The Superhero Complex: Are We Incapable of Saving Ourselves?

It’s been widely noted that the U.S. film industry ably functions as a pro-global hegemony propaganda machine: even when the plot features evil rogue elements at work in a global-hegemony agency (Pentagon, CIA, NSA, etc.), the competence of the agency is never in doubt, nor is the agency’s ability to rid itself of the evil rogue element.

Evil conspiracies are revealed and the Good Guys/Gals win.

This depiction of official competence and the moral righteousness of patriotic employees is not surprising; these agencies have long “cooperated” with Hollywood on many levels.

More troubling is the recent film-industry depiction of our dependence on superheroes and their superpowers to set things right. The benign view is that Hollywood is always seeking new billion-dollar source materials for multi-film franchises, and comic book heroes are tailor-made for franchises: not only can multiple films be made about individual superheroes, but the potential for mix-and-match combinations of superheroes is practically endless.

The less benign view is that the popularity of superhero movies reflects a deep insecurity and worrisome desire for fantasy saviors, as if mere mortals can no longer save themselves with their pitiful real-world powers.

Psychoanalyzing the zeitgeist of films has long been a popular parlor game: much has been written about the popularity of monster films (often featuring nuclear radiation as the trigger of the mayhem) in 1950s Japan, and the meaning of the American Noir films in the 1950s.

Correspondent C.D. recently submitted an interpretation of Hollywood’s superhero movies: is our collective fascination with superheroes reflecting a sense that we no longer have the power to save ourselves?

“One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea of TPTB (the Powers That Be) using entertainment, specifically movies, to keep the masses from rising up. Have you noticed how many modern movies use the archetype of the hero, but place that hero in opposition to some type of system (e.g. the Empire in Star Wars), or we have superheros. In both instances, there is a type of cathartic release for the audience’s frustrations with the current system. When the evil empire is defeated in the movie, people get an emotional release and they feel less motivated to deal with the real world empire.

When a superhero takes care of the problem, the audience is lulled into the pattern of thinking that someone else will take care of things. Also, often these superhero movies present the average Joe/Jane and the authorities as incompetents who need saving, which reinforces a feeling of helplessness to take on big powers. I’m sure others have come up with this type of analysis and I may be repeating what they have said, but it’s worth further consideration.”

Thank you, C.D. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that many people sense their power within the system is extremely limited, as is their power to radically transform their own situation.

As for cheering for the ragtag rebels resisting the Empire–how many people feel divested from America, that is, they sense their “ownership” in the Empire’s wealth and power is near-zero? How many feel disempowered and disenfranchised?

It’s not much of a leap from social, political and financial divestiture to feeling that it takes superpowers to change one’s circumstances or save the system from disorder and destruction.

Are we incapable of saving ourselves from a self-destructive status quo owned and operated by the few at the expense of the many? If we felt empowered in daily life, would we be so enamored of superheroes constantly saving our world from destruction? If we felt the system still had the wherewithal to restore itself, would we need so many superheroes?

Or maybe it’s all just good clean (highly profitable) fun, or a sci-fi/fantasy updating of Greek Mythology. Still, that practically every other movie is another installment of the superhero franchise seems to beg for a look beneath the surface appeal of these escapist extravaganzas.


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  • mijj

    Superheros have key features: They are morally superior (Their behavior, no matter how destructive, cruel or murderous, is for the ultimate good of all). They are beyond law (Law is for the average citizen.) They are an allegory for how “they” wish us to intuit the CIA and other nefarious establishment agencies.

  • ICFubar

    The parent (superhero) child (public) relationship is the message. The same screen writing is also purposely seen in politics wherein a superhero parent stands for election claiming a desire to save the electorate (and non related) children. When and if we should grow up we will realize that there is no superhero coming to save us and if as adults we take actions to make life better we will then have an adult to adult relationship with TPTB. There are a lot of laws that need to be rescinded and a lot that need to be instigated to restore an adult to adult relationship. Until then expect more of the same only more so.

  • nomadd

    superheroes have powers the rest of us dont. x men are a metaphor for the true mutants among us. the 4 percent. the psychopaths. our leaders.

