You’ve been bitten by a radioactive spider. Or, you come from a doomed planet in the far reaches of space. Maybe, you’re a god, or the child of a god-king. Perhaps you are just an incredibly rich billionaire, philanthropist, playboy or, heaven forbid, orphan.
But, the crux of the story is – you have power. Some kind of immense power which makes you stand out from the the rest of humanity. Some kind of, shall we say, superpower. Now, what do you choose to do with it? Or, maybe the more important question is, why?
The superhero movie in our age is both a source of immense joy for many and a constant source of irritation for not a few. It can be a flag of belonging, if you are a fan, you instantly find a community of friends who love and enjoy something which you do too. It can be a sign of snobbery, a comment on the culture of frivolity and superficiality many claim typifies our existence in the first few decades of the 21st century. Especially among that particular generation of befuddled, bleary eyed fools who fortune calls, the millennials.
Why are superhero films important to this age? To the culture of the era of the millennial?
Is it something to do with where we are, at this stage of human evolution, global civilisation or the march, as they say, of history? Think of this. We live in an era in which humanity, as a whole, is characterised both by the availability of abundance, and the crisis of scarcity. A paradox of postmodern life. Our technological evolution has solved the basic problems of humanity: access to food, security, social well being. But, despite this, there exist islands of destitution among us.
Humanity, in the 21st century, is both at its most powerful, and it most vulnerable stage ever in the history of our species. We can realistically conceive of solving every problem we face : and when there is will backed by action, we actually do solve a lot of problems that solutions were inconceivable to even some years ago. Think of how famines, extreme poverty, diseases like polio, even AIDS, can, realistically, be contained with political action. On the other hand, we are still
more nuclearised than ever, even if the threat of nuclear annihilation isn’t as ubiquitous as it once was. Then, there is the looming threat of climate change. And now, novel diseases.
We are, it seems, a Schrodinger’s species! Trapped within the paradoxes of our being.
It is here I think, that the superhero movie acts as a parable to this strange stage of our history. There is the looming threat of annihilation, our supervillains one might say, yet there is hope in our ability to meet these threats, the idea of hope exemplified best in our fictional superheroes.
The superhero movie might be an expression of humanity’s desire to have ‘saviours’. Or, it might be a parable of how humanity has always found saviours, heroes, from within. Where, after all, are superheroes born? Not in Krypton or Asgard, but in the imaginations of great talespinners. And it is in that capacity of imagination that, ultimately, our salvation lies.
The parable of the superhero is that they, our fictional heroes, are representations of the best versions of ourselves. Heroism, is not a frivolity. It is a virtue we celebrate everyday, despite our short attention spans.