When Superheroes Age,
Dreamers Need a Shrink
Some of the most powerful comic heroes still receiving makeovers year after year by the entertainment industry were conceived around the historical period bracketed by the two world wars. It was arguably an ideal time to flesh out old legends and fit them for that simplistic, albeit no less tragic, battle of good and evil. Somehow, times became much more complicated ever since.
We still spend an obscene amount of money suspending our disbelief and supporting their summer blockbusters, which is usually when generations of super beings populate our leisure hours. Yet, unlike our childhood dreams, we wouldn’t think about hanging out with Batman, for example, for he and his gifted allies have all become downright scary.
Somehow, instead of we achieving our impossibly childish longing for one day to become a superhero, they are the ones who have fell down
to Earth and now share more than ever the little miseries of living in the real world. No wonder, then, some are seeking counseling, others are joining the hordes of the unemployed and the homeless, and all seem to be aging way too fast.
DO WE NEED ANOTHER HERO?
In our twisted and spoiled imagination, they were once our best pals, the ones who would break through our front doors anytime now to rescue us from our tormentors. But as we may have outgrown our bullies, most of us failed to soar over life’s daily indignities. And so have they, apparently.
The allegory can be extended to fairy tales and pretty much any other made-up character, based or not on reality, and the phenomenon is not even new. Who can forget that the starting point to the story of one of the most celebrated criminals on TV, Tony Soprano, was he seeking therapy for his panic attacks?
It ceases being a mere exercise in vanity when it comes to Robin Rosenberg, for example, a private California psychologist and author who specializes in superheroes. Not so much the comic book type but flesh and blood people who identify deeply with them and through their stated superpowers, can work through their own neuroses and inadequacies as human beings.
HOW ARE YOUR FEELING, MR. STARK?
Rosenberg is a feature in the annual Comic Con feasts, which take place several times of the year in several cities throughout the U.S. and abroad. As she sets her tent along comix aficionados trading their rare editions, and fans dressed up as their idols, her sole purpose is to talk to people and get insights about what makes them, and the superheroes they impersonate, tick.
Thus, when ‘Spiderman’ sits for a chat, he or she are not only articulating the deeper implications and psychological conflicts that originated the hero’s existence and has driven their published adventures, but also of the people who love them. For many, being dressed up as a cartoon character can be liberating, and a boost to their own personalities and life in the ‘real’ world.
Digging deep into the myths at the genesis of those heroes, childhood trauma, in the case of Bruce Wayne, or the physical assault that transformed a wealthy dandy into Iron Man, Rosenberg helps cosplayers, people who dress up as superheroes in these comic book conventions, to safely ride and explore their own inner conflicts.
WHO’S BEHIND THE MASK?
In the process, circumstantial aspects connected to the heroes’ lives, political and racial overtones included, are left aside, to focus on their inner motivation and what really made them decided for a career in law (their own) enforcement. Or the life of fairies and castles. Or of mobsters and snitches.
This approach, using superheroes as springboard for deeper analysis of character and individual adjustment in modern societies, is quickly becoming a new branch of psychology. Rosenberg is but the latest therapist to explore the ‘hero on the couch’ theme, following authors such as Danny Fingeroth, James Kakalios and others.
Long left behind is the world of fighting for justice, moral values and, thank goodness, the American way. Instead, what’s enhanced is the ability of seeing through yet another prism of the human experience, the heroes’ quests for happiness, community and sense of personal worth, to be able to better deal with the challenges of sex and gender, loneliness, aging and regret.
The work of artists Andres Englund and Benjamin Béchet seems to comment and add new dimensions to this contemporary vision of legend of our own making. It’s a split-level world, where you may see, on the reflection of a building’s revolving door, the Silver Surfer zipping by high above Times Square, but if you turn around, it’s just your own face looking back at you from a store window glass.