Superheroes and Ordinary People

“Pity the country that needs heroes.”

I wanted to see a movie one weekend and was shut out by marquees advertising nothing but superheroes or robots: Spiderman 2, Transformers: the Last Knight, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The previous week, it was the same, with Wonder Woman, Logan, and Thor: Ragnarok.

Last year, Hollywood fed us with Batman vs. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Next year, the superhero trend is expected to strengthen with the showing of Justice League, Avengers: Infinity War, and Black Panther.  It seems ordinary folks have left the cinematic screens.

In my youth (the 1970s and 1980s), movies had all-too-human titles like Ordinary People, Kramer Versus Kramer, and Terms of Endearment. Even disaster movies then deployed flesh-and-blood human beings, as is the case with Poseidon Adventure (about the sinking of a ship), Towering Inferno (about a burning skyscraper), and Earthquake. That was an era of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Today, millennials – the population that accounts for the largest segment of moviegoers – are continually being supplied by Hollywood with deus-ex-machina narratives of characters with superhuman skills. This year, Russia also produced its own superhero film, Guardians.
Why this appetite among the young for superheroes? I think it has to do with the helplessness of the age. Social problems have certainly become more complex, but even more worrisome is that ordinary people’s ability to deal with challenges – even simple problems – appear to be shrinking. A recent Facebook article has identified basic skills that many young people no longer have, such as cooking a simple meal, darning a torn garment, putting on a button, or changing the tire of a car. The article did not identify the causes of eroding skills, but one can infer that if young people’s skill sets are declining, their self-confidence must also be shrinking, and hence, their increasing need for superheroes. 

The playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote, “Pity the country that needs heroes.” Indeed, pity the world that needs superheroes, for it only indicates people are getting more helpless and in need of caped or masked saviors.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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