Tag Archives: Religion

The Forces that Shape our Stories – Why We Crave Superheroes/Modern Mythology like Oxygen

What is true is that we humans cannot shrink the Universe or its God down to something we can see and understand.  We, to understand, must expand our ways of understanding to infinite and eternal expanses. -Bob Laughlin, Denver, USA

In the modern world our mythologies and legends have been deconstructed.

Our cultural stories have been torn apart, dismantled, analysed to death and seen through the eyes of post-modernism and a rational scientific mind.

Our religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions have been endlessly studied, analysed and pulled apart.

Dragon_4_by_el_grimlock
A mythological dragon can  represent out own personal demons to battle, to triumph over.  The dragon can also represent the unintegrated aspects of ourselves that we have disowned or refuse to acknowledge.  A dragon may also represent the ‘other’ in physical terms, the ‘other’ may be perceived as threatening or benevolent.  Art by El Grimlock / DeviantArt

At the end of it all we have culturally dismissed most, if not all of it as irrelevant or at least the childish beliefs of primitive societies. While the inherent corruption and power of cult like societies that steal people’s money while keeping them stupid has diminished, we have also lost some important benefits along the way.

Few people in the modern world consider mysticism a genuine spiritual path, yet most if not all  religious founders had some sort of mystical experience of love and unity, the watering down of that experience then becomes all sorts of  nonsense beliefs and practices by people who don’t understand what was attempting to be communicated by the founder who had the direct experience of a higher reality. This is generalising of course, as religions, belief systems and political messages are added to, redacted and promoted or neglected according to who is in power, and what cultural story is being massaged into an easily digestible group of beliefs.

Werewolf by El Grimlock Deviant Art
Werewolves are fun, they serve as warnings of predators and are symbolic of animal instincts and sexual energy

We have thrown out our myths and fables, which served as communal ways of transmitting not only important life lessons, but basic survival skills while warning us of genuine dangers such as predatory animals and the danger of wandering into the wilderness away from our tribe or group where death was a constant threat.  Our cultural stories are infinitely adaptable to any belief system and we tell stories to small children, and it becomes part of their ongoing education.

As adults stories entertain us but also can be used to convey important life lessons.  At no point do we cease individually or collectively growing and learning.  Life is growth.  Of course we can choose to remain stupid and not learn, nobody is forcing us. We may have moved on from the fundamentalist mythic-literal interpretation of events in world religions, we may dismiss myths and fables as silly stories from a primitive world view.  However, if we deconstruct our cultural stories, this in no way fulfills our genuine need that was at least partly satisfied by those stories.

Our need for cultural values passed on through oral traditions, our need for wisdom, a sense of belonging, our place in the world, our unique personal story, and the mass story of our tribe, town, city, nation or world story.  This article then is about stories and myths, our need of them, how they fail to meet our needs and how we live in constantly changing times where our mass cultural stories and fictional stories are all up for grabs.  Our mass and local culture is being rewritten, re-interpreted, re-invented.  As deconstructionism and reductionism have served their purposes, the inevitable move then is back to Holism, to arrive at the place where we have always been. quote-we-shall-not-cease-from-exploration-and-the-end-of-all-our-exploring-will-be-to-arrive-where-we-t-s-eliot-57010 Disassembled Car Let us say for example you take a modern car / automobile and you pull it apart.  You take every piece of it and completely dismantle it, label every piece carefully, you look carefully at all the parts, see the functions they have and can accurately tell someone everything you have learned from taking the car apart, you have learned all you possibly can from this process. Now, suppose you have to be on the other side of town within the next hour. What use is the car to you in this disassembled state?

We still have need of a vehicle to take us to our intended destination.

We have dismantled our cultural myths, we have dismantled our religions (although some still choose to be part of them). We have dismantled and studied the ways of life of hundreds of generations who proceeded our time on this earth.  We feel that we are above all of that primitive stuff, we feel that we are above – rather than a part of – Nature.  That somehow the religion of Science will fix everything, that there are experts somewhere who have it all figured out. We still have the same needs as human beings that led to those myths, religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions and cultural stories being formed in the first place.

We may currently be living in the techno-inspired future of Tron, The Matrix and The Terminator, but we are still running around in hunter gather bodies primed for action and reaction to immediate physical threats.  Our intellect has grown in leaps in bounds while we have lost touch with our “primitive” bodies, the modern workspace and educational arenas see us ill-equipped to handle adrenaline and nor-adrenaline dumps into our blood stream to in response to threats both imaginary and real.  Modern man then is cut off his at the head, disconnected from his body.  We stand on the verge of reintegrating our lost stories and values, our lost ways of being.  But where we are at present is a place of fear and uncertainty that can lead to inaction where action is required.

