Shut up Capitalism!
Beyond the Superhero
Stephen Lee Naish
“OUT OF THE RUINS
OUT FROM THE WRECKAGE
CAN`T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE THIS TIME
WE ARE THE CHILDREN
THE LAST GENERATION
WE ARE THE ONES THEY LEFT BEHIND
AND I WONDER WHEN WE ARE EVER GONNA CHANGE
LIVING UNDER THE FEAR, TILL NOTHING ELSE REMAINS”
The above lines could be slogan penciled on a placard from any of the recent “Occupy” movements that have taken place in major cities throughout the world, or perhaps these lines were scrawled in red paint across an ancient wall from any of the numerous uprisings that have overthrown brutal dictators and called for democratic change and accountability to those in power. The movement towards anti-capitalism has been accelerating with much enthusiasm, and there seems a genuine discontent with its structure of favouring the fortunate few over the unfortunate many. A call to arms is in progress, and the lines above, though rudimentary, are sincere. These lines, in fact, do not stem from any uprising based in reality. These words actually come from the first verse of songstress Tina Turner’s hit song ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)’ the signature tune from the soundtrack to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). That particular film, the third instalment in the Mad Max trilogy takes place in a future post-apocalyptic world (or perhaps just Australia has fallen into dystopia), ravaged by gang violence, tribalism, and brutality. The key hook to Turner’s song is the bellowed line “We don’t need another hero” of the chorus, a perhaps ironic reading of the narrative of the Mad Max movies, as Max Rockatansky is very much an anti-hero with his action of savage revenge against those that have done him wrong. However, perhaps what is more ironic is that in our age of unregulated capital of the elite corporations, unquenchable greed of the few, and unattainable wealth for the many, we need as many heroes, defending the needs of the many, as we can possibly muster.
There has been an interesting influx of recent superhero movies, in which the protagonists have zero superpowers, yet an overwhelming desire to fight crime and rid the world of evil, tyranny and corruption. Taking on the persona of a comic book superhero, donning a costume, and designing makeshift weaponry, the film vigilante tackles crime and injustice in often haphazard ways and with great personal risk. This trend started with the low budget Canadian film Defendor (2010), which followed Woody Harrelson’s shy and naive Arthur Poppington and his superhero alter-ego Defendor in his battle against his nemesis Captain Industry. The non-super superhero idea reached a more mainstream audience the following year with the comic book adaptation Kickass (2010), in which nerdy high school student Dave Lizewski becomes the superhero Kick-ass, in a vain attempt to become popular and cool. The same year as Kickass hit cinema screens two smaller productions followed, the James Gunn directed Super, in which lifelong loser Frank Darbo receives a vision from God and adopts the persona of The Crimson Bolt, whose calling card is “Shut up Crime!”, in order to avenge the drug lords who stole his wife. The Australian film Griff the Invisible ventured into sweet romantic territory, which often went ignored within the subgenre, when Griff is encouraged by his love interest Melody to delve further into his imaginative superhero persona. The following year, film director and documentarian Michael Barnett went looking for real life vigilantes on the streets of America in the documentary Superheroes (2011). What might have been seen as an opportunity to ridicule a delusional sub culture emerges as the most positive reinforcement of the idea of the non-super superhero. Barnett tracks his vigilantes performing acts of generosity and charity placing the wellbeing of others above their own. In some instances it’s as simple as temporally taking the keys from a drunk driver or handing out leaflets advising about a potential flasher in the vicinity.
The emergence of these movies was somewhat timely, considering the political and cultural climate. During 2008 to 2012, In America, and indeed the rest of the world, the biggest economic crash since the Great Depression of 1930’s had affected millions of citizens, foreclosing their homes, cutting their jobs, taking away their livelihood, their healthcare, and slashing their benefits and pensions, while this was happening to millions, a few CEO’s and shareholders of major corporations and banks took away excessive bonus’ on top of already unimaginable annual paychecks. The damage the financial institutions had done to the world economy was devastating for the majority. Further afield, demonstrations and vigils for democratic change, and accountability spread throughout the Arab world, with citizens calling for fair elections, and more personal, political, and religious freedoms. Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen ousted their long in power dictatorial leaders and instigated a democratic uprising, which is still in progress today and facing the challenging extremes of putting a fair and representative democracy in place. The world from 2008 and beyond seems like a very fraudulent place. The rise of the vigilante in film and its predecessors in comic books allow for an outward venting of anger and frustration towards the wider world.
Despite the irresponsibility towards violence in some of films mentioned above, what emerges as in interesting thread with all the films is a desire to fight corruption, and right wrongs that have been inflicted on the individual. This is an interesting idea, because it is so out of step with the normality of the real world. Late capitalism has in some way or another affected us or someone close to us. We are aware of the high level of financial corruption, double dealing, and the culture of fraud that is awash within financial sectors the world over. We have the knowledge that massive corporations lie to get what they want, steal from those they regard as inferior or those they exploit, and withhold resources from the exploited. We know that governments use ever evasive technology to spy on us, intercept emails, record phone conversations, watch our every move, and continually squeeze our personal freedoms. The media constantly feeds us false leads, showers us with inane and distracting celebrity gossip, and consistently uses its power to enact a regime of influence and propaganda. Collectively we have made our voices of discontent heard, though movements, protests, and petitions, yet no absolute change has been forthcoming from the institutions that have rendered our world grossly imbalanced. The lone superhero offers us a reprieve, an icon of justice and caring: an Individual who is willing to face down corruption from any angle, and fight for the common man.
Yet, when we leave the cinema or turn off the DVD player, in which we have just witnessed Kick-ass deliver a mighty bazooka blast to the bad guy, or heard Super’s Crimson Bolt scream towards his nemesis “…You don’t profit off the misery of others! The rules were set a long time ago! They don’t change!” we return back to a world that is still in the later stages of corrosion and misery. However, there is still hope, the real-life superheroes documented in Michael Barnett’s film, who walk the dangerous city streets and promote awareness of personal safety, whilst the city police avoid it, who give food and clothing to the poor and homeless, when the funding for such vital institutions is cut by government spending reviews, who organize community events, when the idea of community and togetherness has all but evaporated, these people should be applauded for the bravery and raised to the statue of real life hero for acting out and acting against the monotony and corruption of modern life. The media will paint them as kooks, drunks, psychos, and trouble-makers, who stand in the way, and make a mockery of real justice dealt out in often savage terms by law enforcement officers. But, to those who are lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of their generosity and their compassion will know different. It might seem like a giant evolutionary leap, but the idea of a superhero has been ingrained with our culture for nearly a century, we have all imagined the possibility of having powers, or the intuition, and using it for the good of all mankind. Yet we all have within us the greatest of superpowers, the powers of compassion, generosity and love. We have been told that we can’t have a world that is ruled by these natural instincts; that our world must be dominated by greed, conflict, war, and injustice in order to be stable. As citizens, we don’t need to don a mask or costume, or create a persona to be superheroes, we don’t need to partake in acts of extreme heroism, but we need to begin living in a way that defines a moral superiority to unfettered capitalism, greed, and what we are told we must want to strive towards through advertisements and media manipulation. As individuals we can enact small change, but determination towards individuality is the key to executing a world we all desire.