This year I've been thinking a lot about superheroes, supervillains, and the real world.
Superheroes are supposedly super because of some ability that they have that is extraordinary and the fact that they use that for the good of the community. But, let's get real for a moment. There are a lot of superheroes whose only superpower is wealth, and who are mostly only doing what they do because of some deep seated trauma. Some other superheroes are just "super" because they dedicated so much of their life to perfecting one skill that they've become almost superhuman in that specific discipline.
What makes them heroes depends on the era and the writers, I suppose. Some early superheroes were fighting fascism head on with violence, but later supes have tended to be either vigilantes or some kind of government contracted super cop. There are some superheroes that don't fall into the crime and punishment paradigm. Some protect our world from otherworldly attacks by aliens, demons, and strange magics. There are superheroes that do fall into the cop mold but who also occasionally use their skills to rebuild the city after a disaster. There have been superheroes that refuse to kill, but are there any who refused to hand anyone over to the police? What would it look like for superheroes to pour their attention into building communities where no one had to steal, where everyone had access to food, shelter, healthcare, and support to heal their traumas? Obviously, there would still be some security issues to deal with, but what if they could do it in a way that wasn't about punishment or revenge?
As for supervillains, we have plenty of those in the real world. One example that comes to mind is oil companies. Plenty has been written by other about corporations being a form of artificial intelligence. Oil companies in particular are villains of the worst kind, because they have the resources to completely overhaul themselves into purely renewable energy companies, but they continue to hunger after every last drop of oil and gas in the ground. Meanwhile, they have the resources to capture and control entire governments, the will and the means to set militaries against innocent people who stand in their way. Oil companies are directly responsible for hundreds of assassinations of ecologists and environmental activists, to say nothing for the countless deaths caused by they entire industrial cycle of oil and gas once it is discovered in the ground.
I could name some other supervillains, but I'm just getting started here, and let's just wait on that, shall we?
But what about superheroes in our world? Is there such a thing? I kinda think that there is, but they go unrecognized as such. There are some people who have worked very long and hard to establish certain skills and who use those skills to make the world a better place. Sticking with the oil company and environmentalist dichotomy, Berta Cáceres may have been a sort of superhero. I have heard tales from people who knew her well of amazing escapes from certain death. She was assassinated in the 2016. Sometimes even superheroes die, but her people fight on.
After all that, is it useful to wonder about superheroes for our world? It's considered gauche to ever recognize oneself as a hero, no matter what you may have done. But isn't it common to wish we could be heroes? Looking up to someone else as a hero can be fraught, for sure. We are all human, and even the comic book variety of heroes can be a mess. I think that there is still some value in recognizing the heroic in the people we know, not because it sets them above other people, but because it gives all of us something we can point to and say, "See, on that day, in that situation, someone did something really great. We can do great things, again." Maybe we can't do heroic things every day, but we can strive to live up to some code -- personal or communal -- that pushes us more toward the heroic side of things and less toward the villainous.
The parts of the superhero life that often get forgotten, but that a few writers and artists have captured magnificently, are the burnout, C-PTSD, broken bodies, and broken hearts. You don't have to be any kind of super to know those things in your own body and soul. Any civil rights activist will experience them. What good would it do any of us to be "super" if we still don't have a way to recover and heal in between acts of heroism?
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