Category: November 21 (page 1 of 3)

Heroism v. Evil

Although I was unable to attend Chris Gavaler’s lecture on Superheroes, I encountered the idea of heroes and superheroes in my personal research project on the Origins of Decision, and particularly evil. Superheroes are defined as having supernatural powers, but also “dedicated to fighting crime, protecting the public, and usually battling supervillains.” Heroes, though originated in comics, movies, and books, are ever-present today as notable figure of humanity by carrying out the same tasks as the aforementioned superheroes. But where do the lines between humanity, heroism, and evil separate? Having written my research paper on this topic, this is a particularly idea of interest. Hannah Arendt’s “Banality of Evil” is rooted in the idea that the evil that occurs in society is not actually as a result of the existence of “evil people,” but rather that evil can be drawn out in any one of us. A seemingly evident and defined line separates “evil and good,” one that separates terrorists from figures like Ghandi, MLK, or even everyday people, such as yourself. In turn, categorizing good and evil is also categorizing “moral and immoral,” immediately casting the two far apart and unable to mix, flow across, and combine. Though it is easy to initially cast one another apart, we immediately recognize that this is not reality, as there are not globally specific locations of evil, encapsulated within a town or state border. It is easy to embrace this lack of personal responsibility, settling for the mentality of evil in the “other.” As Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explains, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human-being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” This divide is expressed in a number of ways, such as in art, as created by MC Escher’s ‘Angels and Demons.’ This piece is a geometric tessellation of black devils and white angels – hinged on the viewer’s perspective. The Yin & Yang of human dimension, the devil and angel represent good and evil in the world, however the image merely poses the two extremes. Visually, and metaphorically, the transformation from good to evil can happen immediately yet is fluid, seemingly without any conscious choice. The same idea separates heroism and normality, that any one human can be a hero, or a villain.

Superheros and their origins

When I knew we would be talking about the origins of superheroes in class I assumed we would be talking about the creation of Superman, Spiderman and such superheroes who have been made popular through movie and tv show franchise. I never truly considered the span of the word superhero and how it originated not only through commercialized practices but in the way in which people view literature and famous figures.

When talking about superheroes most people’s first instincts is to think about those with super powers such as super strength, the ability to fly, invisibly and much more. However, the initially concept of superheroes originated of eugenics and natural selection/fitness. Chris Gaveled spoke more to the class on how the idea of a superhero is not exclusive to the popular modern superheroes. Gaveled touches on Nietzsche’s idea of the super human. Nietzsche’s super human does not have super powers in the typical fashion but instead is thought to posses the qualities of a more advanced human. His idea of the super human follow the idea of eugenics. Eugenics is the idea that certain qualities which an individual possesses makes them more advanced than others. Eugenics have been known in history to be taken to an extreme. Such an instance can be seen in the Holocaust. Hitler had the idea the Germans typically with blond hair and blue eyes should be seen as the advanced race. In addition Hitler felt that all of those who did not reach such specifications, such as people who were Jewish corrupted his vision of a super human race and needed to be eradicated.

However, Gaveled explained how superheroes do not behave irrational or with the purpose of vengeance. However, superheroes are obligated to act in such a role as vigilantes. It is for this reason that through comic books and movies, people have grown up expecting that superheroes would save them through times of hardship. The idea of superheroes gives the average person an sense of home when life seems hopeless. In addition it gives people the idea that even the most impossible events and most evil thoughts can be overcome by some power. Gaveled mentioned that all superheroes originated from a form of a superhero “big bang.” In this idea of the big bang all traits which superheroes possessed first became present. However, for the longest of time the vision of a super hero was that of a strong and handsome man. It was not until more recently that superheroes such as Superwoman and Cat Woman became more apparent. The fact that creators of superheroes have now given power to women through their stories and movies shows how the idea of superheroes has changed, for the better, through time. In addition the idea of the typical superhero as changed from the crime fighting perfect citizen hero to that of Deadpool. Dead pool, recently released by Marvel, shows how superheroes have evolved from their strict mold and there now exists  more variation. Dead pool, once a hitman becomes a crime fighting superhero.


In class I first heard that we were going to have a speaker that was going to come in and talk about the origins of superheroes through learning about Walker’s presentation and what he was potentially going to be writing his research paper on. I had never really thought much about the origin of the superhero, although the more I thought about it the more interested I became. Continue reading


When I first heard that we were going to be talking about the origins of superheroes, I was ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the review of something I already thought I knew all there is to know about. You see, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. While the city of Cleveland doesn’t immediately bring to mind anything close to superpowers, it is, in fact, where I was told superheroes were born–it’s where Superman was first created.

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Putting the Super back in Superhero

On the 21st of November, Chris Gavaler graced us with his presence to discuss with us the origins of superheroes. In class we spoke extensively on the idea that eugenics were heavily intertwined with the creation of superheroes. Together with my classmate, Walker, we spoke after class for a great deal of time on the idea of transgression, transcendence, and transhumanism. For our discussion in the afternoon class, we read two chapters of ‘Origins of Superheroes’, Gavaler’s book, which dealt heavily with the connection between eugenics and superheroes.

Gavaler mentions in our afternoon seminar that superheroes, unlike gods, are not wrathful powers which can behave irrationally. He explains that superheroes take on the role of vigilantes above the law and religion but bound by the code of ethics defined by their encapsulating society. Superheroes are upholders of the status quo, defenders against the foreign, the best of us: unspoiled by impurity and totally dedicated to the preservation of our people. If that sounds slightly third-reich-y, you’d be right. The interplay between eugenics and superheroes is undeniable according to Gavaler.

Essentially, the modern superhero is enabled and permitted to do the things he (Yes, he. According to physical and eugenic ideals, he generally ends up being a man) does because he is strong, handsome, white and protecting his society from foreign invasion or threat. The law does not apply if you’re strong, good looking, white and in the process of saving us all, even if you’re destroying a number of things in the process.

Gavaler also mentions that all superheroes which we see today stem from the same origin, a metaphorical superhero big bang. Unlike the big-bang, however, the material which would eventually compose the modern superhero identity was very much present before this explosion. Ideals of physical traits, moral codes, and responsibilities all helped spur the eventual creation of a proto-superhero, from which many spin-offs could be made. The superhero identity acts as a widely replicable template, with cut-paste-features that can adapt to any culture or plot line.

Unfortunately, this template is often to the detriment of superheroes which attempt to take on a more progressive role. With the advent of Wonder Woman, an opportunity to widely promote imagery of strong & capable women was unfortunately coopted by the template beneath her. Her story, which existed to fill a socially necessary role as a strong female leader, was unfortunately undermined by the standards which govern superhero stories. Her physical appearance propagates a physical ideal for the feminine form. Her means of force are largely based on the notion that women should not fight: primarily uses a shield and bracelets to deflect attack, employs a lasso which compels people to tell the truth (pretty darn cool, but unfortunately still subject to senseless ideals).

When we discuss superheroes, we focus on the ideas of transgression and transcendence of the human form (physically, morally, legally). However, the identities of the superheroes we define, no matter their progressiveness, still fall short of transgressing our own fetishized ideals. Once we define characters which transgress these ideals, we will have put the super back in superhero.

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