Superheroes: A Critical Review
Surprising, Sometimes Shocking Observations
By: J. Marlando
Old timers like myself remember heroes as being those who stood for justice beyond all else. The bad guys were always the crooks, the cheats, the heartless and the selfish and so as kids we grew up cheering for our mythical heroes like Roy Rogers and John Wayne Superman was the ultimate of superheroes because he stood for “truth, justice and the American way.”
As children this helped us grow up believing in good over evil—having heroes were intrinsic to this psyche phenomenon. One problem of course was in the profiling: with only one exception, The Cisco Kid our heroes were all white-Protestant types. And, we had more than just the movie hero to look up to….we had George Washington (who never told a lie), Tom Jefferson and Honest Abe.
Back then the American flag was apt to put a tear in our eyes we loved it so much; it gave us a feeling of righteousness; of being the protector of the weak and provider of freedom. We believed in our hearts and minds that those heroes were “us.”
Then another kind of phenomenon occurred back in 1954. A movie with title, “The Wild One” came along. The first anti-hero was made manifest as portrayed by Marlon Brando. This was a story of a motorcycle gang terrorizing a small town of “decent” folk. Quite suddenly the anti-hero was in vogue. Especially youngsters liked the rebellious feeling; the image of sociopathic toughness they experienced walking out of the theater. It wasn’t just Americans either—it was The Wild One that inspired Levis to be worn outside the U.S. for the first time; it was the Wild One that created the style of leathers for bikers. Because of that one movie, fashion was changed worldwide…forever.
Antiheroes of 1954 led by The Wild One
(As a quick aside—Today when so many so-called experts tell us that movies and television has no influence over our actual human action there is simply too much proof that just the opposite is true. Indeed, the statistic is that by the time a child gets out of elementary school he or she has watched at least 8,000 television murders. Think about it).
In the following year, 1955, Rebel Without a Cause was released starring James Dean and Natalie Wood. It was an uninteresting, even hair-brained movie but it stirred countless teenagers into becoming want-a-be Rebels and the anti-hero was suddenly being idolized especially by teens.
Then came the 1960s when rebellion spread from one end of the nation to the other starting with predominantly white kids rejecting the hypocrisies of society and then spreading into an anti-war movement—soon enough the Civil Rights advocates began to rise followed by the urban rebellions ending in death and destruction but eventually gaining necessitated equality. Martin Luther King rose up as a real hero of those days of triumph and tragedy but in the end was murdered by the prejudiced and biased.
Returning to the cinema, other movies like The Sting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Clint Eastwood’s so-called spaghetti westerns all contributed to the anti-hero sentiment but then, in 1982, came the ultimate…Rambo a heartless, cold killer wearing the symbolic white hat drenched in blood and guts. With Rambo the fully blown anti-hero had finally arrived as god-like in the collective unconscious and as a result, not only movie making but our worldview had been changed…forever.
A Change of Heart
Starting in the 1960s but continuing into the decades thereafter right up to present times we, the people, began losing our heartfelt passion for, as the saying went, God, Home & Country. It can safely be said that prior to the roar and rage of the 60s, over 90% of white-Protestant-Americans were devoted, flag-waving patriots. Indeed, the victory of World War Two had created the people both proud and cohesive. The 60s, however, began telling another story and reporting history more accurately.
The people began learning stuff like how ruthless some of our heroes were starting with how many good, old Chris Columbus murdered and enslaved; the sociopathic behaviors of the so-called early industrialists like Rockefeller, Mellon, Armour and Morgan. We learned the reasons of war itself—the financially stimulated Civil War…the market/power motivations of the Spanish American War…the mysterious motivations for Vietnam and so forth. Along with all this, we, the people, were becoming more and more disenchanted with our own government.
Before the 1960s most people had been raised to see our national leadership as almost transcended human beings—our senators, our congressmen and especially our presidents as nearly savior/gods not only for ourselves but for the world. We believed heart and soul that our U.S. will was to bring peace and freedom to everyone.
Our earliest change of heart began with the realization of an “injustice system.” Conscientious people of all colors and creeds were suddenly realizing the deeply held prejudice against black people and yes, against the other half of the species, females. At the same time, we began paying attention to such realities as District Attorneys simply going for the throat to gain convictions as opposed to caring about justice; we began paying attention to the prejudices of judges against the poor and began questioning why the U.S. has more prisoners behind bar per-capita than any other nation on the face of the globe. There was so much more not excluding presidential lies and deceptions.
Remember F.D. Roosevelt’s announcement promising that the Gold Standard was safe? We were shocked that the beloved Jack Kennedy was discovered to be a womanizer even having an affair with the movie actress Marilyn Monroe; there was Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara’s direct lie about an American ships being attacked by North Vietnamese Torpedo boats in international waters. The entire ordeal was made up to stir the American people into accepting and supporting a fully committed war effort; there was Richard Nixon’s Watergate, Ronald Reagan’s involvement in the Iran-contra affair and his blatant support of the rich and obvious disregard for the poor. There was George Bush the First’s “No more Taxes” lie, all the sexual romps and lies about them by Bill Clinton and George Bush the Second’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction” fabrication. All this only touches the tip of the political iceberg and government’s emotional detachment from the people.
Indeed, before the change of heart we, the people, were extremely proud that it was our country through generous aid to smaller, weaker countries that we (and we alone) cared about the hungry, suffering underdogs of the world. Then in 1993 the voice of J. Brian Atwood—the administrator for the Agency for International Development awakened us by saying: “We no longer need an AID program to purchase influence.”
