If we are to examine the worth of superheroes as models for our moral, behavioural physical behaviours, we need to understand that over time- as society’s expectations have grown even more impossible with technological advancements, photoshop and social media- so too have the unattainable, unrealistic nature of our superheroes.
A childhood of flying men and sword-wielding women, my upbringing with super-heroic idols led me into my nerdy adolescence and beyond. Aside from harbouring an unrealistic love of unrealistic people, this love affair between superheroes and myself, actually served to ground me in a place of imaginative and empowering development…and a dwelling on philosophical thoughts.
An important question here can be raised: is there harm in aspiring to have the commendable yet skeptical qualities of an unrealistic superhuman? Or perhaps, in our photoshopped society, are we already posing as them ourselves? An examination of a few favourite heroes can attempt to answer these queries…
Whoever needed those childhood Bratz and Barbie dolls, Disney princesses or fairies, when you had fictional female role models like Batgirl, Wonder Woman or Supergirl? Unlike her formers however, Wonder Woman isn’t simply a ‘female rehash’ of a previous popular male crime-fighter of Detective Comics (DC). She stands as part of the ‘DC big three’ alongside Batman and Superman; with equivalent empowerment and status as an ambassador for peace, change and morality in a war-filled universe.
To quote fellow blogger, girloncomicbookworld regarding Wonder Woman’s inception: ‘Marston believed that female leadership was necessary in a world that was currently drowning in masculine hate and violence (Wonder Woman was created during WWII). Marston once wrote, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world”.’
As an exemplar for ethics and ‘doing the right thing’, Marston’s envisionment for the new ‘type of woman’ in her many fictional appropriations possesses attainable intellect, empathy, courage, will power, self-sacrifice and faith that all women can aspire to themselves embody. However, alongside her impossible superhuman strength, speed, flight, hand-to-hand combat skills and a ‘well-toned’ body image, the seemingly perfect character of Wonder Woman has caused conflict over unrealistic expectations…
Back in December last year, Wonder Woman’s value as a role model (and ambassador for peace) was incredulously and meticulously examined by the media after the UN cast her as the latest fictional honorary ambassador for empowerment. Almost 45,000 people even signed an online petition against her, reading, “Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent ‘warrior’ woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large-breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit”.
Personally, such outrage over such a ‘trivial’ issue caused me to hurl my own lasso of truth round the heroine-hating commentators… but the whole dilemma made me think; despite the admirable morals and values these fictional heroes emulate, are they setting the same unrealistic standards as real celebrities?
Perhaps one of the most relatable heroes of DC’s catalogue, is Batman: the non-power- possessing superhero who is an orphan…and billionaire. While not possessing these abilities however, Batman’s positive status as an attainable role model is overshadowed by his ‘grey’ sense of ethics. Unlike most super-heroic role models, Batman’s plight against evil is not black or white…While he maintains his golden rule against murder, he is vengeful; mercilessly interrogating people by any means necessary and storing intellect on his foe’s and even friend’s weaknesses, ‘just in case’, they betray him. With a multitude of trust issues, an arsenal of weapons and a dark past, while Batman is the most ‘human’ superhero -in that he has no powers and no perfect standards of morality- his status as a role model for children is actually highly questionable. (Check out my post, Philosophy in Batman: Doctrines of the Dynamic Duo for more on Batman and his questionable ethics concerning Robin).
However, like all heroes, Batman evolved from a cheery, happier persona, to a darker and more modern one. Comparing images of heroes from their creation to their current manifestations raise the idea that over time, these role models evolve to reflect truths and standards of our current society. Batman has evolved from a funny, comical role model clad in bright uniform, to an ever-blackening Dark Knight who is a serious, skeptical and self-obsessive playboy.
With philosophical inquiry, it has occurred to me that superheroes- like everything else- change with the times and societal values. Take the Powerpuff Girls for instance, whose ‘crime call in’ home phone has been replaced with a technologically up-to-date smartphone!
So, if we are to examine the worth of superheroes as models for our moral, behavioural physical behaviours, we need to understand that over time- as society’s expectations have grown even more impossible with technological advancements, photoshop and social media- so too have the unattainable, unrealistic nature of our superheroes. Further, the flaws and negative aspects of them, have also developed to be desirable human qualities (as demonstrated by the Flash’s irresponsibility, Batman’s questionable ethics and the mistakes/misconceptions of the heroes in Superman Vs Batman or Captain America: Civil War).
Well, after such thought-provoking commentary, I feel it fit to say that superheroes are both unrealistic role models and inspirers of morality; just as our modern day celebrities often are.
Looking for a bird? A plane? More superhero skepticism? Find related content below: