TMI Anti-Heroism Part I insetIronman versus Superman

When we were kids, almost every one of us yearned to be a hero, with godlike capabilities, flying aloft among the skyscrapers, ensuring the good and sorting out the bad — above all, garnering honor from all of humanity. This is the official version of heroism inside every kid’s heart. Hollywood producers and advertisers of course have done so much to pump them up. They produced movies like “Superman” in order that we could have a visual and auditory platform onto which our fantasy of heroism could be projected. Nevertheless, it seems nowadays the icon of Superman is mostly replaced, and almost no one is talking about it. It looks obsolete, no longer up-to-date. If we are to say Superman is the old version of heroism, what’s the new? Ironman, Batman and X-men are the modern Heroism. They are the new. What is the difference between the old and the new? What change has heroism, from Superman to Ironman, old to new, undergone?

The answer is that modern heroism is much more related to science. More reality, less fantasy. The armored suit worn by Ironman is nothing but a extremely sophisticated combination of science, psychics, chemistry, dynamics, aeromechanics and biomechanics, and so too is that of Batman. What about Spiderman and X-men? In the case of the former, after being nipped by a “mutant spider”, Peter Parker’s gene mutated, making him extraordinary and able to leap easily between tall buildings. X-men are a group of mutants undergoing a more or less identical process as that of Spiderman. Even so, they are not unbeatable. In many cases, their evil opponents are much more skillful in science, and thus able to compete with or defeat them: it’s a tournament in science.

On the contrary, in “Superman”, there is almost no science at all. The entire story revolves around a man descended from an extra-terrestrial race, born with godlike capabilities, hence able to fly, stopping bullets with his flesh, single-handedly upholding an airplane (often full of passengers), beaming destruction with his heat vision, and above all, doing what normal people cannot do: become a messiah-like, matchless hero. End of story. He was created via the bloodline of an extra-terrestrial race. If you are “earth people” with “earth blood”, you can forget it! Unlike the modern heroism, it is “less real’. After all, what sort of man can become a hero if heroism is conditional on alien bloodline? As time went by, on one hand, people found it disheartening to keep up with heroism of this sort; on the other hand, they were astounded by the advance of modern science, hoping that in future the gap between Superman (fantasy) and “earth people” (reality) could be shortened drastically, making Superman “more real”. From then on, heroism itself has managed to shift from mere fantasy into the realm of science, a place where everything is possible, so it has more audience appeal. People no longer want to watch fantasy; they’re asking for reality, or “less untrue” fantasy.

As a result, the Hollywood bosses are forced to react properly, and they produce Ironman, Batman and Spiderman, each hero as normal a man as anyone can imagine. The new hero has no godlike powers. Unlike Superman, who can take a hit from an AK47, Ironman and Batman both are normal humans. They are not special physically. In the case of Ironman, if one takes away his armored suit, he can be beaten to death by anyone. What does that say? It says that even a normal man can become a hero.

To do so, you really need to invest. There is no innate, godlike power to demonstrate, no alien bloodline — the conditions necessary for heroism are open to everyone, like it or not. “Invest” doesn’t mean money, but effort. To be Ironman, you must be awesomely skillful in science, physics and chemistry so that you can devise that armored suit. Before that, you must go through several challenges such as study, experiment, failure, retrial, and so on, until you are able to fight with your invention — the armored suit, the result of your hard work. But this is still no guarantee that you can succeed, because you will need to confront the bad guy who is often as proficient as you (maybe much more intelligent than you!) before becoming a real hero. There is quite a challenge to becoming a hero, unlike for Superman, who was born at the top, facing almost no rival, apart from the “bad aliens”. “Superman” is the perfect movie for the super rich with its core message, “If you are not born with a superpower, forget it!” That of Ironman is “Everyone can be a hero via hard work.”