Today we see a growing number of homeless and hungry on our own streets, a phenomenon that the people never dreamed was possible in the United States before the 80s. But that changed with Reagan’s policies. After all, he basically paid for his costly programs at the cost of widening the gap between America’s rich and poor; at the cost of reducing aid for, so to speak, his own people.
This is all the workings of anti-heroism in its many guises of altruism and human conscientiousness. It is not that one cannot see the callousness and cruelties of other nations or the lies and deceptions in the dictates and tyrannies of other governments but one must always sweep his own front porch before complaining about the filth of his neighbor’s front porch. In this regard, most of (we) Americans are responsible, compassionate and generous as a people just as most other people are world-wide. And so, in the end, it is bureaucracies that corrupt real heroism by creating the anti-hero into images of bravado; that person who fills the boots of Rambo-ism—a mindless, heartless killing machine in the uniforms of devoted obedience to a cause.
As another quick aside, who is more of a poster-child for the anti-hero than today’s suicide bomber; the ultimate rebel with a cause? I have read that some call him (or her) heroic because of the willingness to die for what he (or she) believes in but this is a nonsensical conclusion, the suicide bomber is either insane or stupid and probably both; the obvious victim of indoctrination and self-deception.
In light of all this we can clearly say that the legends and fables of heroes have all been exposed as flawed if not fabricated. As a result I will declare 2013 as being the year of the death of the dragon slayer; Robin Hood was a thief like Jesse James and governments are all members of an elite membership that is of, for and by themselves.
I am not alone holding this rather negative view of heroic legends past and present: People, by and large, simply grasp the difference between mythology and the actual—they’ve seen through the smoke and mirrors, so to speak…or have they?
Let’s take a modern day journey into the immortalizing of Tiburcio Vasquez—a daring thief and murderer, the basic qualifications for today’s anti-hero.
In the mid-1800s one of the most vicious and notorious outlaws was a fellow by that name of Anastacio Garcia; a gang leader of his times. Vasquez would be influenced by this outlaw and after attending a fandango where Garcia and/or his men murdered Monterey’s constable, William Hardmount, became an outlaw himself.
It seems that Vasquez and Garcia rode together until Garcia was lynched in Monterey jail in 1857. Before this date, however, Vasquez was already rustling horses for which he ended up spending five years in San Quentin prison. While in prison he participated in organizing four prison breaks that ended up with 20 convicts dead. After his release, he eventually returned to crime including burglaries, cattle thefts and highway robberies for which he did another three years.
Finally in 1970 Vasquez headed up a gang of bandits. During one of his crime sprees he was shot and wounded but nursed back to health by his sister. Recovered from his wound he returned to a life of crime—robbery and murder.
He was finally arrested in a place he was hiding that today has turned into Sunset Strip in Hollywood. He remained in Los Angeles County jail for nine days telling the press that his desire was to return California to Mexican rule. He denied killing anyone at this same time but admitted that he was, indeed, an outlaw. During his trial he was found guilty of one murder. He was executed on March 19, 1875 when he was only 39 years old.
Even if we agree that as a patriot of Mexico his motivations were nationalistic, the truth remains that he was an anti-hero who robbed and murdered people. One simply does not justify the other!
But why am I picking on this bandit among a great many other bandits?
On January 1, 2013 the Washington Post brought a very interesting story to the forefront from Fresno, California: There is a new elementary school in the small town of Salinas whose school board has elected to name the new school after Tiburcio Vasquez, the old west bandito or, in other words, after a well-known…antihero.
Indeed, as opposed to paying attention to his actually human action, he is being given the status of a folk hero, a kind of Robin Hood in a Sombrero—not because of his brave or honorable acts but only because he resented Mexico’s loss of California and therefore classified as a “rebel.”
And so antihero-ism has become socially apropos to say the least; the Rambo factor has gained status for the bully in the guises of heroics as portrayed by such actors as Steven Seagal and California’s last governor Arnold Schwarzenegger better known as…. The Terminator.
In the fantasy section Superman, mentioned earlier who was America’s foremost superhero was a superhuman with ethics and yes, a keen sense of good and evil. Two of today’s super
Note the symbolism in the picture
heroes are Iron Man and Robocop—a human cop killed in the line of duty and recreated into a cyborg entity.
The so-called “cyborg entity” is, at bottom line, a machine by any other name—a sort of Rambo with replaceable parts and extraordinary abilities to conquer and destroy—there is simply nothing compassionate or even conscientious about a machine no matter what human qualities it is given. But of course a machine has no soul/mind or heart because it is…a machine after all.
Nevertheless, anti-heroism flourishes world wide—the average person has quit expecting anything more from the politicos of our time. Perhaps it is because our social, governmental and business leaders have been caught too often with their hands in the cookie jar? I would hesitate to guess. Nevertheless, what all this gives me to wonder is what will the adults be like who are now the children of our times.
What a Hero Is
A hero is a man and woman who gives love and nurturing to their children, who strives to give them security and self-assurances; a hero is he or she who not only has compassion for others but acts on that compassion; a hero is anyone who is just! A hero is he or she who sincerely encourages others to be all they want to be and yes, who feed and care for those in need as quiet and gracious Good Samaritans. A hero is the man and woman who forever chooses kindness over cruelty (or aloofness) and who never looks down on anyone except, as said, to give them a helping hand up. A hero is also a person of principle and a respecter of the rights of others to be themselves; a person who walks the path of freedom from racism and sexism loving others as self and self as others. And who, as Gandhi would say, strives to become the changes that he or she desires for the world.