We are then the hunter gatherers who have evolved to greater intelligence and sophisticated culture and domination of the natural world, but have yet to evolve our world views.  Like a caterpillar mid transformation, the promise of the butterfly is yet to appear, and some traditionalists want to remain caterpillars, while progressives argue that we are already butterflies. From my perspective I would say we are collectively like Neo in The Matrix, some of us have taken the “reality” pill, while others are as yet undecided, but the future of humanity demands that we both grow up and wake up to ourselves and our world.  To remain ignorant is a luxury none of us can afford if we want to survive as species.Terminator Matrix Tron Neo Arnold What we have not done in the modern world is create a new world myth, world religion or world spirituality to replace what we have pulled apart.  We are a culture and world obsessed with technology, but we have yet to reconcile our hunter gatherer roots with our techno space age ambitions. No true synthesis of belief system that incorporates our previous ways, meets out genuine needs and integrates with our modern and post-modern technological world view has yet appeared. What we are left with is endless yearning for something undefinable, something just out of reach.

We don’t quite know what that something IS but we know we have the capacity to fulfill any wish or desire we may entertain.  The cycle of satisfaction and completion escapes us when we are lost in frivolous pursuits and neglect the essentials of life. We lack a communal world story to match out current living at a world-centric level.  Our problems are no longer just local, but global.  But our religions and spiritual traditions have remained in the cultural dark ages while our every day reality has blasted off to the the moon and back.

Old time religions where never intended to handle world-centric concerns.  It’s like asking a Ford Model T to outperform a V8 Supercar, Formula 1 or Nascar in a race, that old Ford vehicle was NEVER intended for such a task, and is completely incapable of fulfilling that purpose.  Our technological progress have outpaced out spiritual progress as a species and few today are capable of even defining what Spirituality even means, instead being lost in petty arguments about whose version of the Truth is more “true”.

Bathurst_Island_men Australia Formula 1 Car
Australian Aboriginal culture may be earths oldest at an estimated 75,000 years of unbroken genetic lineage

Some have tried to synthesize a new world view based on the old world views, but so far attempts at world religions, world spirituality and/or belief systems have failed.  And some people would say good, we don’t need it, we are no longer primitives running around with stone and wooden idols making human sacrifices to some god in the hopes that our crops will grow and that we will be successful in slaughtering our enemies/neighbors/friends whose hearts we have literally ripped out while atop our glorious citadels. We have taken the old ways, pulled them apart, claim we understand them and they are redundant in our new scientific world view (Science being the default world religion of today).

There is a clear and present danger in assuming we know everything there is to be known.

That kind of arrogant erroneous thinking led to limited beliefs like the world being flat and that the earth was the center of the known Universe. When some new information comes along that proves how clueless we are as a species, we tend to try and categorise and apply it within old world paradigms.  But that is like trying to play a DVD or Blu-Ray disc on a record player, not only does it not work, the technologies are fundamentally incompatible.  Retrofitting new world experiences into old world paradigms is a recipe for disaster, if not mass voluntary suicide through ignorance.

Progress through the Sciences is generally met with resistance, ridicule and denial, often one grave at a time.  As the old guard dies off, new ideas and theories gain the opportunity to flourish or flounder among younger generations who eventually grow up and replace the old guard completely.  When new ideas are suggested, we often view them through the filter of our old world beliefs.  But we just metaphorically threw out most of our old ideas, or rejected them as irrelevant back in the beginning of this article – so where does that leave us?

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Labelling something does not mean we truly understand something, we may miss vital information that does not fit the label

We live in a cultural, religious, scientific and spiritual ghetto.

Where does that leave us?  It leaves us with the story of “no story”.  It leaves us thinking hey, we are pretty smart, we don’t need all that old cultural junk from pre-modern times, it just held us back, we’re marching boldly forward into the future baby! But what if some of those old ideas and traditions actually held something quite valuable, that we did not recognise.  What if amongst the noise of wars, persecution, assassinations, executions and genocide of the old world in the name of the most holy, or whatever King or dictator was flavor of the month – we lost something of our unique cultural story and perspective?

What if we overlooked some very fundamental needs that were addressed through life lessons and fables by those old world stories? What if there were deeper meanings to those stories we learned as children that we would neither understand nor comprehend understand until we were adults and seriously inquire into our inner and outer universe? Another perspective at being at a place of “no story”, is that we are in metaphorical terms at a point of “zero” or infinity.  At the point of zero, everything is possible.

