Superhero Syndrome

Before The Avengers came out I didn’t get the superhero craze swallowing our culture. It just didn’t appeal to me. In an attempt to figure out what the hype was about, I rented Captain America and Thor. In the five hours those films took, I understood the craze and joined in.

According to The Box Office, The Avengers is third on the list of top domestic movies that have made the most amount of money in theaters.[1] So, what exactly is it about this movie that drew us in by the millions to invest our time and money into watching the film? Well, I and a few guest bloggers are going to try to answer those questions and provide some personal insight into this topic in the next few weeks.

  • Even though we live in a confused and self-indulging culture, the majority of people like seeing a strong force for good overcome a force of evil: we want the good guys to win. Superhero movies seem to fulfill a part of our desire for a world where good wins no matter how evil the bad guys get. When we walk into the theater to watch The Avengers we understand beforehand that there is no way Loki will win in the end. It’s just not going to happen. We have complete confidence that The Avengers will be able to fight it out and destroy whatever evil plot is going to take of the world this time around! Our hunger for justice is satisfied…and we’re entertained at the same time. 
  • At the same time, we personally long to make a significant contribution to ending evil in the world, but since evil is so pervasive in our culture our desire is crushed by the feeling that one person can only do so much. When we watch a superhero film, we see that personal desire made manifest in a single superhero obliterating evil and establishing justice. We really want to feel that way. We want to be the one person to make a big difference. And while there is truth to the statement that there is only so much one person can do in the non-fantasy world around us, it shouldn’t stop us from taking the first step…because if watching a superhero film is enough to satisfy our hunger for making a difference…than we are in trouble.
  • Which leads me to my next observation: it is part of our human nature to find someone, something or some standard to look up to; God created us that way. I believe that our general obsession with superheroes is an effect of that natural desire.  While I do not (and should not) worship superheroes, there is an admiration that I have for their character that is healthy. We should aspire to fight against wrong even if it means sacrificing our own physical safety. We should get back up when we’ve been beaten down. We should put other’s needs before our own. A movie that encourages us to live selflessly deserves some applause. Yet, just another question to think about…how often do these films actually encourage us to go and do those things?

Now, let’s be real, there are a few more obvious and lighthearted reasons as to why superhero movies attract our attention and what makes the fight of good vs. evil and the role model heroes so appealing.

First, it is completely unrealistic fiction. Everything in a superhero movie—the battle scenes; the immortality of the heroes; the abilities of the superheroes; the odds against the superheroes; the out-of-this-world villains and the comic ability of Iron Man to laugh in the face of danger (literally)—stimulates our imagination and makes us want more…because we wish it could be possible.

Second, the cool gadgets, weapons and powers (stunts) that the heroes have are, um, well, really cool. 🙂

Third, the guy always gets the girl (unless he’s Captain America…but more on that in a later post) and everybody likes it when the good guy gets the girl. Admit it.

Fourth, they’re funny. I mean, really, half of the fun of watching a superhero movie is listening to and falling out of our chairs at all of the banter and jokes. As one friend described The Avengers, “It was two-and-a-half hours of explosion after wise crack after explosion after wise crack after explosion. Repeat the awesomeness.”

Fifth, the action scenes are simply way too much fun to watch. Example: Black Widow fighting off three guys while tied to a chair—the epitome of amazingly hilarious impossibility.

So, did I get it right? Are these all reasons why we like superheroes? Any more reasons to add to the list?

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8 thoughts on “Superhero Syndrome

  1. Ok, so I absolutely love!

    I like how your writing in this post is entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. I was literally quoting the last sentence of every paragraph out loud as I was reading this.

    I thought about this as well after watching the Avengers. I can’t think of anything to add to this list… It pretty much is the same ad what my Dad, me, and my 9-year-old nephew discussed! (btw, don’t you wish your nephew was philosophical like mine? Admit it, you’re jealous!)

    I would like to add something that’s been on my mind. It pretty much goes along the lines of what you said when you were talking about the thirst of people for something good, then thinking it’s quenched when they watch the movie. It’s all about windowpanes (pardon the expression). When I see Avengers and think the theme of the movie as a battle between good an evil, someone right next to me sees it and thinks they’re seeing a group of people defining their own truth, putting down the opposition for the good of the majority, then look at Loki as an impersonation of the person who thinks all people should be “confined” to a certain set of moral truths. They leave the theater feeling good about the movie and what they believe, and so do I. Two different windowpanes. The same object. Loki does NOT stand for a traditional moralist, but if I don’t tell him what I see through my window, how would he ever be able to understand? That’s why witnessing is ssooooo important!

