Friday, February 4, 2011

Why We Need Superheroes

You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you, even in the face of
our deaths. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I've
learned, everything I feel, all this and more I bequeath you my son.
Jor-El's words to his son, Kar-El (Superman), 
upon leaving the planet Krypton

When I was nine, I had this girlfriend and we used to have running races in the park. I wanted to be like Superman and fly in and rescue her.
Orlando Bloom, British actor

We like Batman —we understand him, we suffer with him. On the other hand, we want to be Superman. But they're conflicting philosophies. Let's bring them together in one movie and see how we, as an audience, wrestle with our inner demons.
Wolfgang Petersen, German film director

As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.
Ernest Hemingway, American novelist

Superman: From the cover art of Superman no. 204 (released April 2004, dated June).  Superman, the Man of Steel, is the ultimate superhero, fighting for truth and justice and ridding the world of bad guys.
Credit: Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams. Released promotionally as part of DC's solicitations for April 2004
All DC Comics characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 2004 DC Comics, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Superman.jpg

We need superheroes. We always have. We certainly do today, perhaps now more than ever, at a time when cynicism and the selfish pursuit of power seems to be the norm rather than the exception. A fictional superhero is a disinterested fighter for Truth and Justice, looking out for the good and betterment of humanity. It is the ideal man or woman, the ideal human looking out for the best interests, notably for the underdog, the downtrodden, the little guy who's feeling defeated.

A superhero doesn't have to be perfect. It is better that he isn't, as most of us want to identify with some imperfection, albeit a minor character flaw that doesn't prevent the superhero from performing good deeds.

A Superhero is the Universal Man, not bound by nation or state, but by the universal principles, similar to those enshrined on the United Nations Charter. The Superhero is the Modern morality play, where Everyman is replaced by a unique individual who has special powers, super powers that are a testament to his virtues of good, honesty and justice. He is often the caped crime-fighter, whose true identity is kept secret. His day job is far different than his evening crime-fighting duties, sometimes diametrically opposed (a la Clark Kent and Superman)

Superman, introduced in 1938, is the first modern superhero, whose appeal is moral clarity in a turbulent world, a recent article explains:
Superman, the world’s first super-powered hero, has been developed over time to be a hero of strong moral conviction, and someone for whom most of the super hero community, in DC comics, strives to emulate in their behavior and capacity for good.
True enough. A superhero could be funny, even ironic and playful, but not sarcastic or ill-humoured. There is too much evidence of that already today among the lesser humans, the lesser lights of humanity, whom in their weakness and pain want to hurt others by sarcastic barbs and ridicule. A superhero wants to heal, to bridge humanity, to build up society and individuals.

Spider-Man: Cover of Amazing Fantasy 15 (Aug 1962 :Marvel Comics).
Credits: Art by Jack Kirby, pencils, Steve Ditko, inks, and Stan Goldberg, colors.
Source: http://www.comics.org/issue/17099/cover/4/?style=default
All Marvel characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright
© 1962 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


When  I asked my nine-year-old son who his favourite superheroes were, I was pleasantly surprised by his response: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, The Flash, The Fantastic Four and Justice League. I could have been talking to my younger self of forty years ago. The more things change., the more they remain the same, to quote an oft-used cliche. (A list of the most influential superheroes, the Significant Seven, confirms my son's tastes.)

And there are good reasons why young children, including toddlers and pre-school children are drawn to superheroes says a site dedicated to educators of young children
Young children, facing the challenges of learning many new skills, may often feel small, helpless, fearful, unable to accomplish what they desire, or troubled—in other words, just the opposite of superheroes. It’s no wonder that many preschoolers are drawn to superhero play. Through play they can feel brave, fearless, in control of their world, outside of ordinary, and just plain good.
Sounds good to me, and good for any age. When you get to be my age, however, it becomes harder to believe in superheroes. But Ernest Hemingway was right to say we need them. We can claim sophistication, intellectualism, and knowledge as reasons to cast away the childish notions of superheroes. Yet each generation has superheroes. Each generation yearns for the good guys to win. That shows me that nothing really has changed, and least of all the need for superheroes.

One could naturally look to academics or psychologist to explain such a need. But I think we all know the reason why it exists. The need taps deep into our psyche, and explains to a great degree who we are, or at least what are the deepest values and virtues that we cherish. I suspect that we all want the world to be a safe, fun place where we can show our true selves,  free from harm and ridicule.

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