  • cstahnke

    I never liked superhero comic books as a kid. As an adult I saw them as a modern form of dumbed-down mythology in an anti-religious age. Religion and myth are requirements for any healthy society. For the US where despite our organized religions and their mythological frameworks that are largely ignored by the vast majority of religious people the only real moral force is might makes right. Superheroes are right because of their superior force where they can impose their particular moral values. This is why the US authorities believe they can impose by force their will and feel morally justified simply because they can.

  • mark

    In star wars Lucas tried to expose the problems facing current age,… how could you say if it worked?

  • Hillsboro Bob

    I see this as a maturity issue. It’s adults who see these movies and buy the merchandise. Adults as well as kids wear the T-Shirts. The growth of movies with comic book characters reflects the lack of maturity, the perpetuation of adolescence well into adult years. The social and political fallout has been accurately described by other commenters. I haven’t been to a theater since 2002.

  • Edmund Paul Heaton

    One of the producers of the superhero series Legends of Tomorrow has a theory that the popularity of superhero films and TV right now is not necessarily because we wish they exist, but because we want a bit of hope that doesn’t quite exist especially as leaders and institutions are letting us down. That’s pretty worth thinking about. I’ve been watching quite a bit of old superhero films made from 20-25 years ago, stuff like The Shadow, The Phantom, Darkman and Batman Returns. It’s interesting to see how different they were all in approach, often quite surprising to current eyes.

  • Sparticus

    Forget Cartoons.

    You have a Religion that all Cartoons were based upon. All Religions, or most, support the belief that there are super-beings Angels/Gods; yes, even Christianity because both Moses and Lucifer were made Gods by the Creator. Gods … Angels with Super Cartoon Character Powers!

    So … in reality, if people read the book correctly, you have a myriad of genetic engineering, experiments, mutants, and killer-drones as created by fallen angels in Genesis. Do Super-powers Exist? Yes. Why has God Robbed us of What Rightfully belongs to US? Anyone with half a brain can look at this earth and realize mankind is not natural and does not fit in with nature. Mankind is more like a Bacteria eating away at the earth and cannot survive in it alone. Who is Feeding this Corruption; because man could never have survived in the beginning without HELP. Put your best survival people in the woods, today, “alone” naked and they are dead within 6-mos. So … man is not germane to this Earth.

    Could we make designer humans today, YES, because we have the ability to edit and clone genes and can even engineer hybrids. We are continuing the same line of work as the Fallen Angels did in Genesis, Right? Now, why am I one of the Only ones who reads the BOOK this Way? Perhaps, I would like to evolve, and if it is possible, than it is something mankind needs to fight for; perhaps, even fight the Creator for abusing us in this Profane Image. If He wants to walk around Naked and with 10-percent brain function than He should be given that choice for Eternity. Would HE like it … HELL NO.

    My point … Until, mankind: GETS LOUD ON THE CREATOR IT WILL NEVER CHANGE! God is proven in ONE SIMPLE LINE … for all you who lack faith… Genesis 2:21-24, because there is “Absolute ZERO chance” of Ancient man knowing how to make Clones or Design Humans from Bone. Only God could know such; and therefore, you have Gods Signature in that BOOK. Sadly, most of mankind is too stupid to realize it. SO … I do not fancy, YOU, mankind, because I do not want to be stuck in this APE SUIT being PEED on by the Gods forever because none of you comprende, Capeche?

    Only one way to get LOUD on the CREATOR … Stop having Children … Then, He runs out of Time and Generations to CURSE. His Pride gets Injured and He will do anything to Keep it all Going, including open up the Cookie Jar. Your alternative … Watching your children grow up to be prostitutes and drug addicts ( then they will curse You) because the economy has been molested by gross ignorance, inequity and ineptitude. There are other ways, to checkmate GOD, but this is the easiest for you weaklings to complete. Government could also be of use –for once– because you can all be provided with a FREE Surgery. You all have a vested interest here … Eternal Life, No Sickness, No Death, 100-percent brain function … Endless! We would all also be plugged in; so we would all be like that X man Mindreading Professor.

    Now, to get these POWERS mankind has to show some aptitude and FIGHT; otherwise, God will just give you all another Golden Shower.

    • Sparticus

      Think I am Joking … NO, ask me any question in that Bible and I can give you the answer. Lets Just say, I have enough super-power “to know it exists” and it is only enough to curse my existence. You know what they say: ” Ignorance is Bliss.” Lets just say … I am never happy.