What an American Superhero Looks Like

Spiderman

At 5yo, I vividly recall sitting on the floor in front of our living room TV watching Spiderman. I can still recite the theme song. And even though the TV was black-and-white, I remember the show in color. Perhaps this says something about a child’s imagination or revisionist history, but I’ve always wondered why this particular memory?

It may have something to do with our culture. The American ideal of the omnipotent and indestructible “superhero” dates back to the era of the Depression and WWII. It should come as no surprise that classic superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain America came out of the minds of children of Jewish immigrants escaping war-torn Europe – artists like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Jerry Siegel. Who else would hold such high ideals of America than people deprived of them?

But as movie technology has made superheroes into a huge entertainment industry, they have become increasingly unrecognizable from their quaint origins. I wonder what impact these depictions have on our ability to recognize hero powers among us. For who would recognize themselves among these fantastical depictions?

I thought about this as I watched the Mueller hearings yesterday. One common theme among superheroes is their secrecy. They loathe attention. They don’t care about accolades. Their reward is knowing they are making a difference. (As a therapist, I can definitely relate to this!)

Superheroes have special abilities (or supernatural powers), but they never use them for their own benefit, only to help others. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation or destruction by those with selfish intentions.

When not helping others, superheroes are unrecognizable from everyone else. Even though they have remarkable skills, they are otherwise like you and me. They experience the same feelings, struggle with the same personal issues and have some of the same vulnerabilities. This may be disillusioning for some and an excuse for others to question their abilities, but they don’t feel a need to prove themselves.

Superheroes have a set of values that never falter – no matter how much they are criticized or how hard others try to stop them. Their mission is not based on what is popular or easy, but what is the right thing to do. It doesn’t change under peer pressure or fear of failure. And it is bewildering to them how a person could behave any other way.

Superheroes are not as elusive as you think. Despite appearances, be assured they are among us today. Just don’t expect them to tell you.

For additional information on the history of superheroes, see: https://www.humanities.org/blog/how-american-history-created-the-american-superhero/

 

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