religious vacuum, that vacuum would end up becoming a religion.

    2) Where does the sense of right and wrong come from? It’s obviously a basic part of humanity. Just observe a group of kids when one of them breaks the rules. Cries of “not fair, that’s not right” abound! I realize this is beyond the scope of your paper, but it popped into my head as I was reading.

    And I give up. I’m sorry. There is just too much industry terminology that was outside the scope of my knowledge. Maybe in smaller pieces, ie, blog sized πŸ˜‰ but it ended up overwhelming me. .

    I am glad to see what and how you write outside of the blog though. It was very axiomatic that you know what you’re writing about πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No reason to be sorry – I’m very happy that you actually tried reading it, so thanks for that! It is a hard-core text, I’m aware, and I tried to warn everyone πŸ˜‰

      As for the points, 1) is a great start to a long discussion πŸ˜€ I’ll try to be quick about it, so I’ll make points.
      a) there is generally a consensus that morality/ethics were rooted in religion at the beginning; and my point here with regards to the category of themis was exactly that: for ancient Greeks, Themis was a goddess and a concept of morality in one.
      b) currently, though, ethics/morality is not necessary rooted in religion any longer; you can have atheists and agnostics that are as ethical (or sometimes more, and sometimes less) than a religious person.
      c) that said, there is certain sanctity surrounding morality/religion still, but it is not necessarily linked to any religion. Are you familiar with the concept of civic religion? It’s a theory that shows how certain religious elements are being incorporated into the everyday social life and rituals, to infuse them with a higher sense.
      2) As for games, there are two main types of breaching the rules: one is when someone bends or breaks the rules for their own benefit (and that’s when you can hear the shouts of “not fair”); the other – when someone spoils the game, denying all the rules and the game itself (“spoilsport”). But the main thing with games is that the existence of rules themselves is what matters, not really the content of the rules. You can have a really dumb game and still, if players agree to play it, they will try to play within the rules. I could point you to the books by de Waal, who is a primatologist and from his observations of apes he deduced that the sense of right and wrong originally stems from the necessities of social life and comparison with others. It’s one theory among many, but it is interesting! πŸ™‚

      And, lastly, thank you! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Will be looking into the Works a bit later. I loved the first punisher movie with Travolta as the villain. Wife and i started the series on netflix and although i like my share of pain infliction, wife doesnt. I am also of the opinion that the guy that was casted for punisher does not sit well with me, but mainly for the reason of him playing such a slimeball in the walking dead…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually like Bernthal as Frank Castle, but I agree that’s an acquired taste πŸ˜‰ and it probably helps that I haven’t watched The Walking Dead, so I had no preconceptions about him. The Punisher is a fascinating topic for me, and the fact that it keeps resurfacing then and again in American pop-culture signifies to me its general importance πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s now time to drop any discrete attempt to associate you to a 200-year-old-wise-sensei-living-at-the-top-of-a-NZ-mountain now. πŸ˜€ That aside, it’s soooo cool that you got around to write and publish such an article!

    I would’ve thought that the “moral wound” was an every-day concept used by everyone and anyone just to talk about an act against them that is morally unacceptable. I definitely learned today that it is more than that and that there might actually be ongoing research on the idea to better understand its relevance in the field of psychology/trauma.

    That article is eloquently written and incredibly researched! I love how you brought in the concept, presented Homer’s stories to further grasp those concepts. and then tied it in with the Punisher show made it all so intriguing from start to finish.

    Thank you for sharing your article with us! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’m sorry to disappoint you, Lashaan – it’s just me πŸ˜€

      Thank you for your kind words! πŸ˜€ I think that the moral experience of war is mostly universal, and it’s really fascinating for me to see how Homeric ideas translate into modern sensitivity. And to cast the Punisher as a mythological hero for the U.S.? Well, I couldn’t resist πŸ˜€
      You’re right that terms such as trauma or moral wound are affected by overuse – every even slightly unpleasant experience can be labeled ‘traumatic’ in every day usage, which blurs the distinctions and frankly makes the whole area of trauma difficult for proper research. I’ve been researching this area for years, especially with regards to the Vietnam War and War on Terror, and it’s very interesting how the definitions of trauma, PTSD, moral wound change in time and how they reflect not only psychological reality but also political interests and cultural shifts.