Eventually we will have a new cultural mass story, but first our old ways have died like the Dinosaurs, the hazard of moving to zero point is that we lose our traditions and gradual incremental growth oriented changes. Good cultural stories, be they scientific, religious or purely poetic or mythic are like a Trojan Horse.  Outwardly they appear as one benign and perhaps beautiful form, while inside they contain something potentially more powerful that may help or harm us. Good stories may act as catalysts, as information that interacts with out unique consciousness to unleash our innate potentials by reminding us of who we are and the life we intended to live before we got distracted by the ‘noise’ of the world. the unwritten22 Good stories exist on multiple levels that can speak to different ages and generations.  Good stories can have every day simplistic meanings in union with deeper symbolic meanings, every element then becomes essential and we should consciously aim to understand the literal AND symbolic meanings of good stories, we should aim to understand both the simple and the complex in life, valuing both interpretations equally. unwritten arm55 How we learn and evolve is partly through increasing our simultaneous parallel perspectives on life.  The more contrasting and complementary points of view we are able to hold within our own minds at one time the greater our mental model of reality and life becomes. The unwritten Book The cyclic journey of our lives appears to be a circle, but from a different perspective the unique story arcs of our individual lives is more akin to a spiral that seemingly overlaps with a return to the resonant themes and motivation of our lives, this spiral then is a growth of our selves in time as we overlap previous versions of ourselves. Sometimes when we seem to be at the end of something in life, we are truly starting from zero with new perspectives. Regression seems to be a step backwards, but our inner and outer journey in life is a series of spirals that bring us full circle through our path of learning with ever deepening meaning and an expanding perspective. Spiral A big part of that learning in today’s world is learning not only our own cultural history and traditions, but the history, traditions and ways of life of other cultures.  We are only capable of thinking within the dominant paradigms we grew up with in our own culture and passively absorbed as children.  While we learn from our mass and individual history, a key point is not to be enslaved to any idea that does not serve our needs for the sake of “tradition”.

Tradition is fundamentally the passing on of daily habit through ritualised repeated behaviors for people who have no access to written records, or are under the rule of an oppressive leader.  Tradition and ritual preserve cultural wisdom across all fields, as well as the deeper subtle fields of the inner universe (your own mind), soliciting both beneficial inner states and outward physical action. If we want to expand our personal realities and intelligence then there is a need to learn the ways of people from cultures different than the culture we grew up in, not just their outer actions but how they elicit their inner subjective states, their fundamental relationship to how they perceive the world – while remaining committed to your own learning, expansion of love and not being a slave to any ideas or limited philosophies that oppress humanity along the way.

To transcend and include, but not be held back by anyone or anything. Our devaluation of wisdom traditions and ways of the old world has lead us to feel collectively lost and alone in an existential void, and we try so hard to fill that void with drugs, bad relationships, food, sex, entertainment, or anything else, but it is never enough and does not truly satisfy us.  Anything to offer a brief reprieve from that emptiness that we so desperately need to be satisfied, and which can easily be satisfied once we identify that which is essential in life, that which is real and timeless. red skull hitler stalin thanos dr doom dictator bad guy We collectively lost sight of our traditions as they became more and more perverted through the willful destruction of libraries, perversions of sacred teachings by rulers who seek to control the masses, genocides, wars, gaps in the passing down of traditions, or that good old standby – mad power mongers and super-villain like rulers with iron fists who tear down culture and tradition in the name of their own inflated ego or anti-life philosophy. Think Dr. Doom, Thanos, Darkseid, Stalin, Hitler etc. To destroy the will and heart of a people, you take away their culture, you take away, destroy or pervert their personal story.  You break the will and the Spirit of people be denying them their basic freedoms and sowing seeds of doubt and mistrust in their own minds about who they fundamentally are in their heart of hearts.

Dr Doom Superman
Dr Doom meets the Kryptonian Knuckle Sandwich

I don’t have the answers, just an inquiring mind that never rests – and I do not suggest you look for the answer to life’s biggest questions in a Hollywood movie. But, in the existential wasteland we live in contributed to by deconstructionism and a post-modern rational scientific world view there now exists a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum.  Something will come along to fill it, it may be good or bad, but what that something is we do not know.

The future arrives one day at a time, and it is not all hover boards, DeLorean’s and sports almanacs. Part of what has stepped into that existential void we currently live in is modern superhero cinema.  It is only one contender, one idea in the ring, and it is not the only idea out there.  Superhero cinema in no way replaces or meets our actual needs in life, and I do not mean to suggest it does.  Superhero cinema does not replace genuine Spirituality or man’s search for for or relationship with God in any way.

I believe that Superhero cinema can be inspiring, uplifting, but also remind us of own potential for greatness, and inspire us to live out not only our grandest dreams, but to co-operate with others, to be considerate and be of service however we can in life.