  2. Thank you Miss Karis for taking the time to read and comment!

    That’s awesome that you can have discussions like that with your nephew. Hehehe, I am going to have to wait quite a few years before I even have a nephew! 🙂

    Hmm, very interesting observation! I honestly had not thought about that! But I definitely will be!

  3. You mentioned several times the impossibility of the things portrayed in these movies, and that that made them funny and entertaining. But I would actually say that, at least for people like me, a lot of the enjoyment comes from thinking it actually COULD be possible. Of course, I know I won’t happen, but WHAT IF IT DID? (By the way, my boss and I have realized we could totally make something that looked like Jarvis, Iron Man’s computer/house, given the proper time/resources. So not everything is impossible!)

    Also, I would be really surprised if anyone actually thought that watching a movie would satisfy their hunger for making a difference in the world. One of the biggest characteristics and purposes of a superhero is to INSPIRE – The Dark Knight Rises is an amazing example of this (although I won’t say any more about it now since it’s still quite new). A lot of superheroes make this message clear: One man (or woman) cannot save the world alone. Sure, they can stand up to the giant robots, to the Jokers and Banes, to all the evil forces the fantasy world has to offer; but for actual change to happen, for the world to actually become better – that would require a collective effort from everyone. And superheroes show us that we CAN make a difference, all we have to do is try. I think the religious symbolism there is pretty obvious…

    • Hi Steven,
      Love how thought provoking your comment was, but I have to admit, the last sentence puzzled me.
      To me, the religious symbolism is not clear at all. Are you talking about Christian symbolism or another religion? If Christian, how so? Do a group of Christians make a difference or does Christ? Didn’t one man save the world, not a group of men? It seems to me that it is the individual, the leader, who makes the biggest difference. Without the leader, the group would be ineffective, so while the leader could still operate without the group, the group could not operate without its leader. Nick Fury had a vision; he used that vision to inspire and compel the superheroes to save the world. If Nick Fury hadn’t inspired them, they would have been stirung igniting each other.

      • I can’t vouch for details from The Avengers, Iron Man 2, or Thor, because I haven’t seen them due to certain aspects of those movies (although I do know of Nick Fury, from my experiences with the comics). I was merely speaking of superheroes in general. This idea goes back to a conversation I had recently with Emily, concerning human goodness. We, humanity, have a responsibility to help the world, to fill it with good things, to make it grow. For that to happen, we need to work together. Jesus stood against to Death (i.e., the Joker, etc.) when we couldn’t, and now we carry on the fight against the world. This is where the illustration starts to fall apart, since I of course don’t mean that Christ was unable to stand against the world on his own. But he did leave that responsibility to us. So we, having been inspired by him, pick up the torch and continue to fight the good fight. (Those who have seen the most recent Batman film will understand why I wish I could give details about it at this point.)

        So – Superhero does something, the people get inspired, good things happen.
        I.e. – Christ does something, the Church gets established, good things happen.

    • I totally understand what you mean Stephen about the “what if it did” part of watching the movies. 🙂 My general point is that they’re entertaining so people want to watch them. For you that means, “hey this could really be possible.” For me it’s more, “this is so out-of-this- world cool…give me more!” Either way, both of our imaginations are being stimulated and we’re being entertained.

      I can totally envision you coming up with something like Jarvis. 🙂

      I honestly have nothing to disagree with in your second paragraph. I sought to show throughout my post that I do believe superhero movies inspire us to get out and do good.

      Oh! And while I completely agree with you that no one goes to a superhero movie to have there hunger for justice satisfied…I do believe that it does have a certain fulfilling aspect at the same time as giving us an even deeper desire to change the world. Maybe I’m the only one who that makes sense too. :/

      • Oh! And I really don’t have anything to disagree with from either of you. 😉

        In the end, every allegory, symbol, image or parallel that we put up between something physical and something spiritual will break down somewhere or somehow. However, Stephen, I think that your parallel here was great. I like it!!!

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