21 June 2005

It's in the American culture

The superhero is really a figment of the American mind. It’s a piece of American psyche that – if we go by the number of Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, etc. films in recent years – has embedded itself permanently in the American culture. The superhero embodies the collective hopes and ideals of the American nation – fighting against evil forces (possessing weapons of mass destruction), which seem to have nothing better to do than attack America.

So, the superhero steps in with his no-nonsense kick-ass attitude. He takes matters into his own hands and gets into action… leaving behind broken bones, death and devastation. Entire cities are destroyed, fireballs the size of comets lighting up the hemisphere, while people run helter-skelter like headless chickens. No one can stop the superhero. He stops only when he’s done.

If you’ve seen this once, you’ve seen it a hundred times – in all superhero films coming out of Hollywood. Then, why do you go to see a superhero film?

According to William Indick, Ph D, in an article in Journal of Media Psychology, Fall 2004, “when we identify with the hero and vicariously experience his journey, we transcend our own private conscious existence and integrate a collective cultural archetype.” Can this be true? At least, Dr Indick thinks so. In fact, he assures us right in the beginning of his article, “This compound identification with the hero fulfills what Carl Jung called the ‘transcendent function’ of myth and dreams.”

So you see, Dr Indick is not alone in this belief. There are others before him. Carl Jung and Otto Rank to start with… Then Lord Fitzroy Raglan and Joseph Campbell. In his somewhat long but fascinating article on this subject titled “Classical Heroes In Modern Movies: Mythological Patterns of the Superhero” Dr Indick gives us a 70mm view of the origin of the concept of the superhero. The question is: Is this concept restricted to American culture alone?

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