When I watch the old Star Trek shows, I see a human race that bickers and fights amongst itself, but I see a human race that is ultimately united in their mission and purpose.  Good science fiction, fantasy and superhero stories can help to remind us that we are one human race, one big family, and the sooner we learn that lesson, the more can co-operate and work together creatively instead of inventing new ways to slaughter each other.  I love when fiction reminds us of that possibility.  For to manifest out hearts desire we must first see that desire as possible, we must imagine a future grander than any Star Trek like utopia where humanity functions as a healthy whole organism, as symbiotic organisms that live with the earth and its many species rather than as parasites or viruses who attack their host. Star Trek Unity and Viruses The hero archetype and myth is as old as time itself, the particular superhero evolution of the hero archetype is just another spin on a timeless tale. Whether the hero/heroine and superhero/superheroine archetype is one that ultimately serves us or holds us back as a species, as a culture is really up to us.  Where we place our values, what we invest our time and efforts in ultimately determines the direction of our lives.

The Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell is a fascinating, deep, insightful and meaningful work. However that work comments on the past, on what is and has been.  As valuable as it is, it only a beginning.  It can only tell us where we have been, and not where we are going. The Hero’s journey is one of common tropes across different cultures in different times identified within a patriarchal paradigm that displaces female power by necessity.  Whether we continue to define the Heroine and Superheroine in male terms, as reactions to male power, rather than finding the authentic voice of feminine power and strength within women and men as we live today, and incorporate that into our stories and new mythologies is up to us. Super hero The re-emergence of the suppressed divine Goddess within all of us is long overdue.  Living as we currently do is psychologically unbalanced for both sexes, how and when we address that issue is up to us as individuals and as communities. Men need to be able to express their emotions and follow their intuition, Women need to be able to stand up as self-confident empowered individuals and equals, and not as merely reactions to perceived male power.

Each of us must do the hard inner work of acknowledging and allowing healthy expression of the male and female aspects of the psyche within each of us.  Collectively we must work to embody our deepest values in the outer world as free thinking and feeling men and women. Perhaps it is time on this planet for the artificial battle of the sexes to come to an end, and instead be replaced by a genuine equality and co-operation that we have never known in modern times.  It is up to us to create, model and live that way of being, and to refuse to back away from the challenge.

We should not remain prisoners of the past, or outmoded ways of living, merely because what is new and different may at first be frightening and strange to us.  Life is change and motion, evolution and growth whether we want it to be or not.  We can resist the flow of life, or move along with the beat of the evolutionary impulse within our hearts.

Ellen Ripley Wonder Woman Buffy Vampire Slayer Female Goddess Heroine1
Strong empowered female heroines are rare

So within the existing cultural and explicitly sexist paradigm of the Patriarchy we currently live in, I feel several significant films have come along that attempt to address our unmet need for myth, meaning and story in our lives.  I am not saying that they satisfy our genuine needs, or that movies should ever take the place of genuine wisdom – just that one offshoot of the never ending evolution of story telling has appeared in a popular format that speaks to the masses.

Inspiring films are a complement to, rather than a replacement of our other activities in life.  However, while good, these films also fail to integrate feminine energy, to integrate authentic feminine voice and power, despite however seemingly progressive some of them may be. Storytelling, like most other arts has become so commercialized that we barely recognise its roots and origins. The films that we find satisfying not only as pure entertainment and escapism, all have deeper philosophical meanings layered within their narrative structure.

The films I feel that best meet this criteria for putting an emphasis on myth and magic, on Science and Spirit – and this is not a complete list, just well known films that fit the bill that I happen to like a lot – are Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Rocky (1976), The Matrix (1999), X-Men (2000) Spider-Man (2002), Batman Begins (2005) The Dark Knight (2008) and The Avengers (2012).  I could have chosen others, but these films were seen by enough people that even those who have never seen them have at least heard of the characters, and all of these films feature archetypal heroic stories. batman begins darth vader wolverine neo matrix rocky spider man movie Part of the appeal of modern hero and superhero cinema is the very primal, fundamental way in which the films attempt to address our need for stories, myths and cultural narrative.  Whether Rocky, Batman or the Avengers, superhero cinema is a celebration of old world traditional values (but not Dogma) wrapped up in a shiny new package. Superhero cinema tells the timeless tale of heroes and heroines rising and triumphing over adversity, growing in wisdom and knowledge to meet life’s challenges, and offering their unique gifts in service to the world – rather than sinking away into depression and feelings of powerlessness. What constitutes the core values of a Hero or Superhero, what makes them a hero in the old world sense is the quest, facing adversity, victory etc.  A hero in our modern context in my view however is not so much about any particular quest. batman-3

The hero I most often think of and admire is Batman.  His quest is ordinary and never ending.  

He can never win, his quest will never finish, he can never win, it is by definition impossible. Yet he fulfills his duty anyway, not because of any external rewards, not for any magical swords or fair maidens or the love of the people.  Batman gives his gifts selflessly, because there is a genuine need for him in Gotham City.  But more than that, Batman is simply who Bruce Wayne is.  Batman is Bruce Wayne’s calling in life, it is his mission, sole purpose and primary focus in life to be Batman, along with everything that represents.

