Superhero movies have enjoyed tremendous financial success in recent years. Writes Steven Zeitchik for the Los Angeles Times, who was focusing on the Thor sequel’s recent success, “Superhero sequels make bank. It’s more surprising these days when a film in this vein doesn’t work.” Part of the reason for this may be that people realize that there’s something very wrong in the world today, even if they don’t know quite what it is, and they need an escape. (Those of us who know what’s wrong with today’s world are also reading or re-reading Atlas Shrugged or, according to some sources, maybe even buying guns.) What most everyone knows, however, is the escape value of superhero movies. When done well — let’s just pretend Green Lantern never happened — they can be tremendously entertaining.
The success of superhero movies is not, however, entirely due to the “escape” factor. Again, when done well, they can be incredibly inspiring. Those of us who have contributed to their box office success in recent years (raise your hand if, like me, you have seen some of these films multiple times) know first-hand how inspiring they can be.
Some party-poopers, however, say that those of us who continue to enjoy superhero movies, comics, etc., are stuck in a delayed adolescence of some kind. Case in point: Alan Moore, who, ironically, made his living and established his fame because of his work with…superheroes. Said Moore in a recent interview,
“I haven’t read any superhero comics since I finished with Watchmen. I hate superheroes. I think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13, it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. This is a significant rump of the superhero-addicted, mainstream-addicted audience. I don’t think the superhero stands for anything good. I think it’s a rather alarming sign if we’ve got audiences of adults going to see the Avengers movie and delighting in concepts and characters meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of the 1950s.”
First of all, Mr. Moore, many women (me, me, me!) enjoy watching superhero movies. Second, there is something that the 12-year-old boys in the 1950s had that you apparently lost long ago: idealism. Third, why the sour grapes? After all, you made your money and fame writing Watchmen. Was that “deconstruction” of (i.e., attempt to destroy) superheroes intended for 9- to 13-year-olds? I sure hope not, as I’m much older than that and found the movie difficult to watch. (For a pull-no-punches response to Moore, check out this post at cartoonist Bosch Fawstin’s blog.)
While the best evidence of the inspiration that can be derived from watching superhero movies (or reading comics) is first hand, a professional psychologist, Dr. Robin Rosenberg, provides confirmation. She speaks regularly on the topic, “Superheroes and the Life Lessons They Teach Us,” including,
Why the costume counts
Being different can give you power
Adversity can be overcome
No matter what your abilities, life can still be frustrating
Running toward danger: Overcoming your fears
Think ahead rather than simply react
These are lessons that not only should be learned between the ages of 9 and 13, but should also be reinforced periodically thereafter. Superhero movies reinforce these lessons while entertaining us, which is why, e.g., 61% of the audience for the recent Thor sequel was over age 25 (32% over 35).
In today’s economy, I’m glad to see anyone who provides an honest product prosper. But given the values and lessons contained in the best superhero movies, I am particularly glad to see this genre enjoying financial success.
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