What Does the Popularity of Superhero Movies Say About Americans?

On the occasion of the opening of the new Spiderman movie and the official beginning of the summer block-buster season, I have a confession to make that will surely lose me all my geek cred. I have not seen any of the Transformers movies. I haven’t seen any of the Iron Man movies. I didn’t see Man of Steel. I didn’t see the second Thor. I haven’t seen an X-Men movie since number III (and that one was excruciating). I could go on.

I just can’t make myself be interested. Sometimes when I’m flicking through Netflicks I think to myself, “I should probably watch Iron Man because it was a huge box office success, and I need to keep myself culturally literate,” but I just keep flicking and usually end up watching some suspenseful drama or mind-bender or martial arts flick. While I’m sure I would be marginally entertained by Iron Man, to me the watching would be more like a chore, something I would do because I’m susposed to – because watching superhero movies is what red-blooded American males do.

I know I’m going to get flack for this. I will probably be accused of un-American and communistic sympathies, but I’m going to say it anyway. Someone needs to. It’s time for the American public, with its seemingly unlimited appetite for superhero movies, to come to it’s senses and face the facts; comic book superheroes don’t really translate well to the big screen. There, I said it. Sue me.

So let me get this straight. A radioactive spider bit some kid and now he can spin web, climb walls and has super-human strength? Huh? I don’t get it. Someone please work that out for me. Why is the consequence of getting bit by a radioactive spider not instead a really big and unsightly sore?

I know, I know. I get the whole “willing suspension of disbelief” thingy, but I find it hard to be that willing. I also know that it’s equally implausible that “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” there existed creatures that look just like humans from Earth who just so happened to speak English, but at least that is an alternative universe. With Spiderman/Superman/The Avengers etc. I’m being asked to believe this is all happening right here. (On a side note, why are all superheroes based in New York City or it’s thinly veil equivalent? Why can’t we have a superhero based in Oklahoma City for example? We could call him Flyover-Country Man, and he could battle Inside-the-Beltway and bi-coastal elite know-it-alls. [If anybody uses that, I expect my cut!])

As a big fan of the comic book inspired series The Walking Dead, I realize that I am setting myself up for an accusation of applying a double standard. I am fully aware that a zombie apocalypse isn’t exactly a high probability event either, but that’s different. There the creator is using poetic license and suspension of disbelief to create an alternative environment for his story to take place, like Tolkein created Middle-earth. In superhero movies, the poetic license and suspension of disbelief apply to the central character and the arch-villain (there are no mundane villains in superhero comics you see) he is battling, but it’s taking place supposedly right here in the real world.

I find most superhero movies to be loud and embarrasingly overwrought, a series of one grossly contrived melodramtic situation after another. To get a sense of what I talking about, try listening to one while not watching it, such as when your kids are watching it in the car as you’re driving. (I speak from experience.) The musical score and the noise – the incessant noise – give an absolutely comical impression.

Unfortunately, the trend seems to be in the direction of ever more over-the-topness. Compare the Christopher Reeves Superman to the above mentioned X-Men III, for example. I can’t help but wonder, do that many people really enjoy this stuff, or do they continue to pay good money for these things out of a sense of duty and because their kids drag them to them?

Truth be told, my kids will almost surely manage to drag me to Spiderman. There is something about Spiderman that makes it a much more mandatory event in my family than is Iron Man, but I will rather be watching some cop drama.

Some might ask what the above rant has to do with conservatism, and admittedly it really is primarily an attempt at humor, but I do think there is a serious point to ponder. Superhero comics (which I’m much less hostile toward) and the movies they inspire are generally written by what our friends in the manosphere would call beta males, and are largely their empowerment escapist fantasies. Compare that to The Walking Dead which is a vision of how it’s going to go down when the SHTF, metaphorically speaking. Perhaps it says something about the current state of affairs that so many teens and dads (the kids get a pass) get a kick out of passivley watching fantastic depictions of superhumans single-handeldly or in league with other superhumans setting the world aright. Frankly, it doesn’t inspire confidence. Come the zombie apocalypse, one fears that such a society will be quickly devoured.

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