Superheroes: Fact or Fiction?
The summer blockbuster movie season is in full swing and many of the biggest movies are about superheroes, including the Avengers and the Amazing Spider-Man.
In contrast to the superheroes on the screen, many of our leaders today seem all too human and disappointing, regardless of one’s party or politics. Not only do their failings, from infidelity and lying to bribery and theft, seem to fill the news, but they are not producing the results we would hope for.
Congress is deadlocked. The European Union may be falling apart. The rich keep getting richer while the rest seem to be working too hard to enjoy life or not enough to make ends meet. We may want things to go back to the way they were before the recession, but we also probably sense that is impossible. The system seems broken, and no solutions are in sight.
Where are the heroes to save us?
Rereading some of the material of Joseph Campbell, the best-known expert on heroes and myth in the 20th century, gives us some intriguing clues. (Interesting fact: George Lucas used Campbell’s writings in developing the script to Star Wars.)
Is it time to give birth to something new in society? If so, how have the heroes of the past accomplished that goal? Revisiting the mythology and popular hero stories from around the world provides pretty consistent lessons. Campbell continues,
“The passage of the mythological hero may be over-ground, incidentally; fundamentally, it is inward — in to depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified, to be made available for the transfiguration of the world.”
Campbell is suggesting that one of the first steps of a would-be hero is to look inward rather than outward for answers. It is in the darkest depths of our personal psyches where the strategies to give birth to a better future will be found.
“The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up in to the mind…for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down in to unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate in to our lives…These threaten the fabric of the security in to which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life — that is the lure, the promise and terror, of these disturbing night visitants from the mythological realm that we carry within…Psychoanalysis, the modern science of reading dreams, has taught us to take heed of these unsubstantial images.”
Even taking these ideas seriously makes most of us uneasy. This is why it is only heroes, those willing to take the risks, are willing to venture there. Rather than looking to technological solutions to save us, or the latest government policy or corporate innovation, Campbell suggests that it is through the transformation of the self by accessing and reclaiming lost powers in our subconscious that heroes begin to remake the world.
“The two — the hero and his ultimate god, the seeker and the found — are thus understood as the outside and inside of a single, self-mirrored mystery, which is identical with the mystery of the manifest world. The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known.”
So it seems that superheroes, or “supreme heroes” as Campbell calls them, approach their task in this way, working from problems observed in the world to solutions found within, which are then brought back out into the world. This may remind us of the famous advice from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
This understanding of the true nature of the hero raises new questions and expectations for our leaders and us. Are our leaders really suited for and up to this challenge? Or will new heroes need to emerge from unsuspected corners? Perhaps we will discover our new heroes turn out to be the neighbor next door, or an unassuming colleague at work, or a friend of your teenage daughter.
Or perhaps it is you.
You will only know by looking within. Best wishes to you on your own personal hero’s journey.
WRITTEN BY: Brendan Miller