I distinctly recall hearing, during my freshman year in college, the professor conducting my first survey art history course make reference to the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Later, during that same lecture, I remember hearing him refer to the famed Louvre sculpture as the Nike of Samothrace. The interchangeability of “winged victory” and “nike” remained with me from that moment forward. I had worn Nike shoes and athletic apparel for years and had always thought the name a bit unusual; but, as a typical teenager from suburban Ohio, I had never given a second thought as to the name’s origin and significance. As a result of that art history course I learned that the figure of Nike in Greek mythology personified victory. Participants on the battlefield or sporting field invoked her with the hopes of her intercession on their behalf for a beneficial outcome…for victory.
Now, returned to suburban Ohio, I enjoy thinking about the implications about the name’s origin and significance more than I enjoy wearing the products so closely tied to the name and the associated winged swoosh that represents this name. Essentially, the purchase and use of these products is the modern consumerist equivalent of an invocation to the Greek goddess herself. Instead of presenting oneself at the Parthenon one instead presents oneself at the counter of any sporting goods store with product and credit card in hand. The act of purchasing the product stamped with the name Nike…stamped with the branded symbol…is akin to an invocation to the goddess in hopes of success. Purchase is the prayer that brings one into proximity with the divine. The company’s use of the name states that by the quality of its product and by the use of said quality product one guarantees the divine blessing of victory. I know that there are any numbers of cultural references to the new religion of consumption in our current society, and I pass no judgment in any fashion with regard to this concept. I merely aim to bring to the forefront the very fact that there is a level of sophistication and implication in the marketing and branding of these products that relates not only to an understanding of contemporary human psychology but one that roots the need for such products in the existential dialogue central to the Western tradition…one that draws on the most primal elements of human psychology as old as that tradition itself. That is…to win one must pay obeisance to the goddess, Victory. Once upon a time that payment took the form of reverential invocations; now it is paid with interest and monthly minimums.
The inclusion of the pulp goddess, Wonder Woman, in the painting gives the discussion just put forward with regard to the branding implications of the name, Nike, a dual support—as a context of a goddess struggling for victory and as a similar branding proposition of a pop phenomenon given significance by association with a classical past. The struggle against the odds…against the chains that bind…against the social structures that limit and define…and the destined victory…on the comic frontispiece resonate with the same implications as the use of the Nike name. The significance of Wonder Woman…another part of throw-away…pop…contemporary culture… is only asserted in relationship to the tradition from which she was born and within which she is placed in the narrative text sections in the comic. She gains weight…her character gains significance…as one surpassing the deeds and talents of those enthroned in the pantheon of the gods. And while her superhero counterparts might not be enthroned on marble pedestals in front of Greek temples or rescued as culturally significant by the major museums of the world, Wonder Woman brands herself and her struggle as someone and something worthy of note because of the comparison of her nature to those figures of heroic tradition. And regardless of how here-and-now she might be, she is also there-and-forever…a continuation into the most mundane present of the loftiness of Olympus.