As an avatar of darkness and shadows, Batman makes the unknown known, he makes the unconscious conscious, shedding light on the ugliest parts of humanity that we refuse to see, acknowledge or integrate.

Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our mind and soul, of how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them towards our highest good.

What I love about Batman, or Spider-Man or the Avengers is that they knowingly face certain death and impossible situations, yet they boldly march forward, because being a hero is what is in their DNA, it defines who they are.  Heroes in my mind are selfless individuals who serve the needs of others not just out of a sense of duty or responsibility, but because they genuinely care about the welfare of others.

They are heroes not just because they choose to be, but because they don’t know how NOT to be Heroes, they don’t know how to shut off their humanity or to suppress their feelings, so instead they must be who they are. The heroic movies may focus on spectacle and action, but the heart of a hero is forged in the crucible of testing their values against adversity while not compromising themselves.  A hero then is one who serves others and lives by their core values, their own moral code and not by the laws of the nation, and is not motivated by external forces.  A hero follows what is in their heart, what they know to be true, and a true hero does what they do out of love for humanity, out of love for life. heart diagram-horz This article is a long one and I I have plenty more to say on this topic, so I’ve broken it up into two parts – stay tuned for PART#2, where I will discuss the themes and the cool bits of each of the films I just mentioned in detail.  I’ll be talking about Rocky and Batman, X-Men and other great characters.  Stick around, you’ll be glad you did!

Superheroes and Savior Figures, Oh My!

Superman Clark Kent by Alex Ross transformation
Up, Up and Away!

Batman is American mythology. It’s a child’s character that also matures with us as we grow. There are various interpretations for each stage of development. It’s a human hero that endures, who is flawed but triumphs. His heart, his drive and yes that dark side that most people never admit to having. Bottom line, Batman is cool. There’s no arguing that!

-Kevin Porter (Bat in the Sun cosplayer)

Whether historical figures or purely fictional characters, the hero, superhero and savior archetypes show up again and again in human history within our various diverse cultural narratives.

There are many perspectives what role the hero, superhero and savior archetypes have to play within our own lives.

Each perspective is neither right nor wrong, but any perspective is true for the person who holds it, for any person who feels in their heart what is true, is true for them.

But this personal truth is only a partial truth, a valid part of a larger whole.  We have trouble when the partial truth claims to be the whole truth, or claims that other contrasting partial truths are invalid.

Heroic figures are generally thought of as beneficial, but heroic figures can also be self serving.  There is no moral prerequisite nor absolute standard for a hero, and some historical figures who were considered criminals in their day or even terrorists are later labelled heroes in retrospect.

Batman Arkham Asylum Game Concept Art_2

In Detective Comics #27 Batman is clearly a criminal who operates outside of the law.

In Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Batman could reasonably be labelled a fascist terrorist. Yet he is still heroic.

A hero is typically called a “hero” by an invested party, an observer or witness.

A heroic act performed without a witness is just an ordinary action.  A hero without a witness is just a person performing an action, free of labels or judgement.

Some obvious questions arise when we evoke the archetype of hero, superhero and savior.

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WORLDS FINEST: Dancing with the stars edition

Is a savior here to “save us”, and if so, from what?

Do we need to be saved?  Are we not capable of realising our own potentials without this archetype?  Should we rely on heroes to save us, or should we be more self reliant?

Should we seek to become heroes ourselves, or to become like heroes through emulating their example?

How does a savior or hero know what is best for other people?  Did they go to hero school, should we listen to them or ignore their advice?  Is their agenda the best possible choice in a given circumstance, or just a partial truth within a larger whole?

Kevin Porter Batman cosplay
Kevin Porter Batman (Bat in the Sun Productions)

Another view on the hero, superhero and savior archetypes are as figures of inspiration.

In the realm of inspiration Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao-tzu, Superman and Wonder Woman are equally important.

Some people would be offended at this idea, that a fictional character could be as important as a historical religious figure.  Then again, some would argue all of them are fictional characters.

I am not here to debate the historical evidence for whether Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other religious figures actually ever existed, or were even retellings of the same basic composite story in different cultures as some theories suggest.
When we read a story that we find inspiring, whether it was a literal account of objectively verifiable events that actually happened, or a pure fiction invented by a writer, both experiences are within our mind.

That inspiration is within our own mind, that feeling of inspiration resonates within our body.  No matter HOW it got there, once there, that inspiration is “true” for us, the feeling experienced is real, any action that may follow from that feeling exists independent of whether the path that lead to the feeling began as fact or fiction.  This is what I mean when I say that inspiring figures and stories are equally important to us, and the source is less important, but still significant.

