Psychologist Sharon Lamb – professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts Boston – believes that rather than standing for truth, justice and the American way modern superheroes are maladjusted- characterised by their often mindless aggression and rampant sexism.
Speaking at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, California; she said:
“Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic, and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity.
“These men, like Iron Man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”
Lamb surveyed 674 boys aged four to 18, talking toÂ sales staff in America’s shopping malls and came to understand what boys were watching on TV and at the movies.
Along with her co-authors, Lamb came to the conclusion that Marketers were taking advantage of boys who were still forging their own masculinity.
Her research led her to divide these media paradigms into two groups, “Players” and “Slackers”. Under pressure to meet the ideals laid out by the Players i.e. superheroes, most boys choose not to try and instead buck all responsiblities in order to avoid failing.
Leading her to claim thatÂ these hardnosed heroes may be damaging the social skills of teenagers and even affecting their performance at school.
Rather than this ‘narrow version of masculinity’ she said young boys should look up to superheroes like Superman, “because outside of their costumes they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities.”
But Mike Collins whoÂ has also worked for DC ComicsÂ called modern superheroes ‘aspirational’.
When Stan Lee set up Marvel Comics in the early 1960s he created not only Iron Man, but Spider-man, the Hulk and X-Men, and one of the things he wanted to do was to create characters everyone identified with because they had problems they had to overcome.
â€œI think it makes more interesting stories â€“ you need the grit to make the pearl.
He argues that the conundrums superheroes face are more fraught and interesting because of the problems they face in their day to day lives.
While it is an interesting study the conclusions it draws and the shortcuts it takes with superhero iconography make it hard to take.
It feels like a prime example of ‘regression to the mean’ Lamb has looked at these children’s lives seen what they do with their time, found something that she disagrees with and has claimed that it has taken them off the right path.
Rather than say, the educational system, school budgets, a lack of decent public libraries, better teaching, the dissolving of the traditional Amercian family or any other major social/political reason you care to name.
Even the term ‘modern superhero’ is fraught with dangerous sub-clauses like traps in the temple of doom.
What exactly is a modern superhero? Most Marvel/DC heroes, the ones that are appearing in the movies those boys she surveyed have been seeing were created decades ago.
If they’ve changed, they’ve changed to meet what the public desire to see and read.
52, Civil War, even Watchmen have taken the concept of the superhero and placed it on our doorstep along with the constant threat of serperatist violence and knee-jerk political reactions that follow it. The Dark Knight ends with a superhero taking on the mantle of the villain just so the public can believe that there was once hope.
Again this leads to the same conclusion; the problem is not children or superheroes but the world they inhabit, something which Doctor Who, in its own joyously optimistic way, tries to make easier by sharing the burden – anyone can be a hero… even Mickey.