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An essay on super hero culture. 

Notice how they all have logo designs. This essay focusses on Super Hero Culture in the USA largely because of American comics & the way Hollywood has exported their super heroes to the rest of the world. Mexico maintains this tradition through its Lucha Libre.

How do Super Heros fit into Mazlow’s Pyramid of the needs for an individual & for society?

Superhero culture

Society’s sunken spirits saved by superheroesby Carolyn BraykoIn recent years, Hollywood has produced a plethora of movies depicting the world-saving exploits of a variety of comic book super-heroes. The seed of the ‘super-craze’ was sown back in the 70’s with the release of a series of blockbusters featuring the classic DC hero Superman. Since the mid-nineties, however, the cinema has brought us Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Batman Begins, Spiderman I and II, The Phantom, X-Men I through III, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Fantastic Four, Hellboy, Daredevil, The Hulk, and very soon Superman Returns. While most of these are just new twists on the original comic heroes, several attempts at new age superheroes have also been made, presumably to spark the interest of young viewers. Among these “unofficial” heroes are the famous Parr family in The Incredibles, the engaging Cortez family from the Spy Kids movies, a new teen Clark Kent from Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the supers-in-training featured in the new Disney film Sky High.So – what’s with the hype? Why such a profusion of supers in the last few years? To be sure, comic books have been nationally popular since the appearance of DC and Marvel Comics in the 1930s and 1940s, but they have generally been most popular with children. Several generations of Americans have grown up with their superheroes, and it’s a little embarrassing to realize that our need for a super “security blanket” has become an adult issue. Still, America’s preoccupation with super heroes may be a key to understanding the fears and hopes of the most powerful country in the world. America is no longer fighting against the Nazis, whose swastikas, iron crosses, and goose-stepping soldiers made them an easily identifiable enemy. The Soviet Communists, who waged a “cold” war with us for fifty years, were less aggressive than the Nazis, but were still an enemy we could see and engage. Since the Cold War, our enemies have been more elusive, and the United States has found it increasingly difficult to combat the opposing force and earn a clear victory. The so-called “war on terror” is the worst example yet of having to fight invisible enemies. Thus, Americans, while stubbornly confident and egocentric, have developed a nagging fear of the terrorist powers scattered around the world. The news blares constant misery and endless conflicts in which, all too often, the bad guys win the day.

But, never fear, superheroes are here! Americans turn from reality with longing for a ‘happily ever after’ and find a world of dangerous city nightscapes and ridiculous villains who always perish at the hands of some handsome figure in the night. Who can resist?Because many Americans feel, in some sense, like they need to be saved from an ugly reality, they resort to a fictional fantasy. A superhero film is an action packed hour and a half that requires little thought on the viewer’s part and ends happily with the protagonist winning a clear victory for the people. A superhero action film provides temporary relief from the constant barrage of desperate news, thus theoretically improving national morale. Yet, how effective, really, are these little boosts of super power in improving the public mood?

While it may be unfair to say that society expects a superhero to fly out of the sky and vanquish the supervillians of the postmodern world, it is not unreasonable to think that certain expectations are influenced by a regular exposure to such media. Whether it be television, where the NYPD Blue capture their homicidal maniac and put him behind bars, or the big screen, where Batman always foils the Joker’s evil plots, Americans take home the idea that all criminals are and should be put behind bars or executed within a matter of hours. We wait impatiently, like spoiled children, for the authorities to find and destroy every evil. Older societies that have experienced centuries of suffering and struggle, like those in the Middle East, understand that the wars are never completely “over.” They have known war in their own backyard, and their patriots continue to fight in the face of ongoing tragedy. Other mature nations, like France and Germany, have directly witnessed the horror of two world wars and the destruction caused by them still lingers in their collective memories. Thus, their decision to remain uninvolved is based on a knowledge that the United States does not yet possess.

In historical terms, America is a young, even childlike, nation. Our worldly struggles have been relatively short lived and when we finish a war, we leave expecting peace and total cooperation from the government we leave in charge. Moreover, the United States has never known extended exploitation from other world powers or any large political uprisings since the Civil War. Is it a symptom of childhood that the United States, with little past experience to reflect upon, hopes that all of its problems will be solved quickly by forthright heroic deeds? This is too much to expect. To the extent that the United States of America remains the head of a global ‘Justice League,’ the world will be in the hands of a self-appointed, and perhaps not entirely mature champion. If this is the case, then the gap between childhood fantasy and adult reality seems to be a dangerous place for all of us.

In the War on Terror, a sizeable portion of Americans wish to pull our troops out of the Middle East because little progress seems to have been made. For others, the issue can no longer be whether or not it is our duty to interfere with other nation’s quarrels, but rather rests on the idea that we cannot pull our troops out of a situation where so many have perished in the name of Justice. Americans have forgotten that wars cannot be won overnight, and we get frustrated when we feel that nothing is being gained.

However, if the U.S. brings all of its soldiers home, it would not only disgrace the memories of all the men and women who courageously died, but would also prove to the world that the United States is little more than a school boy who tries to act the superhero and then forfeits his pursuit of justice and right after a few black eyes. America has been a young, inexperienced and, dare I say, ignorant nation, but the conflict in which the U.S. is now enmeshed, can and should be this nation’s test of faith, maturity, and true heroism. The real battles are not the ones that can be fought in a day. The battles worth fighting are those such as battles that the United States is fighting right now.

America’s coming of age may be in process, and it is time to cast off the childhood mentality that crime can be solved overnight by a man dressed in spandex. Although our emphasis on superheroes may be good for keeping a positive attitude and making the task more approachable, we must not let the true message be lost among explosions and catchy one-liners. The goal is to fight injustice with the best available ability; anything short of that is cowardice.

Yes, the fight against injustice is endless, which may explain the endless sequels to popular movies, but that is no reason to give up the good fight. If the relentless superhero craze has been an effect of the recent difficult struggles, let it also be a sign of our relentless willingness to uphold integrity, and not that we need to call for outside help. If Americans can persevere in the pursuit of victory with the same doggedness that Hollywood producers pursue profits, our success is certain, but we should hope that our nation brings a more adult response to terrorism than a false hope in comic book heroics.


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