So Bill Maher has a theory: superheroes created the Trump Presidency. ““Superhero movies imprint the mindset that we are not masters of our own destiny, and the best we can do is sit around and wait for Star-Lord and F*cking Raccoon to sweep in and save our sorry asses.” He continues on, “Forget hard work, government institutions, diplomacy, investment, we just need a hero to rise. And so, we put out the bat signal, for one man who could solve all of our problems, very quickly. And that’s how we got our latest superhero, Orange Sphincter.”
Which is not a new theory, except for the Trump parts. The idea that superhero movies inspire us to stand around waiting passively for rescue goes back at least 20 years. But it was bullshit then, it’s bullshit now.
No question, on 9/11 I fantasized about what it would be like if the JLA existed: Superman and Flash speeding people out of the Twin Towers, Martian Manhunter tracking other terrorists, Green Lantern supporting the towers until everyone was clear. But it was quite obvious in that situation there was nothing I could do.
But in general? I don’t fantasize about being saved by superheroes, I fantasize about being the superhero. That’s the appeal of the genre. They don’t teach us to sit passively, they inspire us to be better. It’s part of why I’ve written about politics since getting out of college — to try to make some small, positive impact on the world. To use my abilities, such as they are, for the greater good.
Or as my friend Jon Maki puts it in reference to Wonder Woman: “The “No Man’s Land” sequence was possibly the single greatest moment of super-heroism ever committed to film*. It was exactly what being a super-hero is about. Not just swooping in and saving the day single-handedly, but taking that first step that only a super-hero can and inspiring others to follow. It so perfectly encapsulates the allure of super-heroes, and their very reason for existing. No, in real life we don’t have super-powered badasses who can deflect bullets and blaze a trail for us, but the fictional and, admittedly, often ridiculous adventures of gaudily-dressed people with silly nicknames speak to that part of us that wants to do the right thing and they can inspire us to find a way to take that first perilous step.
They do the impossible to free us up to do what’s possible, and remind us that maybe, just maybe, those impossible things aren’t so impossible after all.”
*Spidey stopping the train – and the immediate aftermath of doing so – in “Spider-Man 2” ranks up there as well.
So there, Mr. Maher.