For those unfamiliar, RWBY (pronounced RUBY) is an animated web series by Rooster Teeth Productions, the creators of Red Vs Blue. The show primarily follows the four titular characters (Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long) on their academic and extracurricular journey to become monster hunting, crime fighting, superheroes. Working alongside team RWBY, and serving a support role in their narrative, is team JNPR (pronounced JUNIPER), whose members (Jaune Arc, Nora Valkyrie, Pyrrha Nikos, and Lie Ren) tend to cede center stage, but still have their own independent arks.
Before she arrived at Beacon Academy (superhero college), Pyrrha Nikos was already a moderately renowned athlete. She graduated from Sanctum Academy (superhero Highschool) at the top of her class, she won her regional fighting tournament every instance for four years, and she’s on the cover of a cereal box.
There’s just one more thing that make Pyrrha special, and its what we’re going to focus on as we delve into the existential discomfort of posthumanism. Like many characters in RWBY, Pyrrha has a Semblance (magic superpower) which helps her fight. She can locomote, without physical contact, any metallic object.
Allow me to explain said existential discomfort before we go any further. Posthumanism is a school of thought in which the qualifications of humanness (at present: a human consciousness with a human body) are a question rather than a statement. In posthuman thought, the division between a person’s body, and their environment, is not synonymous with their physical skin. Instead, any technology that humans use to enhance their capabilities is a part of their body. This means that no philosophical difference exists between using a computer through an interface, and plugging a computer directly into your brain, the computer is a part of your body either way, and shapes your identity weather you like it or not.
Pyrrha’s power is an example of the union of human and superhuman ability, because of the way she uses it. Pyrrha very specifically does not use her power to perform day to day tasks, (except in the comedy spinoff, RWBY Chibi), in fact she only activates her Semblance in combat, and is usually so subtle about doing so that her opponents succumb to the illusion that she is simply dodging their attacks.
In fact the first opponent to spot her tactic was only able to do so thanks to his metal prosthetic leg.
You see Pyrrha is doing two thing here. She is, of course, winning the fight, but she’s also using her power to engage in psychological warfare. If her enemies believe her to be untouchable, she will be more likely to win fights in the future. She is creating a brand.
There are, in reality, two Pyrrhas, and her primary arc focuses on the difficulties that one creates for the other. Branding herself brings her victories and fame, but it also underplays her emotional needs, and casts her as unattainable in the eyes of potential suitors, and even friends.
To examine this phenomenon in more detail, we turn, for a number of very roundabout reasons, to Karl Marx.
Marxism is a very complicated idea, with a lot of aspects to it, such that I cannot summarize the entire theory here. Fortunately, Marxist criticism was not created by Marx, and only involves one core component of the theory, the concept of societal base and superstructure.
The base is a single fact about a society, which in Marx’s model, the superstructure exists to reinforce. For example, Marx claims that the base of any society is the status quo of its economy. Competition, meritocracy, and lax regulation are the base of all societies which practice capitalism, and all other facets of culture, law, education, religion, and human relationships that occur within said societies represent the superstructure, and exist for the sole purpose of maintaining the base.
Just as the maldistribution of wealth is a tremendous part of the capital base, the Pyrrha brand reinforces the maldistribution of worth between Pyrrha and the rest of society. It was the immense solitude of her success that ultimately lead her to take on the tremendous responsibility of becoming the Fall Maiden (super superhero) without consulting her support network, and to be killed for doing so. This was, in a way, her destiny.
But only if you believe in destiny.