Not just what we do, but “how we are”, is what people respond to.  Our heroes and savior figures have magic about them, they stand out in some way, but the greatest of them remind us of our own potential for greatness.  A true hero uplifts and inspires others, and asks nothing in return.

We are all Wonder Women by Catherine & Sarah Satrun
“We are all Wonder Women” by Catherine & Sarah Satrun

The old adage of one mans’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist can easily be applied to the hero, superhero and savior archetypes.

A vigilante hero such as Batman serves his own ends and operates outside of the law, although he does sometimes co-operate with law enforcement via Jim Gordon.  Ultimately while Batman serves his own brand of personal Justice, he is answerable to no authority but himself.

Superman while also basically a criminal who operates outside of the law, is not a vigilante in traditional terms.  He frequently co-operates with law enforcement and emergency services.

While he can also be said to be serving himself, his collaborations with authorities suggest he serves the greater good, or the will of the nation in the best sense. In his first incarnation he was a champion of the people, of the oppressed underclasses, typically the migrant workers of 1930s America.  Batman motivates through fear, Superman motivates through hope.

Jesus Cosplay YOLO (2)
YOLO Jesus

Later during World War II Superman (along with Wonder Woman and to a lesser extent Batman) became more nationalistic icons, and would actively be associated with pushing “Truth, Justice and the American Way”.  The American Way part was added on, and not part of Superman’s first appearances.  Later still Superman became the figurehead of a corporation, and an ambassador of superheroes, comic books and any characters that wear tights, underwear on the outside and a chevron on their chest.

Superman’s famous “S” shield on his chest would become known more as a logo, as a brand to be slapped on products, rather than symbolic of a dynamic figure of strength, courage and virtue as represented in his original incarnation.

There is no virtue in a product with an “S” shield logo on it.  But in a consumer society where we often feel powerless and disenfranchised, we feel that maybe something of the Superman magic will rub off on us if we wear the logo on a Tshirt, or buy the Superman toy or statue.  The irony being that Superman who once inspired and stood for moral values, virtue and hero-ness became just another product in the machine of capitalism to be mindlessly consumed.  Another cog in the merciless amoral machine of consumerism.

Superman Batman Bruce Wayne Clark Kent hald and half image art

Of course it need not be that way, despite the commercialization of the Superheroes, they are still available as figures of inspiration if we choose to view them that way, if we look into their very essence, they are still have the same resonance and power to inspire they always did. We just forgot this inspirational quality by turning out attention to the products and icons, the outer form, the package, rather than the inner essence, the real substance of life.

Frank Miller plays up the relevance or meaninglessness of the forgotten icon of Superman in Dark Knight Returns, where Superman has become a boy scout for the government. He mindlessly follows their orders to keep the peace and not make any waves in a world that like Allan Moore’s Watchmen and Marvel’s Civil War, has basically made it illegal to be a superhero.

Superman only exists as a government pawn to promote whatever agenda they see fit.  While Superman may have objections, he chooses to submit his will to the government for what he perceives to be the greater good.  He surrenders his Godhood and unfathomable power to the will of the nation.

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Frank Miller’s version of Superman is a god, or at least a deity.  His portrayal as bowing down to the government makes him a coward in the eyes of the author (Miller), and significantly in the eyes of Batman whom Miller speaks through in teh story.  Superman and Batman’s differences lead to their inevitable confrontation towards the end of the story arc.  The battle while very visceral and physical, is not so much a traditional Superhero slug-fest battle, as a battle of the difference in Superman and Batman’s core ideologies.  This makes the anticipation reach a fever pitch in a way the typical Thing vs Hulk or Red Hulk vs Thor battle never achieves.

Superman sees the government – even a corrupt oppressive government – as basically good.  Batman sees the government as rotten slave masters, as oppressive enemies no less of  a threat than the invading Persians Leonidas faces in Miller’s 300 graphic novel.  Batman in Miller’s eyes is not just a hero, but a soldier who fights for the true freedom of the people, with uncompromising integrity.  Miller’s Batman is a militaristic hero who values the freedom of the individual, while Superman is the coward who yields to the whip of the empire, and all its enslavement, and oppression of free will and eradication of individuality.

Batman-Arkham City Concept Art CG Render XX

Superman’s “Justice” (in Dark Knight Returns) serves the homogeneous mass of humanity, the individual must serve the state unquestioningly, a gross perversion of Spock’s immortal spiritually intentioned words in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few”.

Batman’s “Justice” serves the individual, he fights for the free thinking and feeling rights of the individual, in his view government and all companies or corporations must serve rather than dictate to the individual.

Both views are valid but partial truths, part of a larger whole.  A synthesis of seemingly opposing ideas may lead to greater understanding and more “truth”.  But only in open dialogue and through freedom of expression, intentionally looking at another’s point of view we disagree with, and looking for the benefits  of that point of view.  This synthesis can not be arrived at by force or coercion, but only through open minds and heart, if we are willing.

