Superheroes Rising: The Humanity of a Hollywood Obsession

by David King on July 19, 2012

Hollywood’s recent obsession with superhero movies has met its fair share of criticism. And I get it. With so many outlandish storylines and nonsensical scripts (never mind the parade of sequels despite abysmal sales), it’s no wonder so many hero flicks are frowned upon.

But they’re not all bad. In fact many have been quite good – intelligent, well written, believable, and with depth. The Batman Begins/Dark Knight trilogy comes to mind, as do V for Vendetta and Kick-Ass. Movies like Ghost Rider, on the other hand, need to be deleted from our collective memory (or at least mine).

That being said, the growing obsession with superhero movies can be described as a phenomenon of sorts. Recently, an article in GQ suggested that this phenomenon reflected a larger shift away from original screenplays and towards branding – the support of previously marketed characters, stories, and concepts that studios could put their faith in, as they would strike people as familiar and therefore worth buying. Transformers is a good example of this branding approach.

While I’m sure that marketing and branding play important roles in such matters, I don’t believe this to be the only explanation. Surely, to some extent, trends in Hollywood reflect trends in society. Surely there is a reason that we want to see more heroes on the big screen.

In a previous article, I wrote about the Facebook and Twitter phenomenon as a reflection of our need to be special and unique; our desire to stand out in a sea of 7 billion people. It’s no easy task, finding a voice in this world. It’s no easy task feeling special or unique. Whether any of us is actually special is a conversation best left for another day, but it is difficult to deny our need to be noticed.

Is it any wonder, then, in a rareness-restricting and distinctiveness-denying world, that we should suddenly become obsessed with the idea of people who are special? At their greatest potential, superhero movies affirm our natural desire to stand out in a crowd, to be recognized, and to exhibit special skills unlike anyone we know. They do this implicitly, with or without acknowledgement, for to be a hero (super or otherwise) is to be special and unique. Add to this the desire to be ‘saved’ (literally or metaphorically) in a scary, overpopulated, and materialistic world, and it seems quite fitting that superheroes are all the buzz.

But we must use them to our advantage – as inspiration, not distraction. Superhero movies exaggerate the ideas of specialness and uniqueness in ways that entertain us. Left only to our escapist imaginations and they become the kryptonite to our own talents and abilities. Assimilated as reminders of our individual potential, on the other hand, and they become the phone booth to our red cape and blue tights – an imaginative and creative space in which being special is a real human potential. We may forever feel alone in this world, and we may forever need saving, but let us not give up on that which makes us who we are. Let us not give up on the superhero within.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike July 20, 2012 at 2:08 am

While I agree with what you are saying up here I also believe that a big part of it is the lack of new scripts coming in that are very good. So now Hollywood has years and years of fresh ideas from a medium that they were always to good for before. No complaints here as there are a lot of comics I always thought would make great movies


Ivy December 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I agree with David. People naturally desire attention. It starts in childhood where we learn to emulate our heros (be our parents or figures in stories told to us). So it is only natural that we would gravitate towards movies that revolve around the attention of one hero and stories that we all learned in as a child. And you are so right about the popularity of social media stemming from our need to be seen in a sea of billions!


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