Mr. Stark… I Don’t Feel So Good: Superhero Culture in the 21st Century
As David Bowie sings, “We can be heroes, just for one day.” Although this song is to be interpreted as a love song, it reminisces the thought of longing to be a hero, something many can relate to.
The emergence of a world where we celebrate the best in their field and glorify them to the point where they are idolized by others shows a certain ‘hero culture’ that we have been exposed to.
Whether it be in terms of entertainment, such as superheroes, or in real life, such as parents or firefighters, heroes have become a huge part of the 21st century.
We can picture ourselves running around our backyards, pretending to be superheroes and saving the day. Why did we do so? Was it simply to mimic the cartoons we watched and read, or was it because we wanted to save the world, ourselves?
In a way, we idolize superheroes in order to live vicariously through them. Their powers and abilities, especially those of leadership, impact us in a grand way.
Tony Stark’s character is one of fame and success, not only from his company but more so from him being Iron Man, someone who protects others. Though Mr. Stark has his flaws, he is to be idolized and one strives to develop some of his better qualities.
Superheroes can also remind us of ourselves, as they experience strong emotions just like everyone else.
The way Tony Stark takes care of Peter Parker reminds us of a father caring for his son. The strength of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ friendship reminds us of some of our own friendships, and what we would be willing to do to keep that friendship alive.
The experience of extremely human circumstances connects with us on personal levels, and we place ourselves in the superhero’s shoes. We question, “What would Captain America do?”
This way of thinking is especially evident in children, particularly when considering the social learning theory.
This theory essentially states that learning occurs within a social context through observation and direct instruction. Children watch cartoons and are considered one of the target markets for superhero figurines.
They tend to imitate what they observed the superhero do in an episode or in a movie, whether it is violent or courageous. The hero culture is instilled within children.
The psychological factors that contribute to society’s worship of superheroes are multifold, however one prominent factor is one’s desire to imitate and be that hero, when the situation calls for it.
The risk-taking and generosity endowed to superheroes are qualities we would hope to see in ourselves when the time comes.
For example, we would not want to succumb to the bystander effect of simply watching someone choke, waiting for someone else to be the first to take action. Instead, we would like to be the ones who initiate action.
Superheroes can also be glorified because they represent a sort of peace in some fictional world that we yearn for at the moment.
Mark Millar, a comic book writer for Marvel, stated, “Good economic times usually signal the death of superheroes, and bad economic times see a surge in their popularity.”
Considering the economic, political, sociological climate on earth right now, it makes sense that citizens would like to see a certain solution to the problems at hand.
Their idolization of superheroes can be a form of escapism from the terrors of real life, wishing they had someone to save them.
Written by: Maria Dryden