      Thanks for reading! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. buriedinprint

    What an impressive feat. I absolutely love all the footnotes: your attention-to-detail and enthusiasm actually make me pause to think about watching the show (but I’m not well-informed about the Marvel universe and have only dabbled here and there over the years, most recently with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, both still unfinished in my queue however). You’ve reminded us that we can pay attention and learn, wherever we look; we can be entertained while we learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😊

      I’m partial to footnotes, I must admit. I think they are very important in any meticulous research, as they indicate how the author thinks and how s/he arrives at their conclusions. I think Netflix’s Punisher is a difficult series to watch, as it’s very violent – but at the same time, I think it’s actually necessary, and making it any less violent would detract from that experience. And we have a lot of that already – a tame, neutered vision of war as a grand adventure is something that brings more and more people to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. piotrek

    It’s a great article and I love its final form! It shows how you can root a really deep analysis of modern society in genre fiction we all read, watch & love.
    I’ve read great pieces on Rambo, and how he represents Vietnam-era veterans, and they were better than the movies themselves. Here you take apart a series I really like, so it’s even better.
    Your thesis are not wholly new to me πŸ˜‰ and I still agree with what you say, one thing that seems to definitely be extended are the Western analogies. I want to add Slotkin to my TBR now πŸ™‚
    Congratulations on having it published!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! 😊

      I’m very glad you like it. It’s been a long time in the making, and it took a lot of effort, but it was definitely worth it πŸ˜€ I’m sure you remember the humble beginnings, when we were discussing it together πŸ˜‰

      In my opinion, Slotkin is an absolute must-read for people interested in American culture and identity. It’s an amazing set of books, and while it’s enough to read just one of them to get the gist of the theory, all are very interesting and filled with intriguing facts. Suffice to say, I will never look at Theodore Roosevelt the same way πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I finally found the time and mental space to read through your very interesting essay (and congratulations for having it published!!!) and despite not being familiar with both the graphic novel and the tv series – the latter is easily remedied, though πŸ˜€ – I was fascinated by your parallels with Greek myths and particularly the figures of Achilles and Ulysses: yours is a new angle of observation of these two characters, and it compelled me to refresh my knowledge of them, keeping in mind your considerations on their figures.
    Well done indeed, and thank you so much for sharing this!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! πŸ˜€

      I’m very happy I can offer new insights, especially to characters as old and key to our culture as Achilles and Odysseus. I have always been fascinated by the ancient mythologies, and the way they still inspire and matter to us today.

      Thanks for reading, Maddalena! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations, Ola, that’s a thought-provoking essay. Your argument is compelling, and intriguing. I love the historical references. Now that you’ve drawn my attention to them they make so much sense.

    You’ve inspired me to return to reading The Odyssey, which I’d half forgotten I’ve been dipping into for around a year. I may even have to watch The Punisher – I’m not usually keen on films drawn from comic-book characters, but I’m realising I may not have looked carefully enough at them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Cath! πŸ˜€

      The Odyssey and Iliad are among my favorite classics. I know there are plenty of retellings, very fashionable these days, but still I think none of those can ever match the original.

      I think comics are one of the most overlooked sources of modern mythologies – much like Medieval frescoes in churches, they create a host of visual symbols of ideas, easily retained and proliferated; a sort of a glue holding together social imagination. That said, they are not the easiest medium πŸ˜‰ And the Punisher especially, as a perfect child of American culture it truly revels in violence, and it shows.

      I am very happy my essay inspired you. Thank you for your kind words, Cath! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Real Neat Blog Award – Re-enchantment Of The World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s