Don’t get me wrong, I love watching superhero movies. Their morality is wonderfully uncomplicated. Good vanquishes evil. Protagonists act selflessly to save kittens or the universe. They always do the right thing, even if it comes at a high personal cost. It’s fun to watch heroic deeds and visual effects defeat the enemy against all odds. These shows are a wonderful escape from reality with so much apathy on big issues. Finally!! People doing stuff to solve problems.
We don’t need to question what side we are on because the bad guys are evil and unrelatable. Our heroes aren’t perfect, but who would support alien invaders bent on destroying the Earth? Or enemies who murder innocents for no apparent reason? It’s easy to want the defeat of monsters who are blindly fixated on power and annihilation.
But hang on a second.
Should we cheer on the destruction of our enemies? What about the collateral damage caused by Superman or the Avengers? Can we really beat evil into submission with willpower, fists and technology? In the Marvel and DC universes – absolutely yes. But what about the universe we actually live in? What do superhero movies tell us about solving problems on planet Earth?
They tell us that violence is an answer, and that collateral damage is a means to an end. That there are good people and evil people. That individuals with exceptional abilities are the key to positive change. And that heroism is dramatic and self-sacrificing. But that’s not what we see around us.
Violence is monstrous and collateral damage is terrible. People are not obviously good or evil. Everyone believes that they are a good person, so doing the right thing is clearly not obvious.
Also, life is mundane and not heroic. No-one cheers when we become vegetarian or recycle more plastic. There are no high-fives for taking public transport. There is no celebration when we fly less or not at all.
And positive change doesn’t happen because of individuals with exceptional abilities. Voting rights, labour laws, gay rights and women’s suffrage didn’t ‘happen’ because superman came along. These protections exist because normal people became organised to oppose injustice and the status quo.
And this is it: superhero movies are evil because they mislead us about the problems of our society. Let’s remember that, so we can all be heroes.
I’ll punch anyone who disagrees with me.
Constantijn van Aartsen, PhD Candidate, Private Law