Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Iron Man vs Superman: The Case of Mistaken Super Identity

I read a report of a study that examined the differences between the superheroes of today versus those of several years ago. This study looked at the messages that these superheroes are sending to boys and the types of values that they promote. One of the most interesting things that Dr. Sharon Lamb, the author of this study, discusses is the fact that when the superheroes of today, such as Iron Man, aren’t fighting bad guys, they’re busy exploiting women and collecting material possessions.

That’s a very different message from that of the heroes, such as Superman, of earlier years. He was all about seeking truth and justice. Dr. Lamb says that boys today are presented with two options as far as media depictions: the super hero or the slacker. They can either be someone who acquires power and then continues to use it to gain more power or they can be funny and lazy.

But isn’t there another alternative? Boys need to be presented with models of maleness that include kindness, strength of character, and integrity. Boys need to see that they don’t have to be stupid, slackers, or materialists. They can, instead, be the ones who help make this world a better place. After all, in Iron Man, the character’s only redeeming feature appears to be his ability to help people. In personal relationships, he’s demeaning, arrogant, and emotionally unavailable. There’s nothing super about that.

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2 comments on “Iron Man vs Superman: The Case of Mistaken Super Identity

  1. Mark Reeves
    December 23, 2010

    While I agree with your conclusion, Dr. Lamb is incorrect about her belief that the antihero is new in the comic genre. As a lifelong comics reader I can tell you that comic book heroes have always been broken individuals who struggle to do what is right. This thread runs through all literature, including the Bible. Every Biblical hero is an antihero except for Jesus. He is the standard for men, and he is the only perfect model for boys.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      December 23, 2010

      I think her premise isn’t so much that the antihero is new as that it’s more pronounced in popular hero stories at this point in time than it has been previously. On the other hand, you have a point in that showing kids “perfect” heroes may not be particularly helpful since they themselves won’t be able to live up to that. I think the goal is providing kids with images and stories about people who strive to live with courage, conviction, and compassion.

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