"Superhero (noun) - an altruistic fictional character with superhuman abilities."
Ever since #Superman debuted on the cover of Action Comics #1 in 1938, superheroes have been a used as a tool to teach young impressionable minds what it means to be good. Superheroes stand for morality, helping others and selflessness. Superheroes are the ultimate good guy, they have the power to stand up to their enemies, but more importantly the power to protect others.
For decades children have molded themselves after their favorite caped characters. Yet, a recent study completed by BYU found that children who watch superhero movies are prone to aggressive behaviors. This isn't good, and it all boils down to one essential question.
Has Hollywood's Portrayal Of Superheroes Hurt their Ability To Be Good Role Models?
The simple answer is yes. Look at the superhero films that came out last year alone and see if you can pinpoint the reason kids who saw them might be more likely to be aggressive. Films like Captain America: Civil War, Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse showed beloved characters engaging in some grey-area issues and fighting each other (add #Deadpool and #SuicideSquad to that list, and it's easy to see why kids might thinking hitting things is the best way to work their problems out).
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the way these characters were portrayed, but in their effort to make these characters more human Hollywood has distanced them from the benevolent, altruistic characteristics that make superheroes good role models for our kids.
On-screen superheroes aren't very good role models anymore and here are three key reasons why.
1. Complex Subject Matter
While tackling issues like the role of government, unrestricted power, and tragedy makes for great cinema, the subject matter of the latest superhero movies are too complex for young minds to comprehend.
So instead of seeing Captain America: Civil War as being about a man protecting his friend and standing up to political oversight in order to maintain his values, kids see their favorite superheroes beat the crap out of each other.
Instead of seeing #BatmanVSuperman as a movie about the treatment of outsiders in our society, children see their favorite superheroes beating the crap out of each other.
Complex subject matter is exactly that, complex, and we can't expect children to understand the nuances behind the motivations of these characters.
For that reason, it's the parent's responsibility to decide if their child should watch the movie, how to discuss what happens in the film, and ensure the child understands violence is not the best way to handle disagreements (especially when you aren't as invincible as Superman).
2. Characters Are More Human, Less Super
One of the key aspects that make superheroes such good role models is their selflessness and their unwavering tendency to do the right thing. However, the world is not black and white and Hollywood's portrayal of superheroes have seen them operate largely in that grey area between right and wrong.
Avengers: Age of Ultron shows the world's mightiest heroes fighting against a machine who wants to destroy humanity, which on the surface seems pretty black and white (#Avengers are good, #Ultron bad). However, once you get into the film we see Tony Stark's compulsive need to keep humanity safe (and in doing so creating Ultron), the Avengers destroying an entire country, the #Hulk and #BlackWidow feeling like damaged people. The characters feel more human and less pure. All of this makes for amazing character development, but it hurts their ability to be good role models.
We want our kids to have role models that are the very best they can be, but humans are not all good and therefore if superheroes are human, they cannot also be all good.
1. Focus On Action And Spectacle
Finally, it comes down to the biggest issue with the way Hollywood portrays superheroes. They focus too much on action and spectacle. Explosions, huge fight scenes, guns, superpowers, city destruction, and more. It's all incredible to see on screen and make for some of the most memorable scenes from the movie, but this destruction porn affects children in a negative way.
After seeing these movies children remember:
- The way Batman and Superman fought and killed #Doomsday.
- The way the Suicide Squad fought against their enemies.
- The way Amanda Waller murdered about a dozen people.
- The way Captain America's team and Iron Man's team went toe-to-toe.
- The way the #XMen fought against #Apocalypse and his horsemen.
That is what children take away from these movies. Not the plot lines, not the subject matter, not the moral implications of the characters' actions. They remember the fighting.
Understandably, that much action and violence from their role models (especially when fighting against one another) influences children to act in an aggressive way. When Superman is beating up Batman or #CaptainAmerica fights his friends, it's easy to see why children would believe it's okay to use similar tactics to settle conflicts with their peers.
The BYU study comes as a surprise to many, but it shouldn't. If children are bombarded by images of their heroes causing harm to one another, they will see that as a viable way to handle their own feelings.
When the children can't understand the other parts of the story, the parts that explain the motivations behind the violence, all they get out of these movies is the violence.
Now, do I believe that Hollywood's portrayal of superheroes is solely the cause of children acting aggressively? Absolutely not. But this study is a good reminder to parents and others to be aware of what your children are watching and what they get out of it.