Why do we trust Superheroes?
If Watchmen tells us anything, it is that heroes and superheroes are as flawed as you and I. Hell, some of them are far worse than you and I. Some are downright terrible people, who only wear a false face of sanity to fit in.
Whether in fiction or in the ‘real’ world (whatever that is) heroes fail us.
They let us down.
They make promises they can not possibly keep.
They make vows no sane person would make.
They make mistakes. They suffer the consequences of their own actions.
Despite their flaws, fallen heroes still appeal to us. We hear that one of our favourite heroes turns out to be a child-molester, rapist or murderer. Yes something in us doesn’t want to believe that it is true. The elaborate conspiracy theories that spring up in defense of real world celebrities to explain away or justify their behavior shows just how far our psychosis goes.
Our collective insanity allows us to ignore the worst behavior of those we most admire.
In the real world, our heroes fail us routinely and predictably. If there is a lesson to be learned, and I don’t know that there is – but perhaps we ought to rely on ourselves a little more, and on our heroes a little less.
If I read an amazing book today by a man of peace and compassion, and I am truly inspired to change my life for the better, to treat others better etc, but tomorrow the author murders someone in cold blood and says they enjoyed it and would do it again – and their book was all lies that they never believed – then what happens to that inspiration I had?
What happens to that shining light that turned on in me when I read those inspiring words?
It dies a little. It retreats. It surrenders to darkness.
Can we be inspired by the examples of others, and let go of the need to worship them or look up to them?
Can we accept a good idea, even if it comes from a bad person?
Can we be critical of the person, but still allow that spark of inspiration inside us to grow? Do we violently reject our own selves, condemning every philosophy and good feeling we have ever had to an eternal limbo, merely because the author of the idea turned out to be a bad egg?
I don’t see any easy answers to these questions.
I do find a certain comfort in the morality and inspiration of comic book Superheroes. Your Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Superman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer etc.
These fictional heroes will never fail us. They were written to be champions of moral virtue, socially engineered to be the best of us, shining examples. They will never let us down.
…Except when Batman let Jason Todd down by failing to stop the Joker from beating poor Jason to death with a crow bar. (Until he was ret-conned over a decade later, totally subverting any meaning in the story – thanks for that DC!)
….Except for when Spider-Man failed to stop the burglar who went on to kill his Uncle Ben.
…Except for when Wonder Woman came to man’s world on a mission of peace, love, and hair grease – only to find herself irrelevant in a world addicted to war, suffering and chaos.
…Except when Superman inconveniently died, allowing every super-villain in Metropolis to run rampant while ineffective and incompetent replacement “Supermen” tried to to fill the void created by Superman’s death.
…Except when Buffy failed to protect her sister Dawn by trusting an evil Vampire (Spike) because she found it convenient to get her rocks off with him and then ignore him, consequences be damned.
So of course our fictional heroes never fail us…
Except when they do.
Which doesn’t make them bad, or wrong or broken. It just makes them human. It just makes them more like us.
Some acts may be unforgivable. Some things in life you just don’t get to come back from. Some acts you can pray to God for forgiveness, but that is about your only option, as your life here on earth is forever marked by your actions.
But if we are floating in a life raft during World War II like Louis Zamperini in the recent film Unbroken – should we feed hope to the sharks and say “To Hell with it all!”
Like Viktor Frankl, who survived a German concentration camp, Louis Zamperini never gave up hope. He didn’t give up when his plane went down over the ocean. He didn’t give up when he was stranded in a life raft with no food for a month. He didn’t give up when one of his friends died right next to him. He didn’t give up when an enemy plane strafed the life raft, leaving it peppered with holes.
Louis didn’t give up hope when he was rescued by the Japanese who put him in sub-human conditions for the next two years in a prison camp (as an enemy combatant) where he was beaten and starved.
If our heroes fail us, do we then use that as an excuse to fail ourselves, to give up on life?
I hope not.
I hope that we carry on living life the best way we know how. And I hope that when people do terrible things, rather than label them inhuman monsters and bury our heads in the sand, instead we ask “Why?”
What happened to that poor soul that made them that way?
Even if we can’t ever forgive those who have harmed us or those we love, or our fallen heroes, I hope that we can at least attempt to understand them. Maybe not right away, when the pain of their downfall is still too raw. Everybody in life has somebody that they have looked up to who has let them down.
Sometimes it is the people we love the most, the ones who are supposed to protect us.
I hope that individually and collectively we can all move past hate, revenge and self-loathing.
The world has enough hate. The quota has been filled beyond capacity a long time ago. Hatred is a selfish act that can only harm us and do nothing to heal the very real hurts we feel.
Hate and anger makes us less than what we are, never more.
It only makes sense to get angry about the injustices in the world, but we live in an unjust world. Why do you think we invented Superheroes? To remind us of hope, to remind us of our own potential.
Superheroes arrived right along with WWII. If there was no World War II, we may never have invented superheroes. Sure we had adventure characters, and science based heroes etc. But Superheroes arrived to give us hope, to remind us that at our core we want to live and grow and love. No baby was ever born with a gun in its hand. No baby was ever born full of hate and scorn for the world. We learned that along the way.
Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them. – Buckminster Fuller
We came here to love one another, and to look after each other. I feel that Superheroes are a reminder of that. A reminder that we can transcend out own limited cultural values and ideas. A reminder that we are born to greatness, not mediocrity. Every baby is born a genius. We didn’t come here to trip, fall over one time and then get mad about it for the rest of our lives, and blame everyone around us for our situation in life.
We have an infinite capacity for greatness in equal proportion to our capacity for forgiveness, but how often do we exercise that capacity?
In the end it doesn’t matter if your heroes fail you…
it only matters if YOU fail you.