I’m sure this is a variant of a theme that has repeated itself for years, though I wonder if this time it has some chops:
Professor Sharon Lamb, from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, accuses the new generation of superheroes, exemplified by Robert Downey Junior’s playboy millionnaire Iron Man, of being bad role models for young boys.
Unlike conventional superheroes such as Superman, who stood for justice, fairness and decency, the modern macho superheroes portray a negative masculinity, characterised by mindless aggression and rampant sexism. Lamb, who surveyed 674 boys aged four to 18, claimed these hardnosed heroes may be damaging the social skills of teenagers and even affecting their performance at school.
“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” she said.
“Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic, and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity,” she said.
“These men, like Iron Man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”
Probably not much in the way of chops, then, or indeed a mention of parenting. At least it’s not brought to you by the people at Westbro. I expected more from a scientist than the exhaustive catalogue of two superheroes – Iron Man and Superman. Sure, she has conveniently bypassed the inward-looking, non-killing millionaire, Batman, whose reinvention has been one of the largest of the current Hollywood franchises (because that would contradict her rant).
Though to be honest, there are so many holes in these claims, I would end up loosing many hours of sleep trying to highlight them. We’ve all seen the notions concerning violence in cinema effecting young people (though Japan, which has some of the most messed-up and violent films, has very low crime rates for a developed country, so we can’t make generalisations) and this all sounds like it’s along the same lines. We watch violence and bad behaviour, we become violence and bad behaviour – is the assumption.
However, on the note about women being exploited, I think there is something to be noted. Perhaps Scalzi is onto something. It’s a much broader problem in Hollywood (and culture) not something limited to superhero films. The point about flaunting bling – well, I’m tempted to rant about neoliberal culture and how flaunting bling is surely the apogee of an industry and system that has acted similarly for decades. Cut short: again, the problem goes deeper than superheroes.
Has anyone else found interesting studies on this theme? I remember something from Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay about how comic book heroes and foreign policies were related, but I can’t find the relevant pages right now.