I watched a "kerpow" of Superhero movies the other night, mainly because I just didn’t fancy another evening of Francis Bacon and Foucault. That’s the way I roll, sublime to ridiculous in less than 24 hours. I noticed a few things about the superhero movies. It’s something that has long bugged me and now I’m going to bug you with it as well.
A handsome white male billionaire, in a Batsuit dispensing summary justice across a city according to his own value system = Superhero.
A man falls into a tank of chemical waste it disfigures him and that disfigurement turns him into a psychotic madman. He’s locked away in an institution = Super-villain.
Another handsome white male billionaire, this time in a Iron Suit also dispensing summary justice (when he’s not cavorting with supermodels and generally living it up) = Superhero
A child of a poor single mother suffering from depression who later contracts cancer forced through deprivation into a life of crime = Super-villain
Are you detecting trend here? I thought so. I have long been a bit of a comic book fan. I have owned at different times all of the Marvel Silver Surfer Series and a zillion 2000AD and Batman comics. The thing I always pondered as a child was why are the heroes always abled-bodied with extra-special powers and the villains so often Crips of some kind with the odd mutant power.
Look at the Hulk, a heroic scientist that becomes a giant green learning disabled villain. The trope is that of the cripple as a sub human, a drain on society, a nuisance, or in some other indefinable way a threat. And perhaps we are, imagine what would happen if we gained super powers – what indeed Mr Duncan Smith? what indeed? I don’t wonder about this so much as an adult (I don’t consider myself a grown up). I can see the subtext; in fact all I see everywhere is subtext.
As with all corporate media it’s designed to promote the capitalist status quo and to perpetuate the myth of an inclusive society. In the case of DC and Marvel the idea it propagates is the one that the American dream is not a nightmare for most of it’s participants, but in fact the “White Male Billionaire” is the pinnacle of achievement and we should be grateful to these paragons of human virtue – they literally save the world. Bill Gates as Iron Man. Richard Branson as Batman, “howling hedge fund Robin” I feel safer already.
Ah but what of the lowly lunatic? He is but a Joker or the fat boy let’s call him a Penguin he can’t have any friends but birds. If there’s mental illness, poverty or disfigurement involved why, that will make you mad and bad and you need to be punished, imprisoned or it’s the asylum for you and make no mistakes about chucking away the key.
The cripple is a threat to the world or at least to the tidiness of the streets. In comics they are either villainous or pathetic, either way they need the attention of the white billionaires to save or savage them. I still love these ridiculous stories and films but I’m not ignorant of the contribution reading them as a child made to my own negative self image.
As for Captain America – I ‘m not going there…