Scott Farrell Comments:
This conclusion to Prof. Braudy’s essay is also a fine reminder that our admiration for the ideals of chivalry, nobility and knightly behavior haven’t been dulled by time. In fact, as Prof. Braudy argues, in his book From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity, there are many knights in shining armor — men and women alike — to be found in today’s popular media.
If a clue to the dreams of a culture can be found in the quality of its escapes, we now seem to be living in a debased if modern chivalric world, still fascinated by the solitary knight sallying forth to cure the evils of the world. Something of the medieval obsession with the knight in armor returned especially in the 1980s and 1990s with the simultaneous minting of two popular images: the buffed and muscular human body as a rugged container from within which to meet the challenges of life; and, in science fiction and action films, the image of the armor-plated cyborg or robotic hero, like Robocop or Lieutenant Ripley in Aliens, climbing inside a full-body prosthesis to combat the monster. Superman is no longer a being of special power from another planet; with the right technology, he can be created right here on earth. The films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jan-Claude Van Damme, for example, combine the two images: the omnicompetent body complete with the paraphernalia of advanced technological weaponry. In part, such characters hark back to a more personal style of medieval warfare in the face of the dehumanization of modern war. Perhaps in an unknowing tribute to Joan of Arc, the neomedieval body is also not always masculine — as Ripley and other heroines like her indicate — nor must it always be in armor to be armored in effect. Yet it remains almost the sole way of dramatizing heroism, for men and women alike.
© 2004 Leo Braudy
About the Author: Leo Braudy is a University Professor and Bing Professor at the University of Southern California. He previously taught at Yale, Columbia and Johns Hopkins. He has received a Gunggenheim Fellowship as well as a Senior Scholar Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has been a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation at the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy, as well as a writer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. His book The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History (now available in paperback) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post and Harper’s. Mr. Braudy lives with his wife in Los Angeles.