Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why Super Heroes Need Super Powers

Have you ever wondered why it is that the fictional heroes celebrated in modern culture generally have some type of supernatural power?

In my post "The Moral Case for Price 'Gouging'", I claimed that altruism or self-sacrifice is the dominant ethic of our age. The concept of Super Hero is a derivative of altruism.

A hero is distinguished by exceptional attributes such as courage or strength and typically symbolizes devotion to some moral ideal. Now, assume that it is widely held that altruism represents moral virtue, i.e., self-sacrifice is the good. In this case, a Super Hero would need to be a Super Altruist. However, to be a Super Altruist would require Super Sacrifices.

This presents a practical problem for the producer or author of the fictional hero and exposes the essence of altruism. To the extent that you practice altruism, you will necessarily have to come close to death or actually die thus ending the series in the first scene. So for the Super Altruist to survive stepping in front of bullets and the like he must have supernatural powers. Otherwise, he would not live to the next episode nor could he perform super sacrifices.

It is not coincidental that altruistic ideals are necessarily "other-worldly." The concept of sacrifice as a virtue is an inversion of man's fundamental nature. Heroes under an egoistic ethics pursue real values in the real world against overwhelming odds and succeed. These heroes have extraordinary ability but their example is so powerful artistically because they are "possible."

Alternatively, altruistic heroes or "Super Heroes" are literally comic book figures with no actual referent in reality. In some essential respects, the Super Heroes represent heroism conceptually to the extent that they are generally fighting for "good" and have extraordinary ability. To that extent, they are better than nothing and in today's culture of nihilism that is saying something. However, their essential altruistic nature forces them to be other-worldly characters divorced from reality and largely relegated to the comic book world of young children.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you are the fun police