Superheroes and Society – Observations on a Welcome Change
Heroes, heroes everywhere… Peeping the Justice League film for the thousandth time brought a thought to mind. That there are actually a lot of superhero movies out now and in the works. That superheroes are finally shedding decades of scorn for being childish wastes of time; emerging to the light of widespread appeal.
That at long last, at a strange and confusing time in human history, the world at large is taking note of the ‘supers’ of comic book lore to the degree us nerds have since childhood.
But why now? Are these ‘super’ stories really that good?
The Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell’s boiled-down description of the world’s enduring template for relatable, moving stories applies, of course, to every superhero backstory ever written.
A brief synopsis has the hero called out to adventure, adventure leads to the supernatural, the supernatural brings about the hero’s transformation, their transformation allows them to overcome some challenge, and the challenge changes them forever.
It is the mold in which all great stories are forged and an undeviating keystone in comics construction. But the heroism involved is less important than you might think.
The struggle to learn and develop in a world that is doing the same as quickly as, if not quicker than, we are, pertains to each and every one of us.
It is the essential human quality of the Hero’s Journey that draws human interest across all borders and boundaries.
The struggle to learn and develop in a world that is doing the same as quickly as, if not quicker than, we are, pertains to each and every one of us. It is the primordial struggle of living, distilled into clear phases and chapters, that makes the so-called Hero’s Journey so powerful. No wonder people of all backgrounds are finding themselves transfixed by the larger-than-life heroic characters overtaking mainstream media at the moment.
Heroes by Proxy
Superhero stories were always meant to be satisfying in a vicarious way. You don’t just want to see Doctor Strange win; you want to be him while he does so.
When we observe our heroes doing battle with their own great demons and villains, we become them. We become Superman waging war on Lex Luthor’s monstrosities. We become Spiderman smack-talking the Green Goblin behind heaving mounds of synthetic webbing. We become exaggerated heroic versions of our own selves, battling life’s problems made manifest as living, breathing, punchable bad guys.
You don’t just want to see Doctor Strange win; you want to be him while he does so.
How easy would life be if we could literally punch our problems away?
If a single, well-placed “Ka-Blow” could knock out our daily workloads, push us through our time at the gym and make us a healthy dinner while walking the dogs, we’d all be radioactive black-belts. But, life isn’t as easy, or predictable as the always-come-out-on-top progression in a superhero’s story, is it?
Life’s Inherent Injustice
Perhaps ‘injustice’ isn’t the best term for life’s unsavory brand of ‘justice’.
Life, as a phenomenon, radicalizes its justice by making it blind to generational differences, personal choice, and age. We inevitably perceive the unfortunate consequences of this overarching format for justice as entirely unjust. After all, a child starving to death in the middle of a desert, abandoned and alone is almost impossible to perceive as ‘just’ on a human level. Only life, in its cosmically impersonal kind of way, could allow for such a possibility to exist.
There’s something divinely satisfying about seeing a story end relatively well. We want to see that abandoned child rescued by supernatural beings and raised with the awesome power to punch child abusers in the face. But, life is rarely as satisfying as idealism. Can we ever actually change that?
Try to change the world and the world will crush you. Change yourself and the world spins on a dime.
‘Society’ and ‘civilization’ are actually just us. They’re mirrors for the human condition. To change the condition is to change society, and such a feat can only be accomplished on an individual level. A shift in mentality shifts reality. In the case of our growing fascination with superheroes, we could be shifting to an altruistic majority.
One entertaining step at a time, we’re becoming the very vigilantes who fascinate us. No, we’re not masked marauders tackling evildoers and flat-foots in the street, but upholders of an incorruptible, gradually developing moral code; the moral code of a hero.
In the case of our growing fascination with superheroes, we could be shifting to an altruistic majority.
The same tricky, infuriating morality that’s kept Batman from murdering the Joker for decades has fled its familiar pages to amend our minds.
Could it be that so many people picking up on super heroes is a sign of some sort? Is it a tide-turning tsunami of idealism? Or is it all just people flocking to see actors in tights?
Morality as defined by a man dressed like a bat can seem significant if our minds are seeking solace.
I’d like to think it’s more the former than the latter (though the latter is undeniable). Society stands by as the gears of the world’s nations grind on. Technological advances, troubling political developments and the immediacy of our human needs place us in a very vulnerable state. Past people of our world, when pushed by circumstances, would just as quickly retreat to the sanctuaries of their religions and traditions as we would those of our movies and media.
Morality as defined by a man dressed like a bat can seem significant if our minds are seeking solace. Let’s just hope the morality of our modern heroes proves strong enough to withstand a future filled with worldwide change.