The Value in Superheroes
I actually started this post a while back, but it got lost in the drafts folder as I moved on to other things to write about. With the soon-to-be-released Deadpool movie, and the rise in popularity of other superhero movies targeted at grown-ups over the last couple of years, the topic of ‘superheroes’ and their appropriateness and value have again resurfaced, so I thought I’d revive it.
When I started writing it, Batman (The Dark Knight Rises) and Brave were just hitting theaters, and I came across a question in a homeschool forum or discussion list about the content and opinions re: ‘would/did you take your kids to see it’. I commented that we had taken PeaGreen and some of his friends to see Brave, all boys, all older than him (ranging from 9 to 11), and that all the boys gave it a big thumbs way up. The discussion on-list was awesome – not ‘judgy’, but informative, for both films; ‘XYZ is what is in the movie; it may disturb sensitive or younger viewers’, and with links to one of the sites that gives factual info about movies, like Kids-in-Mind.com. I thought I was doing OK. I presented my opinion and moved on, thinking nothing of it. Then I got a reply-to comment with ‘FACEPALM’ in all caps, and was confused. I am not sure what that meant, but it felt like disapproval. I couldn’t tell if it was disapproval for taking my boys to see what they thought was an inappropriate movie, or for taking my ‘boys’ to see a ‘girls’ movie… either way, it rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with my views; just because something is not okay for your family doesn’t mean that we have to go by the same ‘rules’.
That same evening, Loverly Husband and I took our boys to see Batman. I admit, after reading some of the comments, I was a little iffy; I briefly considered talking to LH about leaving the kids and bringing them to see something else later on, but ultimately decided that it was something we could live with and took them anyway. Later, I was thinking about it, and some points came to mind, so I thought I’d share.
Superhero violence vs. real-world violence:
One of the main objections, oddly for both movies (Brave and Batman) was violence. I’ve read that as a culture, Americans are less ‘sensitive’ to violence than other cultures. I don’t know how true that is, but maybe there’s some validity to that. I do know that however ‘violent’, nothing in that movie was real. I also feel like, for the most part, movie violence serves a purpose. It’s part of the villain’s agenda; a step towards his ultimate goal. It’s never random, or just for funsies. This applies to most of the other ‘superhero’ movies as well. My kids know the difference between fantasy and reality. In fantasy, the bad guys do bad things, but eventually, the good guys always win. Even if it’s through multiple books, comics or movies, good always triumphs in the end. Contrast that with the real world: Good tried really hard, but the reality is that lots of criminals get away with their crimes. Lots of victimized families never get justice, and sometimes, even when we know that the accused is guilty, s/he gets off on a technicality. And not all crime or violence in the real world is ‘for’ something – it’s just random.
Do superhero films glorify violence? While it certainly makes the movie more interesting, glorify? No; I don’t think so. Even with the violence that is prevalent in the superhero genre, I think there is value in reinforcing the idea that ‘good triumphs over evil’… even if it isn’t always possible in real life. The starkness of the contrast between ‘fictional’ evil and real-world evil is evident in the news on a weekly basis. We’ve been watching CNN Student News as part of our curriculum for several years now, and even with the sanitized version of the news presented to children, there’s still a lot of really bad stuff covered – because that’s REALLY what’s happening in the world. Superheroes offer hope for the future – the idea that one person can, indeed, make a difference in the society they live in. Idealised? Sure – why take away the ideal?
Strong female lead characters:
Take Catwoman for example. In both the 1992 and 2012 version (I am totally not counting the Halle Berry version since that wasn’t really a superhero flick), Selina Kyle is/becomes a bad-ass woman who is not to be trifled with. She even saves Batman’s hide in a couple of scenes. She’s not the ideal version of a white-hat, but she isn’t a totally bad guy either, which is closer to how real villains are anyway. No real person, whether current or historical ‘public enemy No. 1’ is every a total bad guy. Even Hitler was an actual, real person with virtues as well as faults, and when we demonize ‘villains’ we forget that they’re real people. When I originally wrote this, Catwoman was on my mind simply because I’d seen her most recently, but now there are so many other strong female superheroes: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey, even modern fiction and Disney are getting on board the Lady Train with Brave and Frozen, Rey in Star Wars, Katniss in the Hunger Games and Tris in the Divergent novels. Granted, there’s still a ways to go before female superheroes and main characters get the recognition they’re due, but we’re (mostly) headed in the right direction and having females in positions of power and able to ‘save’ themselves and others without aid from a man is vital to the equality discussion.
Our real life ‘strong female leads’ are there, but they’re not nearly as visible or accessible as male leaders, and they only make up a fraction of the total population of leaders. It’s only in recent years that strong females have been seen as marketable, and therefore ‘allowed’ to be cast as the hero. Take the Jessica Jones TV series, for example (no, my kids haven’t been allowed to watch it). I loved it for one simple reason: men were presented in many ways like women are usually presented in television and movies – as accessories. I would love to see other film an television producers move in that direction. Seeing women as whole people and not merely as add-ons to whatever a man has going on would be just lovely.
The truth is that we teach our kids about violence from the cradle. ‘Rock-A-Bye, Baby’ features a cradle in the treetops, falling with the baby inside (presumably to its death). ‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ beat her children soundly and sent them to bed hungry. ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ (if popular myth is to be believed) is a song about falling down dead from the Black Plague. Jack Sprat imprisoned his obese wife inside a gourd (though we’re assured that he kept her ‘very well’). Beloved children’s poet, Shel Siverstein teaches children that there’s a monster inside their nose who will bite off their finger if they stick it in too far or too much, and that it’s okay to sell your parents and order new ones. All of those stories and songs and nursery rhymes have one thing in common with modern day tales: fiction. Fiction, and hopefully parents who are there to help them make sense of the fantastical and separate it from reality.
So… maybe we’ll take our kids to see Deadpool, and maybe we won’t. Probably not. Yet.
This entry was posted on February 11, 2016 by HT. It was filed under Advocacy, Parenting, Rambling Thoughts, Socialization and was tagged with attachment parenting, raising responsible adults, random thoughts.