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Superheroes to the rescue - outsourcing or propaganda?

Hollywood often takes popular or topical subjects and projects them onto the silver screen. The last few decades have seen an equal numbers of movies about a world destroyed or a world saved; 50 superhero movies were released between 2000 and 2009,versus 58 apocalyptic movies; and from 2010 up to 2018 there will have been 45superhero movies released versus 42 apocalyptic movies. This fairly even spread suggests that the type of movie we watch depends on whether we want to be participants or spectators.

In apocalyptic movies, humanity plays an important role in the salvation of the planet. In superhero movies, humanity sits back and lets the costumed crusaders do all the work. It seems as if our busy lifestyle has led to us outsource the task of saving the world. But superheroes have been around since the turn of the century, when times were apparently not so hectic. So perhaps the recent rise of the superhero is derived from a more sinister plot, something more sinister than even Hollywood can conjure up.
The superhero movie franchise kicked off in 1978 with Superman when the caped crusader grossed $300 million dollars worldwide. It almost ended with Superman as sales to the follow up movies fell faster than the speeding bullets he dodged. Then Batman came along in 1989, and Hollywood’s finely oiled wheel has been pumping out blockbuster superhero movies ever since. The IMDB reports that the top 100 superhero movies released since 1978 have grossed $11 billion dollars. With the average movie grossing $117 million dollars, Hollywood knows a good deal when they see it. But is economics really the driving force behind the current invasion of superhero movies?

Hollywood mimics the cries of civilisation. In this case it could also be inciting them. And it wouldn’t be the first time America used costumed superheroes to do so. The rise of their popularity coincided with World War II. Captain America was created prior to the United States involvement in the war, and the comic books depicted superheroes fighting Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. When the war ended, the superheroes had no villains to fight and their popularity died. Other genres popped up, quite possibly romance and family oriented sit-coms after ‘those in power’ identified a need to restock the human population.
Axel Alonso, the editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, says, “Superheroes remind a child of the moral compass necessary to navigate a universe fraught with thrills and danger.” But most superhero movies are not animated, which suggests adults have always been the studio’s major target audience. If we go back as far as World War I we can find evidence that Americans were not eager to enter the war. This evidence is the propaganda posters the military used to recruit soldiers and encourage civilians to believe war was a good and honourable thing. The Uncle Sam poster is iconic even today and everyone associates it with a military recruitment drive.

It’s not just Americans who used propaganda in times of conflict. During World War II, the Germans used films as tools to portray the Jews as barbaric people who deserved their fate. President Roosevelt however, recognised that such direct films would not work on the Americans, and this led him to pressure Hollywood into helping the war effort, ultimately producing films that created a patriotic mindset while convincing viewers that sacrifices needed to be made. After the war, our superheros didn’t die. They merely retired to a shelf to wait for another time when the world was steeped in trouble.

It seems that time is now. And trouble has been brewing for a while. After 9/11, the American mindset of patriotism wasn’t lost, if anything it grew exponentially, but the mindset of martyrdom waned considerably. Americans started questioning their presence in the Middle East conflicts. It was Vietnam all over again. Perhaps recognising this, the US Military has once again employed the services of Hollywood. It makes sense that they’re deploying our costumed crusaders to save the world and instil a sense of goodness prevailing over evil when normal channels are under threat. We can’t turn to the church. We can’t turn to our governments. Who can help us? Cue anthem music.
Hollywood has come to the rescue and it doesn’t plan on stopping the well-oiled wheel. But I don’t think the superhero crash is coming any time soon. Not while ever there is tyranny and injustice in the world. Not while these are bad guys shooting down commercial planes. Not while cities are being bombed and millions of innocent lives in danger. And if we ever do grow bored of our superheroes we can always place them into the middle of a zombie apocalypse and charge audiences to watch it. 

I'd love to hear what you think. Are superheroes a product of our desire to outsource everything? Are they the product of propaganda? Or are they simply here because we want to relive our childhood?



D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. The Bird With The Broken Wing reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Feedback reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings and the book trailer which features an original song performed by the author appeared on USA Today website. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.

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