Bam! Pow! Sock! Why We Love Superhero Movies
Over the past weekend, The Avengers, which is not a remake of the 1960s TV spy series but a blockbuster movie featuring an all-star team of Marvel comic book superheroes (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk), astoundingly grossed $200 million.
In recent years, movies with comic book crime fighters have done boffo at the box office. And many are serious films, not just special effects spectaculars or campy knockoffs of even campier comic book shows from the ’60s and ’70s like The Green Hornet, Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Shazam! and Wonder Woman. Movies like The Dark Knight and Batman are far more creepier, darker, and realistic looking crime dramas than the tongue-in-cheek Batman TV series.
I believe the popularity of superhero movies is not just because they provide great entertainment to little kids and teenagers but also because there is a lack of real-life heroes anymore outside of Medal of Honor winners and the policemen, firemen, and medical personnel who responded during catastrophes like 9/11 and the tornadoes that slammed Alabama and Missouri in 2011. In recent years, there has been a cottage industry sullying the reputations of people we once considered to be heroic.
When I was growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Kennedy presidency was frequently considered as the real-life version of King Arthur’s Camelot. John F. Kennedy was worshipped for his youth, his vigor, his steely resolve during the Cuban Missile Crisis, his glamour and wealth, his movie star good looks, his bravery during the PT 109 incident, his picture-book perfect family, his quick wit at press conferences, and his “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” speech at his inauguration. However, when revisionist biographies and histories appeared showing Kennedy was a compulsive bed hopper, his reputation as a great leader was tarnished. Anymore, Kennedy is more remembered for his affairs with Marilyn Monroe, Fiddle and Faddle, Judith Campbell Exner, and countless other beauties than his confrontations with Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev and his legislative accomplishments like the Peace Corps and the space program.
Once Kennedy was trashed, other historical heroes from our childhood were shown to have gigantic feet of clay. We learned Christopher Columbus and his crew enslaved the native people of the West Indies and brought syphilis to Europe. Benjamin Franklin enthusiastically seduced women and had an illegitimate son that became governor of New Jersey. George Washington was a slave owner. Thomas Jefferson not only owned slaves but possibly fathered illegitmate children with his black mistress, Sally Hemings. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression, told bawdy jokes, possibly held seances in the White House, suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War, and may even had been a homosexual. George Custer was more of a ruthless Indian-killer than the dashing figure potrayed in the biopic They Died With Their Boots On. And Franklin Roosevelt was with his mistress rather than Eleanor when he died at Warm Springs, Ga., in 1945.
Athletic heroes that were once revered as much as great historic figures have also shown by and large to be extraordinarily flawed human beings. While Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller, Roberto Clemente, Lou Gehrig, and Bobby Jones still have sterling reputations, we have found out that Babe Ruth was a glutton, a heavy boozer and an insatiable womanizer. Ty Cobb was a virulent racist who once horsewhipped his son. Joe DiMaggio had a brief, disastrous marriage with Marilyn Monroe.
Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic and a skirt-chaser. Walter Payton juggled his wife and his mistress while he was being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Wilt Chamberlain allegedly slept with 20,000 women. Dock Ellis was under the influence of LSD while he was pitching a no-hitter. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were ingesting steroids while they were banging out a prodigious number of home runs.
And Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods cheated on their wives. We have been regaled by the less-than-admirable stories on Denny McLain, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Bob Knight, and John Daly as well as the exhaustive circus-like media coverage concerning the sins of O.J. Simpson, Tonya Harding, Mike Tyson, Michael Vick, Rick Pitino, Bobby Petrino and Joe Paterno.
Even religious figures are nowadays potrayed as notorious sinners rather than virtous saints. Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were involved in scandals that made them look like modern-day Elmer Gantrys than pious men of God. The National Enquirer exposed that Reverend Jesse Jackson had fathered an illegitimate child. For the past decade, the Catholic Church has been rocked with one scandal after another as innumerable priests and even bishops were found to have molested children. Christopher Hitchens slammed Blessed Mother Teresa in his book The Missionary Position, and the Reverend Ralph Abernathy claimed in his autobiography that Martin Luther King had extramarital affairs.
With the besmirchment of so many famous people we thought were noble, it is perhaps inevitable we are flocking to cinemaplexes to see comic book superheroes in action. For a couple of hours, we can watch Superman, Captain America, Batman and Robin, Green Lantern, and their cohorts valiantly fight for truth, justice, and the American way without really worrying if they have done the wrong thing or if they have strayed from walking the straight and the narrow.
Joe’s Maybe Memorable Quote of the Day
“Courage is the difference between heroism and cowardice.”