Aug 17 2010
In a ScienceDaily article:
Watching superheroes beat up villains may not be the best image for boys to see if society wants to promote kinder, less stereotypical male behaviors, according to psychologists…
“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” said psychologist Sharon Lamb, PhD, distinguished professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts-Boston. “Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Ironman, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”
The comic book heroes of the past did fight criminals, she said, “but these were heroes boys could look up to and learn from because outside of their costumes, they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities,” she said.
My initial impression is that this is so luridly off-base I don’t know where to begin.
In particular, I’d like to take issue with “[the typical superhero] is aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity.” Except for the Punisher and perhaps Spawn, I can’t think of any superhero movies over the past ~20 years that fit that description. One of the unique traits of the superhero subgenre of action is that morals tend to play a larger role than in other action stories, not less. How often does a typical Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Segal character discuss why he’s there to beat the hell out of people? In contrast, the moral code of a superhero usually comes up pretty prominently.
- Superman: “Truth, justice and
the American wayall that stuff”
- Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility”
- X-Men: tolerance and understanding (see Xavier’s justification for founding his academy)
- Batman: the desirability of law/order over anarchy/chaos.
- Ironman: making war obsolete (and also sharing technological progress with the world)
I think the virtue of doing good for humanity plays a much larger role in these works than in most works aimed at, ahem, middle-aged women like Sharon Lamb. (Twilight? Sex and the City? Anything on the CW?) Indeed, one of the recurring complaints about the new Sex and the City movie was how utterly self-absorbed its characters are. According to reviews, one of the major objectives of the characters was escaping the Middle East without suffering the indignity of going on a second-class flight. (Perish the thought!) Careful, ladies, you’ll set a bad example for the audience.
In short, this “research” looks considerably less grounded in reality than Seduction of the Innocent.