While Superman is preaching heredity, family, fantasy and bloodline, Ironman is teaching diligence, Meritocracy, science and reality, although Ironman is portrayed as a rich playboy in the movie, wrongfully leading people to worship the super rich as heroes, and divesting the poor of the least possibility of heroism. Nevertheless, from the standpoint that to be a hero you don’t need to have godlike powers and you can make it on your own, these movies arguably deliver a solidly viable message. In fact, if Ironman were a hard, honest, diligent young man born into normal family rather than a Rothschild-like family, the whole story would be nearly perfect. Of course the producers know it well, and that’s why they did the reverse, so after watching Ironman viewers instantly think of wealth as equal to heroism, since the lead characters in Ironman are super rich. The movie features a tycoon in the munitions industry fighting with his costly invention against the bad guys in the name of justice. The subtext could not be clearer: Big Munitions is good, it protects you, it deserves honor and not invective, and government ought to budget more for it. Painfully but evidently, “Ironman” was produced not only to glorify the wealth possessed by the super rich, but also to beautify — and even beatify! — the image of the munitions industry, and eventually, to make fans — instead of trouble-makers — of the masses. Can we produce a movie like “Ironman”, but with a plainly Meritocratic message as the subtext to the compelling plot and characters?


It was reported in Japan that a girl was raped by a man on train full of passengers in broad daylight, without anyone saying a word because the perpetrator (remember, there was only one perpetrator!) wrathfully yelled, “It’s none of you guys’ business!” Sound unbelievable? Well, you’d better familiarize yourself with news. In the past, such a situation was impossible. However, it seems to be an increasingly frequent occurrence.

What’s the problem? Look at the 21st century: high technology is everywhere. In advanced nations, the ipad or iphone is nearly a necessity for every kid. Modern teenagers don’t talk, even if they can; they text when they are sitting face-to-face. The more advanced the technology, the more deteriorated our relationships to each other. It was also reported that some children are no longer able to write. They tend to use keyboards instead of pens, typing instead of writing. When it comes to writing, they’re stuck. Technology, on the one hand, has brought us a staggeringly enjoyable lifestyle, but on the other hand, robbed us of numerous basic abilities and instincts by which humanity used to survive. In the future, people will not be able to return home if they have no GPS in their hand. The legs start deteriorating as people walk less and less. People cannot sleep without air conditioning. Sooner or later, technology will drag us back to the state where we cannot take care of ourselves without machines. Rather than mastering machines, we ourselves become appurtenances of them.

Let’s return to the case of the raped girl. In many circumstances, it was also reported that when fighting came up on the street, people around, instead of trying to stop the fight, would take out their ipad to record the scene. The fighters instantly turned into Hollywood movie stars. Bystanders screamed, laughed, giggled and hailed, enjoying the party-like atmosphere, while the victims lay on the floor helplessly. With certainty, the video will soon be uploaded into YouTube and, in the blink of an eye, this video becomes the most-clicked one. More than that, the victim, the one lying down, will be classed as a loser so disgraceful that his friend, girlfriend, colleague and family will shun him, laugh at him. His image will be equated with failure, powerlessness and weakness. His life suddenly lapses into darkness where he can no longer find a good job, girlfriend or dignity amongst his peers. Hereafter, he has to live with that video by which his whole life was ruined. Sound horrible?

Imagine watching the most-clicked video in which you are being abused and begging for mercy, with comments like “Hah, what a moron!”, “weak man”, “deserved!!”, “it’s cool”. Not terrible enough? Imagine thirty years from now, and your grandson clicks on a video and finds that a man was begging for kindness just like a pig ready to be sent to abattoir, and asks whether this coward is you. Fear? Now, imagine you are on a train and a girl is being molested by a tall, muscular, strong man, and you know the consequence of stepping in better than anyone: would you stand up? Or would you, just like what the passengers did in the above-mentioned case of Japan, remain silent, keeping your attention securely on a newspaper?

by WaiLok Cheung

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2 Responses to “Anti-Heroism: Part I” Subscribe

  1. gaby90 October 28, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Great article! I never thought we would sink that low. Sometimes I think theres no hope for our species and we deserve to become extinct.

    • Bob Dixon February 24, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

      I understand the sentiment, but know there are still those out there who would’ve stepped in. Not everyone is a last man in this generation.

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