It’s summertime, and that means superhero movie season is in full swing. This year, we’ve already had LEGO Batman, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and most recently, Wonder Woman, with Spider-Man, Thor, and the Justice League locked and loaded. And then there’s 2018, which is going to be another spandex bonanza. Much ado has been made about the popularity of superheroes (and geekdom in general) in the 21st century. I am a casual superhero and comics fan at best (blasphemy, I know), so I won’t add my two cents to the commentary cloud, but I would like to wax philosophical for a minute about something I came across today.
There was an article published on NBCNews.com titled “What Wonder Woman Teaches Us About How to Be a Leader.” I clicked on it out of curiosity and scanned through the fairly generic
list of inspirational tidbits, like not taking “no” for an answer, not being afraid to speak up, finding mentors who will push you, etc. All valid points, but it made me think, “Do we really need a fictitious comic book character to teach us these character traits?”
I applaud superheroes teaching life lessons to kids. Superman hates racism and so should you! Spider-Man thinks drugs are for losers! Batgirl says bullies are wimps! Yet this article on Wonder Woman’s admirable qualities had priority placement on an international news website. Granted, she’s so hot right now, but it made me wonder how many seminars and self-help workshops might be out there that are based on the go-getter personalities and unwavering persistence of these figures that don’t actually exist.
So why are we looking to superheroes to give us that extra drive to succeed in the boardroom or find the inner strength to open our own business? Are there not enough real heroes in real life? Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass makes a memorable statement in my favorite superhero movie, Unbreakable. He says, “These are mediocre times…People are starting to lose hope. It’s hard for many to believe there are extraordinary things inside themselves as well as others.” I recently rewatched Reign of Fire, in which Matthew McConaughey’s ultra-macho dragonslayer character declares, “Envy the country that has heroes!” The crowd cheers and applauds. Eyes flashing with contempt, he snarls, “And pity the country that needs them.” The crowd falls silent.
Humanity has always had heroes. Every culture has myths and legends and gods and demigods. Yet now, with the internet and especially social media, we can see just how human these larger-than-life people really are. These days, heroes are pop stars who lip-sync and athletes who dope up and business-people who stab others in the back. There are hardly any “war heroes” anymore, and even those who are idolized by many, such as Chris Kyle, are demonized by just as many as well. The news treats us to “heroes of the day,” regular people who do extraordinary things. The video goes viral, they get their fifteen minutes of fame, and we forget them.
Yet there are still plenty of heroes who have incredible backstories, fought (or still fight) every day, and are well-known in the world. People like Malala, Oscar Schindler, Joan of Arc, Jackie Robinson, and many others have had more of an impact on the world than any comic book character. And of course there is the Bible, with Samson, Esther, Daniel, and countless others who literally changed the world. They’re not beautiful, however, or glamorous, or fighting crime in our world today. They get a bestselling book and an Oscar-baiting biographical movie and that’s it.
I have nothing against superheroes. I just think it’s a lamentable state of affairs when not just children, but grown adults are looking to comic book characters for inspiration in their lives. These are indeed mediocre times.