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An Alien Perspective


I don’t understand people from your planet.  Many Americans and other earthlings are obsessed with superhero movies.

Writer Mark Bowden recently noted that “Seven of the 11 top-grossing films of 2017 were superhero movies, based on characters first introduced in comic books.”  That doesn’t even include the gigazillion epic hero movies that are not based on comics.  Why so many earthlings are drawn to these movies is a puzzle.  Bowden writes:

“Most fail to make sense even within the fantastical logic of their own worlds — why, for instance, do superheroes and villains persist in hurling large objects at each other long after it is clear this has no effect?  They showcase beautiful bodies in well-choreographed combat augmented by ear-blasting pseudo-Wagnerian music and dazzling special effects.  Plot lines are an afterthought, and dialogue is often breezily incoherent (particularly when trying to impart deeper meaning).  They are formulaic, completely driven by commercial calculation, largely written by committees under strict studio supervision (which is not to say that committees are incapable of writing great scripts — see the amazing Pixar oeuvre). They are full of sound and fury — imaginatively costumed, star-studded, often well acted, stunningly crafted — signifying nothing, at least on purpose.”

He continues, “If heroes are idealized humans, then today’s reflect an exaggerated Cult of Self.  They are unique, supremely talented beings who transcend laws, even those of nature.  Hollywood has always cherished mavericks, but these are, literally, cartoons — computer-generated.  They celebrate exceptionalism and vigilantism.  The old American ideal of succeeding through cleverness, virtue and grit is absent, as is the notion of ordinary folk banding together to overcome a threat …. Gone is respect for the rule of law and the importance of tradition and community.  Institutions and human knowledge are useless.  Religion is irrelevant.  Governments are corrupt and/or inept, when not downright evil.  The empowered individual is all.”

“Normal humans are mere bystanders, when they are not being crushed or vaporized. The average person is powerless and depends for survival on the good will of the gods. (It may be worth noting that in real life, the only way for a human to acquire anything like a superpower is to buy a gun, which may shed new light on America’s firearms fetish.)”

Earthlings with an apparently insatiable appetite for these movies seem consumed by fantasies of self-righteous violence.  They watch one movie after another with the same basic story line in which evil thugs threaten to destroy civilization, only to be saved in the nick of time when a champion and his (or her) sidekicks violently vanquish the wicked.  Some movies celebrate realistic non-violent communication and don’t divide the world into cartoon villains and heroes.  Alas, fewer earthlings seem to be interested in these movies than the familiar “action-adventure” movies.

I’m from here too – I just don’t understand a lot of my fellow earthlings.


John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE >

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