Often examining contrasting ideas in parallel, rather than in opposition can lead to greater understanding.  Neuroscience refers to the human brain as a self-organising system of patterns.  Edward DeBono also uses that same terminology in his works and the practical applications DeBono frequently talks about in his numerous books including Parallel Thinking and Edward DeBono’s Thinking Course.  

“Studies have shown that 90% of errors in thinking are due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas.”

“Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic.” – Edward DeBono

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Edward DeBono makes some bold claims, and they are backed up by several decades of research and application in various institutions including various corporations and schools around the globe.  Although as with any progressive thinker, some academics criticise his solutions to various problems.

Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven – Edward DeBono

Superman and Batman, while old friends, basically act as archetypal ciphers in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, giving voice to one of the oldest arguments in history.  What is more important, the needs of the “individual” or “the many”?

Both the individual and the many are valid but partial truths.  Both the individual and society are important, one does not invalidate the other.  Both views are part of a large whole, but an intentional shift in perspective is needed to get beyond the ideological argument.  When viewed within a larger context the superficial argument becomes redundant, ultimately because we all need each other.

Society would grind to a halt without the co-operation of hundreds if not thousands of individuals that make our every day lives possible.

Societies need infrastructure that benefits the citizens, the government needs citizens to vote for them to act as their representatives (for better or worse) and individuals need their equality and freedom of choice to act as genuine human beings, not as robots nor slaves in an uncaring machine.

No tree has branches so foolish as to fight amongst themselves – Native American Proverb

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Lean and Mean Batman by Diego-Rodriguez

Savior figures, real or imagined, whether Superman, Lao-Tzu or Jesus, we encounter them as ideas within our own minds and hearts.  None of them can we meet in physical form.  If we are inspired by the example of their teachings, their beliefs, attitude and moral example, or their very Being, their very presence, then that is a rich inner experience as valid as any other in life.

The form inspiration may take can be infinite.  One person reads a religious text or commentary and encounters an inspiring figure, another person reads Superman or Harry Potter and finds an inspiring figure or role model to emulate.

Of course the flaw here is that someone may find a flawed or even down right bad role model and emulate them.  We need look no further than actors, rock stars, professional athletes and musicians for examples of lives dominated by external appearances, shallow ego worship, rampant drug addiction and glorification of false or misleading values.

The question remains do we need saviors to save or fix us?

Do we need to rely on heroes as a psychological dependency or are we leaping into the future by imagining our own greatest potential as popular entertainment?  I can’t answer that question for anyone.  It is highly personal, and speaks to the needs of unique individuals, not to impersonal masses.

In traditional “God of Abraham” narratives, there is a fall from grace for humanity.  The Adam and Eve story brings temptation, knowledge of good and evil, and self as “other”, as separate from God, and sin.  The modern context of sin is often rendered as bad, evil, flawed or imperfect.  The historical roots of the word in the English language “sin” come from archery, where to sin meant to miss.  To miss the mark, make the error of not hitting the target.  In contrast Semitic languages have multiple meanings and synonyms for Sin that imply evil acts, or wrong acts.

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In other religious traditions such as Buddhism and the Baha’i Faith human beings are not seen as inherently sinful or flawed, but as inherently good, as inherently Buddha-like.  Human beings are seen as inherently loving and full of light and other airy-fairy mumbo-jumbo that is often meaningless and impractical to our daily lives.  But one look at a mother breast feeding her newborn baby is all the evidence I need to know that we are ultimately lovers here to learn, grow and express ourselves.

Whether we are religious or not, the cultural narrative of the society we each live in is often dominated by one religion, one hand me down belief system or another.  So by proxy we adopt some of those mass cultural beliefs unconsciously as children, and if as adults we never question those beliefs, then we assume them to be true and they colour our perception of the world.  Those hand me down beliefs we inherited within our culture inform our perception of both our inner non-physical self (or self-image) and how we perceive our outer physical world.

We may forego the traditional religious savior figure or superhero and instead make a political figure, rock star or musician into a savior, putting all sorts of expectation upon them that they can not possibly fulfill.

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Cookie Monster of the Sea, a timeless cultural myth

To grow into an adult means to let go of our limited perceptions and beliefs like a snake shedding its own skin, constantly being reinvented and renewed by the unrelenting thrust of life to grow, move forward and evolve into new shades of complexity.

Wherever we are as individuals is just fine.  We grow whether we want to or not.  Some of us feel the need to look up to inspiring figures, some feel a need to be those inspiring figures for other people.  While others have no interest in the idea whatsoever.  Each are valid choices, and one woman’s choice does not negate anothers.  One mans ignorance or wisdom does not affect the person next to him, unless he actively promotes a particular ideology.

