It turns out that L. P. Hartley was right. The past is indeed a foreign country and they do, do things differently there. In my youth superheroes were an expression of our hope that the better angels of our nature would always find some way to save us from ourselves.
Unsurprisingly perhaps I have written about superheroes and superhero culture before. Quite a lot as it turns out, using the trope to both reveal hidden aspects of myself and to ask some obvious questions.
The birth of superhero culture was an ideation reflective of specific values that were an expression of a nation’s aspiration to lead all other nations. As Bruce Marko says they became a vehicle through which we actively sought to realize our own potential. In looking at how (and why) superheroes were born we can also find parallels in other forms of human activity, like brand building and business.
That superheroes inspire us still is self-evident. We secretly ask ourselves “what if” questions and, conveniently perhaps, gloss over some of the more glaring problems associated with the concept. We think there is (possibly) a superhero inside ourselves and ignore, perhaps, the fact that the superhero narrative is now changing. Superheroes themselves, as Gideon Rosenblatt points out are being reinvented for a new century (maybe).
A superhero generator often becomes the jumping-off point for some deeper thinking (try the generator to see what I mean). And while the connections with marketing are quite evident it’s in popular culture that we find some of the more amusing instances.
Yet superheroes present a deeper paradox. Their very existence, the need for them is an acknowledgment and a compromise. An acknowledgement that we have failed to achieve what we want and the compromise we must now make to get where we need to with the outside intervention of someone who is not bound by our own cultural, moral and social principles. Despite the potential for a good outcome here this is a devil’s bargain with all the potential to backfire.
In the world we live in now, with the knowledge we have and the growing awareness we can both indulge in a little of speculative fun when we analyze just how different would the neuronal characteristics would certain super heroes have as they changed and trying to imagine the actual process of becoming one.
Clearly, anything that takes place inside our heads has the potential to change us. And even as we scientifically explore the possible we are also cognizant of where the true superpowers lie. Our ability to use what we have to perform extraordinary feats suggests that we have the potential to be our own saviors.
The grip superheroes have on our imagination (and passion) has not weakened. If anything it’s only getting more heated and, maybe, complicated. What’s certain is that unless we learn to fully take responsibility for our world we shall continue to long for saviors outside ourselves to come and save us.
I know your superpowers of detection have enabled you to discover all the coffee supplies you needed and all the sweets you can safely consume so now you’re facing a full pot of coffee accompanied by croissants, cookies, donuts and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.