Confessions of a She-Geek

June 27, 2009

Real-Life Superheroes – For Real?

Filed under: Media — Teresa @ 6:17 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

What makes a hero a hero? Usually people who are called heroes have put themselves at risk for a worthy cause. Often this risk is physical. Sometimes it’s financial. And sometimes it involves challenging conventional thought.

We can all come up with real-life examples of heroism in action. Firefighters spend their lives risking their lives for complete strangers. Members of the French Resistance and the Underground Railroad put themselves on the line to put an end to heinous abuses of power. Every day there are accounts of good Samaritans rescuing people from submerged cars or oncoming trains.

Bona fide heroes walk among us. Some of them are recognized for their efforts; others go unacknowledged. On the other hand, some folks who put themselves at risk for other people are branded as fools. The question is, what separates heroism from foolishness?

I read a recent article about a growing sub-culture of self-proclaimed superheroes. I’ve been pondering this “foolishness or heroism” question ever since.

Just to be clear: I’m not talking about the sort of fantasy role-playing that happens at events like Comic-Con. I’m talking about real-life people who disguise themselves in home-made costumes and roam the streets of their respective communities, fighting crime and generally trying to help people.

There’s even a World Superhero Registry where these people can go for advice on everything from making costumes to legal issues like how to conduct a citizen’s arrest.

If this superhero movement is a hoax, it’s a particularly elaborate one that’s being perpetrated for no apparent reason. If it’s real, then a number of grown men (and women) have decided for whatever reason to deliberately put themselves at risk for strangers.

Which brings me back to my question. Is this heroism, foolishness, or a little of both? What makes their efforts so different from the random acts of bravery that happen every day? Is it the costumes, which suggest that these people are unable to separate fantasy from reality; that all of this is just play-acting taken too far? What if the costumes were taken out of the mix? Would it still be foolishness if these people were in street clothes, rather than elaborate get-ups?

Organizations like the Guardian Angels serve pretty much the same function; they just don’t call themselves superheroes. Instead, they call themselves a “volunteer organization of unarmed citizen crime patrollers”. Sounds an awful lot like what these real-life superheroes are doing, doesn’t it?

As I’ve been mulling it over, I find myself vacillating between two thoughts:

  • These people are well-meaning nuts who’ll get themselves or someone else killed.
    There’s a reason why police officers undergo such rigorous training; it’s so they’ll have the skills, tools, and knowledge necessary to serve and protect the general public. And even with all that training, police officers still die in the line of duty. How much better will a costumed do-gooder fare – and without backup or legal authority, might I add?
  • Since when is helping strangers foolish?
    If someone’s in danger, and I’m in a position to help them, I’d like to think that I’d have the courage and moral fiber to do it. Laying down your life for a fellow human being is something to be admired, not mocked. Should what one wears while doing it make it any less admirable?

So here’s what I came up with. Is dressing up in costume and deliberately seeking out dangerous situations foolish? I’d have to say yes. It’s one thing for a trained professional who has the gear and skills necessary to do the job as safely as possible. It’s quite another for some random person wearing a goofy outfit to challenge a would-be mugger.

Is helping people, even if it involves putting oneself at risk, heroic? Again, yes. That’s why we revere those who’ve sacrificed themselves in the name of the greater good. You need look no further than the 911 rescue workers who died while attempting to save as many people as possible from the wreckage of the Twin Towers. We call them heroes, even though ultimately, and through no fault of their own, they failed in their attempts. Their courage and selflessness goes to the very heart of heroism, and we rightfully honor their memory.

One might even call them superheroes. Without costumes.


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