Richard Caldwell, writing on the psychoanalytic function of mythological heroes observed the following and I quote; “1) Myths allow for the expression of unconscious, usually repressed, ideas in a conventional and socially sanctioned form, 2) Myths use the emotional content attached to these ideas to energize other, non-emotional functions of myth, 3) Myths provide a societal response to psychological needs, whether universal orculture-specific.”
In my last post, someone commented: “Posting something even suggesting superheroes may be bad in a blog full of comic book fans is paramount to suggesting religion may not be “all that bad” on reddit.” This person raised a very excellent point.
My other degree is in Classics, and I’m unsure how many people are aware of this, but many mythological heroes were venerated or worshipped in the ancient world, after Zeus, there are more temples and shrines to Herakles (Hercules) than any other deity. In other words, hero worship, or fandom, is nothing new.
It’s no secret that in the first world religious belief and attendance is in decline, but the needs described by Caldwell are very much part of the human psyche, to quote Joseph Campbell: “People need myth.” I believe those needs, once filled by mythical heroes and gods, and later saints and messiahs are being transplanted onto superheroes, and fandom seems to be filling the void of ecstatic supplicant.
Think I’m being extreme? Some food for thought. The late Christopher Hitchens argued that religion was essentially a form of totalitarianism, and that totalitarianism thrives not on a hatred of others, but the expelling of unbelievers and heretics from within. Case and point, the Idiot Geek Girl meme. This meme was intended to be funny, but the website Feminspire rightly condemned it, calling it sexiest and exclusionary. Similarly, Dr. Beaty related to us a story of a Stormtrooper cosplayer who was looked down on by his fellows because he was also an Elvis impersonator. Why are fans and nerds so eager to root out the ‘imposters’ in their midst? Does it really matter that someone likes the Hulk because they enjoyed the Ed Norton movie? Or enjoy manga comics but not Hayao Miyazaki movies? And look out if you’re well groomed with a sense of style and claim to be a comics fan.
I myself am an avowed comics fan, ever since I got a copy of Watchmen for my nineteenth birthday, and since then I have had cause to wonder why the medium struggles for legitamacy in a way that books and movies do not? I would argue that it is fans that hold the medium back with their quasi religious mindset, which by definition must be inherently conservative. For my part I cannot think of better expalnation as to why superheroes never stay dead long, or are constantly re-fighting the same battles over and over and over again, with little in the way of personal growth.
I would like to end off my post by quoting from Warren Ellis’s Supergod, a story about an arms race to create a superman/god. The protagonist, Simon Reddin, gets drunk and decides to confront Britain’s god Morrigan Lugus who has killed three of his colleagues, and demands “What are you for?” to which the supergod replies:
“I am for that thing in your genome that demands it… Since you are stupid monkeys, you have no natural affinity for group altruism. And so you have evolved a genetic pump that delivers pleasant chemicals to your monkey brains. One that is triggered by awe and fear of an anthropomorphism of your environment… I am a thing born of lies… I am your stash.”
I find it hard to disagree, and that is why I find superheroes and their overly zealous fans more than a little creepy.