To begin let me say that I am perfectly capable of sitting down and enjoying a good superhero flick without thinking too hard or judging the movie/series before me. Heck, I even loved Suicide Squad (to watch).
It’s typically afterwards when I really think about these stories that I start to get a little disturbed. Prompted by some excellent youtube channels which analyse such things even moreso that myself checkout:
Folding Ideas and
What caught me off guard when reflecting on the MCU Daredevil series is that philosophically I like Superman.
Probably a weird realization after reflecting on a Marvel property but hear me. You see I don’t typically enjoy Supes as a hero, he’s far too overpowered, both literally and morally and it always concerned me a little just how ridiculously patriotic he was/is. But here’s the flipside, if you can suspend disbelief enough to accept this super powered other being existing everything else about him kind fits ethically. I mean the whole premise is blatant wish fulfillment but its kinda nice wishes right? I mean as per the picture above the whole deal with superman is he takes horrible chaotic events and we have no control over and saves us. While the massive moral stick up his ass annoys me from a story telling point of view, its far less philosophically disturbing than the idea of someone like Batman, or Wolverine possessing the power of superman!
Which brings me onto the flipside:
I love almost everything batman storywise, much prefer the character everything. Yet when I reflect on the actual messages and philosophy of Batman I kinda get pretty disturbed.
You see all fiction engages in a reductionist approach. The complex irrational chaos that is real life is streamlined to fit in with characters and their actions. That’s not to say that fiction dumbs down the world, but rather builds a world to fit the story. In the case of superhero stories the world is particularly streamlined. The Avengers are the only ones who can defend NY city, Batman essentially only cares about Gotham (bar cross-over stories).
Now the reason I bring this up is that in the world of Superman, one lives in a world of supernatural highly powered threats that Superman defends us from. In short a very fictional world (yes I know there are other plots like Lex Luthor but you get the drift)
In the world of Batman however we have a more apparently grounded world, one where supernatural stuff is for the most part non-existent and the threat from enemies is based on a real thing i.e. CRIME. Now this in itself doesn’t bother me so much, after I realize that crime-fighting is probably the number one activity of superheroes but I think that Batman exemplifies the epitome of the subject (and for me the most disturbing parts). It’s not the fact he dressed up like a bat, nor is it that Batman recruits underage men to train as similar crime fighters and generally manipulates his allies. No its the fact that in the world of Batman all of those things in order to basically stalk the streets and punch criminals is portrayed as both heroic and helpful.
To some extent this was reflected in the series Daredevil too. Criminals were dehumanized to the point where not only can Batman (or whoever) justify kicking the crap out of them, but its never really considered just how bonkers this actually is for someone trying to actually reduce crime-rates. First and foremost Batman is committing the most crime of all. Sure because its fiction Batman is never wrong i.e. he never beats up anyone innocent despite this being a likely occurrence given he stalks the streets most of the night hours but there is never any acknowledgment that actually he’s committing the very same offenses he targets people for. Nor is it ever pointed out the burden on local healthcare, the potential trauma for onlookers.
But what really gets me is there is never any systematic attempt to reduce crime. The closet we get is Batman hopes that the fear of him will stop crims and the aforementioned training of multiple Robins. The idea that a single man should dress as a Bat and punch bad-guys to reduce the crime-rate in a city is beyond myopic. What irks me more is that in recent years writers have attempted to flesh out this idea by adding corruption and organized crime into the mix, but rather than making superheroes behaviour more complex too, it just results in our heroes doing more unethical things so they can find out which corrupt or leading criminals they need to punch.
I was particularly disturbed by Daredevil’s use of torture. Multiple times throughout the series he would subdue an enemy, then inevitably continue to threaten and hurt them for information, in one case even slicing up a enemy with a piece of broken glass. For a guy whose ‘moral code’ forbids killing someone this is kinda jarring.
But all of these thoughts led to an interesting realization, about why I love these guys:
The X-men while still following many superhero tropes are not about ridiculously over-powered aliens (well not always) nor is the purpose of the X-men to fight crime. No the X-men are surprisingly (In my humble opinion) the only real superheroes that’s purpose is very much to just survive at themselves in a complicated world that doesn’t always love those that are different.
OF course X-men is just as guilty of creating mutant vs mutant plots which are just as silly as Superman’s, but my point is that X-men doesn’t try to present a real problem like crime and then try to claim that the solution is indulging and animal fetish and punching people. Again, yes the X-men often have to resort to violence just as much as any superhero story, and the themes of their stories are a little on the nose with metaphor for prejudice, but there is no attempt to claim that violence will solve said prejudice. In fact more often that not violence in the X-men universe is responded to as it might be in the real world, with more problems for mutants.
I’m not really sure exactly what the point to all this rambling is, I think to be honest this stuff has been rattling around in my skull for a few walks an it just needed to come out. Or maybe, I’ve only just come to realize why Spiderman is one of the most popular superheroes – all the crime-fighting goodness, but not in a psycho way.
What are your thoughts on superheroes and over-analysis thereof?
Should we just leave this guys alone and enjoy the spectacle or are the messages worth crafting into something more ethical?