How do Superheroes fit into Heroism Research?

 In Everyday Heroes, Hero Training

The function of superheroes in the heroism research field has always been a contentious one. We sit down with Hero Town’s co-vice president Ellie Jacques to discuss her views on superheroes.

Varying opinions on superheroes

When it comes to superheroes, some researchers feel that the extraordinary origins of their abilities detracts from our understanding of heroism. None of us arrived from the planet Krypton, or have enhanced abilities, so how can we be heroes? Others see fictional superheroes such as Superman to be helpful as a model of exemplary behaviour for people to aspire to. Superheroes aren’t just exceptional in their physical abilities, but also in their extraordinary kindness, concern for others and defiance in the face of evil. In his talk at the Hero Round Table in Michigan 2015, Professor Travis Langley discusses how he uses fictional heroes to teach psychology. Travis emphasises how important fiction is to shape our reality, and preparing us to act as heroes ourselves:

Fiction about heroes helps us think about heroism.

The role of superheroes

Although our fabulous VP understands the contrary perspectives on superheroes, Ellie shares Travis’ perspective. She elaborates that Batman is exceptional in the realm of superheroes because he is human, unlike Superman or Wonder Woman. Like a human, he had to over his fear of bats just like many of us have had to get over our own fears, such as public speaking.

Superheroes illustrate very human moments and experiences, because they travel along their own hero’s journey. Seeing and engaging with a fictional character who works through their struggles can help us through our own hero’s journey. The hero’s story also provides strong messages about justice, empathy and curiosity, all things that are valuable to the human experience.

Imagining yourself as a hero

The world needs heroes. As our advisor Scott Allison so wonderfully put it:

Some bemoan this dilution of the term hero, and there is reason for concern if the reckless use of the ‘hero’ nudges it from the pinnacle of human experience. But we interpret the liberal and generous use of the hero label as exposing people’s profound hunger for heroes in a world that so desperately needs them.

The heroic imagination is the process of picturing yourself acting as a hero. We have discussed the heroic imagination in closer detail on the blog previously. Hero stories act as a conduit for the heroic imagination because we step into their eyes through the narrative lens. By identifying with Bruce Wayne, or Clark Kent, or Diana Prince, we’re accepting that a part of us is or wants to be like them.

But what about capes?

Every fictional hero needs a glorious cape swaying majestically in the wind behind them. It’s a staple of the genre, and the perfect addition to any superhero costume (apart from the outside undies, of course!). An everyday hero, on the other hand, doesn’t need a cape. Most people who act like heroes do so without the need for an elaborate disguise. But this isn’t always the case! A collective of heroes across America called the Real Life Superhero Project are agents of change who do good deeds under their superhero identity. The creation of the superhero persona empowers them to help and protect others.

When it comes to capes, opinions differ between people. They make people feel powerful, and as Ellie suggests, if it works then it works. When it comes to education, it’s important to use what helps people to learn and grow. To find out how you can become an everyday hero yourself, enroll in Hero Training classes. Join the league of everyday heroes today!

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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