Under Microscope

It's another world under the microscope.

Distracting the Powerless: Superheroes

Little kids regularly find themselves daydreaming that they are much larger in stature and much more powerful. They imagine getting back at their bullies. Their “enemy” pulled their pants down right in front of the pretty girl from school — obviously a “mortal offense” and deserves the “death sentence” (!) — now they need to “utterly destroy” them. Only then will everyone fear them and take them seriously.
These types of dreams do not sound entirely ridiculous for a little boy or occasionally a little girl. Most people can relate to a similar memory. We understand the children and their relationship with the rest of the world because we know their predicament. They are powerless against every other force in the world. Therefore, they are forced to retreat into their imagination for mental survival.
Teenagers have a relatively similar experience in life. Although they have a much better understanding of the world, they also remain largely powerless and continue to imagine an alternative world where they are extremely powerful. They are much more sensitive to their perceived status amongst their peers. After all, they are going through puberty and their primitive instincts urge them to establish a dominant role in their social groups to improve their chances of reproduction, even though modern socioeconomic standards have rendered these reproductive urges irrelevant.
During this vulnerable time, filmmakers who perfectly understand the psychological condition of the children and the teenagers swoop in and give them the perfect movie where they can supercharge their dreams through beautiful bodies and state of the art CGI. It is sad to admit but today, most of the block-buster movies are based on this predatory practice.
The plots of these movies are even more disturbing than the fundamental driving forces behind their success. One overarching trend is immediately clear to anyone who watches these movies. Without exception violence always takes the main stage. All superhero movies are comically violent, and they give the audience the impression that all life problems can be solved by kicking and punching. And I mean kicking and punching. Even a scientist who is capable of creating a nuclear reactor the size of a hockey puck, wears a metal-armor that manifests out of thin air and ultimately does what every teenager wants to do. He punches his enemies.
Obviously, there are immediate problems with this approach to conflict. If, for instance, the nature of the disagreement between the hero and their enemy is slightly nuanced, punching would look crass or even evil. Therefore, the enemy must be portrayed as childishly simple and unrealistically evil. This is emphasized so repetitively that the bad guys are portrayed evil for the sake of being evil. They fall to the same category as pestilence. They are summarily murdered on the spot without questioning. This is obviously barely believable even for the uneducated masses. Nevertheless, oversimplification of the problems is not enough to make these movies a success.
Supercharging the imagination of the powerless and the vulnerable requires one more trick and it is specifically designed to ensure easy relatability for everyone. The trick is to feature a countless number of characters with dizzyingly diverse looks and personalities. A bat man, a tiger woman, a genius scientist, a muscular idiot, a spiritual yogi, etc. etc. It would be difficult for an African female to identify and empathize with an Asian male. A movie also would not be as effective if all of the characters were old, young, male, female, fast, strong, smart, or even attractive. The trick is to have separate characters just like a breakfast buffet each with different strengths and weaknesses, where every audience member can pick the most relatable character for themselves. Every superhero is like a declaration of the next target of these predatory movies. One movie may target people of African origin, while another targets the Latin American people. One movie may attempt to exploit women while others specifically target more academically inclined individuals. After understanding the fundamental building blocks of a superhero one can immediately realize the transparently manipulative nature of these movie selling tactics.
Unfortunately, real problems and real adversaries are never in the same category as plague. We cannot solve all our problems by killing or dehumanizing our enemies. The real heroes negotiate compromises or develop innovative technologies to overcome long lasting difficulties. The real heroes mediate or educate to counter misunderstandings and fear. After all, any intellectual knows that these are the actual root causes of violence. Fire can be extinguished by water, but at this point I would not be surprised if a young superhero fan attempts to punch the fire to teach it a lesson.