Monday, May 27, 2013

Week of 05/27/2013

We All Need Superheroes
– by David Matthews 2

For those that don’t know (and if you haven’t read any of my previous articles or seen any of my work), I grew up reading superhero comic books.  Comics were my mental break from the misery of the world. 

And I wasn’t the only one.  The creators of “Action Comics”, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, used their talents as a way to escape the prolonged misery of the Great Depression and the news of the growing Second World War.  They took their original story of a bald-headed criminal getting god-like superpowers and turned that into the ultimate immigrant story; an alien who used his super-normal abilities to do the things that mortal men could not.

A few years later, Bob Kane and Bill Finger would come up with the story of a crime victim, orphaned since he was a child, who would lurk in the shadows to bring down criminals under the guise of the “Bat-Man”.  He would go where the police could not and to do what the law would not.

Bear in mind that the enemies of the time weren’t super-villains or alien invaders.  They were mobsters, corrupt police, and apathetic politicians.  Their enemies were our real-world enemies.  They did what we always wished we could do in the real world.  Hell, in one issue Superman ended World War II just as it was starting!  (Of course the writers had to backtrack and say it was just an imaginary story.)

In the years that followed, the idea of the superhero was for something that we all wished we could do.  Marvel’s Captain America was a story about the “never-say-can’t” attitude of a frail young man, a 4-F reject, given the chance to be the kind of physical hero that he always saw himself to be.  Spider-Man was about a young nerdy man who not only showed resourcefulness and creativity, but also presented a morality story about how to use the powers he possessed.  The “Uncanny X-Men” was a story about a minority group trying to bring about peaceful co-existence, at a time when diversity was met with fire hoses and back-road death squads.  The Fantastic Four are about living with the unexpected tragedies that changed their lives, and not all of them for the better.  (Just ask Ben Grimm.)  The Hulk is ultimately a story about trying to contain the rage and anger that resides in all of us.

Granted, not every superhero story has a positive underlying message to them, but certainly the idea of the superhero is a positive one.  The superhero aspires one to do better, to do more, to live up to the ideals we all profess to support.  To never give up, even when everything around you says not to, even when the odds are completely against you.

So imagine my surprise and disgust when someone brought my attention to a letter that was being handed to parents of one pre-school in Philadelphia which featured the image of my favorite superhero group behind a “banned” symbol.  In the letter, the pre-school administrators told parents that they are banning “Wrestling, Super Hero play, and Monster games” because, and I quote, “the imaginations of our preschool children are becoming dangerously overactive causing injuries within our pre-k community”.

Or, as one parent described it… “So my son came home and told me make-believe was not allowed at school anymore.”

You have to wonder what sort of miserable people are running this pre-school to make this kind of blanket condemnation.  Wrestling, “Super Hero play” and “Monster games”?  Wrestling is an athletic competition.  “Super Hero play” is no different than “Cops-n-Robbers” or “Cowboys and Indians”.  And… “Monster games”?  I haven’t got a clue as to what that would entail.

And all because children are getting hurt?  Have they never experienced a swing or slide or a jungle gym?

Mind you, this isn’t the first time that superheroes were blamed for kid injuries.  In the 1950’s, amidst the fascistic fear-mongering that was McCarthyism, a quack of a doctor named Fredric Wertham produced a yellow-paper report that blamed superhero comics of causing homosexuality, criminal deviancy, and drug use.  According to Wertham, Superman was a communist, and Batman was a pedophile… and all because of their outfits.  (Which, by the way, were inspired by circus and theatre performers, respectively.)

Wertham’s destructive “report” led to comic bans and burnings by self-righteous self-imposed “moral leaders” and forced the comic book industry to adhere to unrealistic and blatantly anti-American self-regulation standards, lest the McCarthy-fueled thugs in Congress stepped in.  It took decades before the stench of Wertham’s destructive crusade was purged from the comics.

Well now the ghost of Wertham has reared it’s ugly head once again in the form of two inept pre-school administrators… who couldn’t even bother to use proper spelling when launching their crusade against “Wrestling, Super Hero play, and Monster games”.

And when the pre-school was named and the administrators were identified and asked about the flier, they said nothing.  They refused to comment.  They refused to defend their actions.  They wouldn’t even bother to apologize for the blatant spelling errors in their message.  Much like their oppressive predecessors of the 1950’s, they simply dictate and expect the world to simply comply.

Well let’s get brutally honest here… this is wrong!

Not just the pompous, self-righteous, and self-serving attitude of the perpetrators, mind you.  “Because we said so” may work with children, but not with adults; especially adults that are expected to leave their children in their care.

Then there’s the equally pompous, self-righteous, and self-serving delusion that any adult should have the right if not the power to forbid children from engaging in make-believe.  Make-believe is what encourages creativity.  How can you expect children to be imaginative while at the same time removing the incentive for creativity?

And then there’s this… as corny as it may sound, we all need superheroes in one way or another.  They are our modern-day mythological heroes, like Hercules, Thor, Perseus, Sinbad, Robin Hood, Zoro, and the Scarlet Pimpernel before them.  No, they’re not real, but they came from a very real need for us to look beyond the miseries of today and believe in a better tomorrow.  They inspire us to do better, to be better people, and to stand true to what we believe.

Ordinary men and women, even those that do heroic things, have flaws.  They make mistakes.  They can be corrupted by power and fame and their own egos.  They can fall from grace in our eyes.  They can be rendered impotent by the challenges put before us. 

That is why we all need superheroes.  Because we still need to believe even in the darkest of days that someone could do what our flesh-and-blood champions could not.

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