Today in the United States we elect a new president. Since we have all been bombarded with political ads, debates and phones calls and just want it to be over, here’s a little bit of escapism from that world and into the genre of superheroes.
The dictionary defines a superhero as a benevolent fictional character with superhuman powers. It can also be someone who manifests a super-ability or superpower and generally acts heroically, is brave and self-sacrificing, but as you may know it really extends so much farther than that with everyday people becoming superheroes in our lives and people we look up to.
Superheroes seem to be everywhere lately because their stories really capture the essential truths about human nature and who we are. That’s why we like superhero stories. The themes in the stories resonate with us because we connect to the dilemmas and problems that superheroes face and we aspire to have them win with their noble and heroic acts. We identify with them. Superheroes are models for us, and the opposite is true, also they are modeled after us.
Stories with superheroes provide rich examples of psychological phenomena. That is why we so readily connect with them. Most of us identify with the superhero and root for them because it’s good overcoming evil. They show how ordinary people overcame traumatic events like Bruce Wayne/Batman or Tony Stark/Iron Man losing their parents and finding meaning in life and wishing to conquer evil. Marvel has cornered the market in this regard and that is why their movies do so well.
I think that what makes superheroes so compelling is this idea that we are on the same continuum as they are. They’re like us, but with something extra. We actually wonder what it would be like to be them. And with advances in medicine and technology, the line between us and them will get increasingly narrow.
Like any good science fiction, superhero stories can also point to possible societal changes that can result from medical and technological changes. These stories illustrate how such advances might change us, and what issues we might encounter as some humans procure these special gifts while others of us don’t. And how it feels to be more “able” than other people. These are highlighted with Wolverine and Super Woman.
And then there are the everyday heroes or superheroes in our lives that we look up to. So many people see themselves as ordinary and not anything special and that’s why when just an “ordinary” person just like us performs what we think of as a heroic act, they can become our superhero. They can range from a police officer doing a kind act for someone or by captioning your online videos and making them accessible to those with hearing loss. It’s the little acts that can make such an impact on others’ lives.
But in the end we all want to believe that human beings are essentially good and want to do simple acts of kindness that end up being extraordinary acts. Helping your elderly neighbor when there’s a snowstorm by shoveling their driveway and making sure they are okay can make you into a superhero. We never know what kind of impact we can make on somebody elses’ life by performing these simple acts for others.
And finally, a lot of superheroes have what we define as disabilities. As such they don’t feel they fit in with the rest of society. They just want to be liked and thought of as equal. But we don’t see them that way. A lot of individuals with disabilities are looking for that “superhero” in their lives and I think it’s encumbent upon all of us to try to better the lives of others, perform that act of kindness, go out of your way to help someone and you may just become someone’s superhero.
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