Heroes. I was at a bit of a loss when it came to deciding what to write about. When I was younger, my brother and I shared a set of Batman and Superman pyjamas, each had a detachable Velcro cape. We would run around the house, jumping off of things, pretending we could fly. Needless to say, bedtime was a little bit more bearable! Sadly, this is about the extent of my encounter with superheroes. Sure, I’ve watched the odd episode of Smallville and listened to countless comic book references from the guys on The Big Bang Theory, but I really know nothing about superheroes.
Conveniently, my little cousin was over at my house the day after this article was assigned. At six years old, he knows everything there is to know about superheroes, right down to which actor played Batman in each of the movies. I began to wonder, what is so attractive about superheroes?
Dr. Lawrence Rubin, editor of Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy, explains that superheroes may simply be appealing on a sensory level. He writes, “They wear primary colours, they are fast and stimulating. Kids want speed and colour and cool gadgets. Superheroes literally take them on flights of fancy.” Furthermore, superheroes can help children figure out abstract ideas like good and bad, strong and weak, justice and fairness.
Rubin also explains that kids “begin to identify with and understand the torment of some superheroes, always doing their rescue-the world thing and then coming back and trying to fit in.”
Many view superheroes as good role models, exhibiting positive qualities for children to copy. They are brave and selfless, running after the bad guys to return an old lady’s purse. Superheroes fight for social justice issues, as they are fundamentally concerned with fairness. Despite these redeeming qualities, others take superheroes to be poor role models for younger children. Sharon Lamb, professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, argues that superheroes simply “use social justice as an excuse for aggression.”
She explains that the superhero is one model little kids use to define masculinity. She says that superheroes show their masculinity through “power over other people, through exploiting women, showing their wealth, and through sarcasm and superiority.” I think these are sweeping generalizations but I take her point that the violence superheroes demonstrate may not be a desirable model for a younger age group.
So maybe superheroes aren’t ideal role models. Who knows? What I do know is that despite their powers, superheroes possess a human quality that is intensely relatable. When talking to my aunt about my cousin’s superhero obsession, she shared with me a conversation she had with her son. Walking up to my aunt he said, “Hey Mom, did you know that Superman is adopted?”
My cousin isn’t from Krypton but he is also adopted. I find it absolutely adorable and reassuring that he feels this shared bond with Clark Kent. I hope he feels like he is just as much a superhero himself!