We, the Superheroes
In the book, ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him’ by Sheldon Kopp, there is a wonderful little laundry list of aphorisms for living at the back of the book. Number 18 states, “If you have a hero, look again: you have diminished yourself in some way”. I've contemplated this little tidbit of wisdom at various moments of the last 20 years of my life, wavering between agreement and rejection, understanding and indifference.
The stereotypical superheroes we are served up in film and television, in literature and folklore, while some are tolerable and noble, most aren’t very relatable or accessible. Nor overly heroic, to my mind. For something to be heroic, or superheroic even, one ought to have transformed — and I mean truly transform, through suffering and fear of the unknown — and have confronted real or supposed danger. And yes, superheroes do that, but they are generally fully equipped and supported by some magical or powerful medium. I more want to hear from the unequipped and relatively powerless. I want to hear about the woman who left a soul destroying relationship after many years or the man who gave up eating McDonald’s every day or the underdog who built something despite the odds against them or the depressed person who got up and went for a walk. Sorry Superman, that you were given these powers without having to do much at all doesn’t impress me. And Einstein, I am in awe of your achievements, but you were simply doing what you loved and were educated to do, and educated in advanced primary and secondary institutions no less. Great achievements, but no hero.
No, the classical Marvel and DC comic superheroes that we are taught from birth to admire and look to, albeit in a perhaps figurative way, are neither real nor accessible, to me anyhow. And no, they are not just simply forms of ‘entertainment’ — all media either constructively seeks to shape our world views and values or does so inadvertently via ubiquity and repetition. But I do acknowledge one albeit analogous element of the superhero genre’s construction, that of the transformation. But it is we who are the real superheroes, for our transformations. When Clark Kent turns into Superman, he does so in an instant and without having to strive and fail and feel suffering and loss as well as receive the reward and love and joy that invariably follows. It is we ordinary human beings, when we transform, when we break patterns, give up things, invite in new things, when we take chances and grow despite the risks, the fears and uphill battles, it is we that become the real superheroes with real superpowers.
I am a much better archetype of a hero and even a superhero, for myself at the very least anyhow, than any that our culture has to offer. I have overcome great adversities and many more minor ones too. I have transformed many times, battling through fear and suffering to emerge bigger and more whole. But regardless of what I have achieved in my life, I am the only one I can fairly and justly compare myself to and look to for inspiration and awe. You too, just take a look... I will only now consciously and conscientiously (when I remember) compare myself to myself, to the former iterations of me and the potential future ones too. There are few people, contemporary or historic, who I would call my hero. And even if I did it is because I have been indoctrinated to do so. Even still, I am much more in awe of the struggling mum who continues to be loving and nurturing despite her hardship than the elite athlete, even if that athlete had to endure years and years of disciplined training to get where she is. For, generally speaking, there are plenty of social structures in place to support and nurture the athlete. I am more inspired by those who find their own inner structures and thrive, against the dominant current.
When Sheldon Kopp writes, “If you have a hero, look again: you have diminished yourself in some way”, I understand that he is writing from a very zen-psychoanalytical perspective. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with having heroes, although I do agree that in every moment I am enough as I am, which is what I think Kopp is trying to articulate. But I am taking a stand against the pervasive banality of the current crop of mainstream society’s hero and imploring all to take another look.
And besides, has Superman or Wonder Woman ever really inspired the masses to change their lives or be better people? Or is it the Joe Blow who goes on a diet and achieves remarkable results or the addict who gets clean and turns their life around and passes it on who truly inspire?