So is humanity deeply flawed, broken and sinful?  Or is humanity inherently loving, are we angels and gods who have forgotten their wings?  Does it need to be one or the other?

I don’t see life as a binary either/or choice, but a rich infinitely complex sphere of activity that constantly evolves into greater complexity with infinite simultaneous points of view.  A kaleidoscope like holographic Matrix simulation of greater and lesser densities of light refracted into human bodies and brains that think they are thinking, a universe of space where atoms spin so fast they appear to be solid, but if that spin slowed down or if we could change the vibration of our molecules we could walk through walls just like The Flash. Where if densities changed we could jump through the air like Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk.

A dancing universe of infinite beauty that is inherently, more than anything, alive and intelligent, forever expanding, and re-experiencing itself to infinity and beyond.  But that is just my limited partial subjective truth, and I may be completely wrong.

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The real Goldfinger? No, it’s the Legendary Ox riding Lao-tsu / Laozi

Superheroes and Saviors to me are fine, inspiring figures.  Do we NEED them?  I don’t know, perhaps we do.  But let us imagine we don’t need them for a moment, even then I’d still like them to be around, I don’t want them to go away.  I don’t want any reminder of our own greatest potential to go away or be forgotten.  The names don’t matter to me, I find inspiration in many different figures, each adds something to my personal world view.  I’ve had nor shortage of friends of various religious faiths, while not being religious myself.  I have also managed to offend pretty much all of those friends at some point with my views, but remained friends despite our differences.  Is variety not the spice of life?  In my experience, I learn best from experiencing great contrasts.  Different foods, different religions and cultural values and practices.  Different races and ideologies.

Getting back on topic, in one possible view, we rely on the savior to fix us, make us whole or worthy.  In contrast the inspirational view is that we become more like the savior figure.  Of course these are just two limited perspectives, there are other valid perspectives, but my objective is not to state them all here and now.

One mode is worship and adoration, with no challenge to grow.

Another mode is emulation, becoming more like the savior figure, and not relying on them to “do” anything, other than be who they already are.

When we consciously model teachers and mentors, we learn their best attributes and apply them to our own lives.  But when we worship heroes and savior figures (be it Jesus or Superman [a.k.a. space Jesus], or some idiotic celebrity) we do nothing to evolve our own intelligence, we neither learn nor grow as adults.

But man has need of stories to dramatise events and big ideas in a way that captures his imagination.  Darth Vader is much more compelling than the abstract concept of squandered potential, turning to evil and subsequent redemption, or at least forgiveness.

Batman is a hell of lot more dramatic a tale of personal loss, tragedy strength, will-power and vigilante-ism than just mere words can convey.  Jesus is still my favourite story of the embodiment of kindness, love and forgiveness. Avalokiteśvara (the weirdo below with 1000 arms to help 1000 people) is my most inspiring personal embodiment of Compassion and selfless service to others.

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Avalokitesvara Buddha

Whether super heroes, bible stories, or ancient myths and legends all are equally compelling and full of parallels.  To me this speaks not to any grand truths on any one topic, but to mans need to tell stories.  To project his self through time in mythological narratives that carry the best (and worst) messages of a culture down through the ages.  From mimicking our heroes as children to emulating them as adults, they are always there to inspire us and help carry us forward.

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Batman’s Identity remained a mystery

We ignore our cultural stories, religions, myths and history at our own peril.  If we feel that we are not affected by such antiquated notions as stories passed down from our ancestors, then we are willfully ignorant of our heritage.

Each of us has our own personal narrative, we are the main character in our own individual life story, with everyone else in supporting roles.  Of course, to another person, they are the main character in their life story, and we are the supporting player.

If you think this post is building to some intelligent and insightful conclusion, well I only have pre-packaged disappointment for you.  But at least it didn’t cost you anything.  Other than the time it took to get to this sentence, unless you skipped down from the top, in which case shame on you!  If you were hoping to be inspired or saved by the end of the post, well that is not what I am here for, your own personal inspiration is where ever you may find it, and always available to you if you truly look.

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Some guy a long time ago talked about living from our hearts, I forget his name, or the words.  But I remember the feeling it inspired in me.  The feeling of looking within your own heart, and following its call.  So far, my heart has never steered me wrong in life, I know of no greater way to heed the call of inspiration than by finding it in the mundane and everyday, in the here and now.

To me all of life is inspired and sacred, especially YOU, so never forget it.

You are unique and one of a kind and destined never to be repeated.

I don’t know what inspiration looks like, but it feels like this picture of Felix the cat, it spills out of you and no container in the universe can ever hold it.  It is the flame of flames, your heart of hearts, the infinite wisdom of inspiration is available to you at all times, it flows like a river through you and can not be stopped by any external forces.

Be inspired!

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