Friday, November 19, 2004

Superheroes, Saving the World from Democracy

Incredible Logo swastika Hammer & Sickle
[Political propaganda] is aimed at the broad masses. It speaks the language of the people because it wants to be understood by the people. Its task is the highest creative art of putting sometimes complicated events and facts in a way simple enough to be understood by the man on the street. [...] Political propaganda, the art of anchoring the things of the state in the broad masses so that the whole nation will feel a part of them, cannot therefore remain merely a means to the goal of winning power. It must become a means of building and keeping power.
Joseph Goebbels, Nuremberg, 1934, from Der Kongress zur Nürnberg 1934 (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP., Frz. Eher Nachf., 1934)

The Incredibles claims to be a parody of Superhero genre in American cinema, but what the movie does is nothing but re-validating the anti-democratic ideology behind what it is mocking. The story pictures a world threatened by an 'evil' character who plans to attack a New-York-city-like metropolis from a far island. The only people who can stop the danger are the superheroes, a minority who are born to save others by using their extra-ordinary abilities. Unfortunately the democratic society they live in does not appreciate them and treats them like any other citizen and expects them to behave as any other citizen too. The system doesn't let them to work outside the framework of law and democratic values, and believes ''everyone is special, so no one is,'' and is a place where ''everybody will be super, which means no one will be.''
The movie proves that all these are wrong. That superheroes exist, and they should be treated differently from other citizens. That the 'evil' exists and attacks New York city, and the 'superheroes' are the ones who have the right to do whatever they want to save the world, even if it needs to let them work outside the law...
Does the story sounds familiar? I am not surprised.

Superman was created in 1933 -the same year Hitler came to power in Germany. The first Superman comic book was published in 1938 by DC comics and its immediate success began a new genre in comic books, movies, cartoons, and other pop culture media that was different in its mythological style of storytelling and the messianic character it portrayed for the masses.
The word Superman, or “Der Übermensch” was the title Hitler used to describe himself. Superman’s other title, “Man of Steel,” reminds me of the other dictator of the '30s, Joseph Stalin, because it is what the word 'Stalin' means in Russian.
These hints leads me to some questions: What did Superman and the homonymous dictators have in common that make them all to chose the same names? What were the reasons for the invention of Superman in the thirties? Why both Superheroes and dictators have their own easy-to-remember logos? What makes them so popular among the masses?

Superheroes and dictators create a world for their audience that defines their position as being ‘absolutely right’ on every issue and ‘absolutely good’ in every circumstance. They all fight against self-defined ‘forces of darkness’ and in their battles they all have self-proclaimed quasi-religious ‘blessing’. They are all committed to a self-defined concept of justice that puts them above the law. The law itself is not an issue for them. But what they are concerned about is justice. In this regard they all see themselves as a perfect embodiment of law enforcement and do their job by whatever means necessary. In all these cases it is the power of the superheroes’ fists that at the end of the story brings the world back to its “edenic” order. Superheroes and dictators share the same worldview, although with seemingly different value systems. They create a world that is easily understandable for masses.
In such a world there is no responsibility for the regular citizens in taking care of their problems or 'dangers' threatening them. They have nothing to do but supporting their superheroes. Superheroes who not only fight the evil but also are the only ones who define it.

* Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios
* The Quote from Joseph Goebbels from here. copyright © 2000 by Randall Bytwerk.


  1. a very interesting entry. I always love to read you dissecting and deconstructing pop culture phenoms. (like you did sometime back with Exorcist and with the Tom Hanks movie basd on Mr. Charles de Gaulle). I agree with you there is something very fascist about the cult of the superhero. I would take its roots even further back to the time of Napoleon. As you know he had a huge influence on Russia where people were torn between their hate for him (as an invader and intruder) and their admiration for him. I believe Dostoyevsky was thinking of Napoleon and the Superhero when he wrote Crime and Punishment. Anyways I would also like to hear your thoughts someday on M. Night Shymalan 's "Unbreakable" which is my favorite film from him. Have a good week-end!

  2. A co-worker of mine swears that this is why "the Governator" of California won. And why he'll get an amendment to the Consitution so he can be president.

    The distinction between justice and the law is troubling. On one hand, isn't it true that there is a justice that is prior to the law, and that the law is supposed to reflect justice? But if we say this, and laws become secondary, disposable, and not the tools which create justice, then a Superman can dispense with those tools.

    That would never happen in America, though--dispensing with legal tools that protect justice in order to seek a "higher justice" without regard to the common man. Right?

  3. Check out the 11/21 NY Times, the Week in Review--they have an article entitled "When Every Child is Incredible", viewing the movie as a metaphor for what's happening in public schools.

  4. Interesting.
    The link to NY Times' article is here for those who want to read the article. But I liked the Christian Science Monitor 's article on the subject better than NY Times'.
    I haven't read anything from Ayn Rand. But both articles relate "The Incredibles" to her philosophy. I wonder what is common between this movie and her books.

  5. hey there- this isnt related to this post, sorry, but i saw a comment you wrote somewhere about this persian gulf debacle, and i was happy to see you had spoken out. i haven't said a word, i'm avoiding the whole thing all together. but anyway, if you want to get in touch its better to use my hotmail address rather than my university one. hope you are well.

  6. Really enjoyed reading your superhero post.

  7. Interesting article, added his blog to Favorites