The American Hero

If you want to learn about a society, you look at the people they revere as heroes; the men and women that they hold up on a pedestal.

For example, if you look at the old Greek myths, their heroes were bloody warriors with long lineages that stretched back and far. They were men of honor who bore their burdens with savage ferocity.

With Americans, you have to look to our comic books.

As silly as this might seem to someone who hasn’t been paying attention to the major box office draws of the last decade, comic books reflect who we, as a culture and a people, worship as heroes.

First, there is The Individual. It is always someone who has, by Fate or by choice, who has gone alone. They have shunned (Bruce Wayne) society or been shunned (Peter Parker). They must define themselves by themselves. They cannot allow society to dictate who they are. Even when it’s a team of heroes working together, they’re on the fringes of society (see: X-Men).

Second, The Vigilante; we like the hero who is apart from the Law. This builds off the earlier point: we like someone who doesn’t allow legal red tape to stand in their way. We want someone to stand up and strike a blow against what’s wrong in the world without having to wait for cops and judges and juries. We want speedy justice.

Almost never do we see the legal ramifications of a hero’s actions.

Thirdly, he cannot kill. At least, not willfully. There must be compassion. There must be mercy. The hero must be better than the rest of us. He will not let bloodlust or rage govern his actions. The hero stands apart from us in every, emotional, way. They must make the decisions we would not be capable of making, which is why we trust them in the role of the Vigilante.

Our heroes, the ones we revere in culture on television and movies and pulp fiction, are men and women emotionally unavailable, socially on the edge and disregard the law as beneath them.

In short, Americans revere sociopaths in flashy garb and gaudy dress.


4 thoughts on “The American Hero

  1. That pretty much sums it up. With your three points of how the heroes are, they aren’t all like that. Look at someone like Ozymandias from The Watchmen. High powered, out in the open and in the mix. Sure The Watchmen totally nix your average superhero archetype but at the same time there seems to be an emergence of more superheroes like him. The fringes are the norm but that is slowly fading away. People want something they can connect with and most of the people who hunted comics were fringe but with the advances in community (with sites like facebook and all) people of similar interests are coming together more and more each day. The fringe society isn’t all fringe anymore.
    The lawlessness of these superheroes isn’t all lawless until you get into Anti-Heros. And those are the real socio-paths. However in the end the good guys still end up going forward with some form of the law. Whether it be the NYPD or Gotham PD. All villains end up either gone or in the hands of the police.
    There is also more of a lack of the white knight in super heroes. You are seeing more and more character flaws and loss of control and the drama of them trying to confront their demons without being consumed by them. It is odd to say that super-heroes are becoming more like us every new comic day.
    Anyhoo I think it would be rightly awesome of you if you stopped by and checked out my little comic review blog. I don’t usually go into a psychiatric evaluation of the heroes and villains of the comics and all I review but I also put up a lot of science and movie and all reviews.

    1. But even their basic actions aren’t exactly legal, is more what I mean to say. They operate above and outside the law; even if they’re not doling out punishment like, just off the top of my head, The Punisher.
      And I would say Ozymandias is still on the fringes of society by benefit of his colossal ego and intellect and wealth. While he is revered as a hero and CEO, he’s still on the outside of normal society.
      I do agree that there is a general trend to move heroes down from Gods to normal human beings Just Like Us. Looking at the teaser for The Man of Steel, you see a scruffy, unkempt Clark thumbing a ride, just like any angsty 20-something trying to make his way in the world.
      And I definitely will check out your blog.

      1. Thanks buddy. But as it comes to someone like The Punisher well that is one of those special Anti-Hero claims. The Anti-Hero is a chatoic good or lawful Evil archetype (pardon my D&D) and as such operates within his own abilities and morals or lack there of. He would have no problem gunning down an entire swath of mob members where as spidey would just web them up and let the cops know they were there. I think their basic actions outside of fighting villains and super villains falls more for good summeritan in that if they see someone robbing an old lady they will move to stop the would be thief.

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