A couple of weeks ago we cared for our four-year-old nephew while his parents were out of town for the weekend. Before they departed, they left a package of various superhero costumes for him and his two-year-old sister to play with during the weekend — of course, Auntie and Uncle were also encouraged to play dress-up. After playing for some time and saving Metropolis over and over again, we gave the warning that we had only a few more minutes before nap time, at which point our astute nephew blurted out, “Superheroes don’t take naps!”
His comment — and the rather superhero-themed weekend we enjoyed — got me thinking about superheroes and our proclivity to peg the wrong individuals as the most heroic. Because the superhero genre belongs to the action realm, our vision of a hero-of-heroes is one rooted in someone who (literally) fights the villain with their super-powers, which are basically a hyped-up version of regular feats of strength. It’s combat, supersized.
The problem, though, is that we end up praising the superhero for the way in which they violently engage their enemy instead of the underlying reason for their action. In other words, we exalt the how and don’t remember the why. Perhaps such focus on violence is why violence is prevalent in society, even from a young age.
But is a person who has been endowed with some sort of super-ability really doing hard work when they are fighting a villain?
I would argue that in reality, the hard work of sitting down with one’s opposition and hammering out treaties and agreements is much more difficult — and worthwhile — than going to war. There is no hand-to-hand combat. There is no bloodshed. Instead, diplomacy reminds us of the why: citizens are worth protecting, the environment is worth salvaging, all humans have value.
I wish a superhero existed in the legion of superheroes who simply sat down at a table with the villain and talked through their disagreements and arrived at solutions. You’ll probably say, ‘How boring! I would never watch a movie of two people talking for two hours!’ And yet, how glorious those hours would be, when diplomacy is happening and violence is nil.
Imagine how much more peaceful our society would be if our superheroes reminded us to focus on negotiation and other nonviolent means of ending conflict. Kids would not run around inflicting harm on make-believe villains or blowing up invisible cities. Rather, they would practice peaceful means to end disputes — activities that would actually have worth and value in real life.
So instead of heaping adulation on a character who resorts to violence against one’s enemies, let’s exalt the diplomats out there who work tirelessly to create a world where peace abounds and violence is absent.