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  • I have a pretty serious confession to make.

  • I don’t like Superman.

  • Before you destroy me in the comments, I know this is an unpopular opinion, but the Man

  • of Steel has just never resonated with me.

  • The problem for me has always been that he is too strong.

  • I mean, one of his primary powers is invulnerability.

  • Talk about a tension killer.

  • The conflict is never if Superman will save the day, only how.

  • This apparent infallibility extends to his personality as well.

  • He is a character utterly without flaws.

  • The biggest strike against him is that he’s too compassionate, and this can sometimes

  • land him in trouble.

  • That’s the answer you give when youre asked in a job interview what your biggest

  • weakness is.

  • It’s not really a weakness.

  • This relentlessly upright persona and general do-goodery make Superman feel distant.

  • His character is, pardon the pun, completely alien to my own experience.

  • And, if I’m being honest, it’s not all that interesting.

  • To me, Superman is boring.

  • I prefer my heroes to be messier.

  • Characters like Batman, Wolverine and Deadpool feel so much more human.

  • Theyre flawed, they make mistakes and sometimes they do bad things for the wrong reasons.

  • And I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way.

  • Over the last two decades, antiheroes have become increasingly popular.

  • In fact, the top three highest-grossing R-rated films of all time are 2019’s Joker followed

  • by both Deadpool movies.

  • But why is this?

  • Why have so many of us turned our backs on characters like Superman and Captain America?

  • To understand that, we first need to figure out what exactly an antihero is.

  • Unfortunately, as it turns out, this is easier said than done.

  • We all know an antihero when we see one.

  • Theyre dark, gritty, usually a bit reckless and make questionable life decisions.

  • However, the term itself is difficult to define.

  • Antiheroes as we know them today are a relatively new concept, and the parameters are fuzzy

  • at best.

  • At its most basic level, the antihero is a subversion of the hero trope.

  • They are whatever a hero is not.

  • In a technical sense, this means giving them characteristics normally reserved for an antagonist.

  • They might drink and curse, have an abrasive personality or rail against authority.

  • The problem with this description, though, is that its negatively defined meaning is

  • rooted solely in its opposition to something else.

  • This doesn’t tell us what an antihero is, merely what it is not.

  • This is further complicated by the fact that what characteristics constitute a “hero

  • vary over time and between cultures.

  • Heroes in the truest sense are meant to represent the ideals of a society.

  • They stand as living personifications of the values that citizens should strive to emulate.

  • However, these ideals and values naturally evolve alongside the beliefs and needs of

  • the population.

  • This applies to antiheroes as well.

  • Traits seen as un-, or anti-, heroic change based on the cultural context.

  • In 1962, Canadian missionary Don Richardson traveled to Western New Guinea in Indonesia

  • to try and convert members of the indigenous Sawi tribe to Christianity.

  • He encountered some trouble though when his potential congregation identified Judas Iscariot,

  • not Jesus Christ, as the hero of the story.

  • It turned out that the Sawi people placed a higher value on trickery and deception than

  • sacrifice.

  • They saw Jesus as little more than an unwitting sucker who had been duped by the true hero

  • of the narrative.

  • A better way then of defining heroes and antiheroes might be by judging them based on their moral

  • consistency.

  • Heroes by their nature are morally consistent.

  • They have a strict set of dedicated principles they follow that guide their actions.

  • Antiheroes on the other hand are morally ambiguous.

  • They operate in gray areas and are more fluid in their decision-making.

  • This ambiguity can manifest either in the antihero’s own personal ethics or in the

  • way that they are perceived by society.

  • Not every antihero needs to be an edgy, homicidal maniac cracking one-liners as they shish kabobs

  • bad guys with katanas.

  • In fact, the classic antihero archetype looks a lot less like Deadpool and more like your

  • friendly neighborhood Spider-man.

  • I know what youre thinking: “Spider-man’s not an antihero.”

  • But even by the traditional definition, he kind of is.

  • When Peter Parker is first bitten by a radioactive spider and gifted with superhuman abilities,

  • he doesn’t want to become the savior of New York.

  • He’s insecure, anxious and wavers in his convictions, even allowing a criminal to escape

  • as an act of revenge against a boxing organizer who cheated him out of his winnings.

  • Over the course of his career, Peter quits multiple times, always questioning whether

  • or not he’s capable of overcoming the challenges given to him and living up to his responsibilities.

  • None of these are qualities that we normally associate with heroes.

  • Peter is inconsistent, and our perception of him doesn’t align with the image that

  • we have built up in our heads.

  • On the other end of the spectrum, there are anti-heroes like Wade Winston Wilson’s alter-ego

  • Deadpool, who we normally associate more with the term.

  • These are heroes who do the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the

  • right reason.

  • Deadpool is firmly in this camp.

  • Particularly in the comics, he is a mercenary first concerned solely with how any given

  • situation benefits him.

  • Even in the films, his story begins as a revenge trip.

  • Yes, his objective is to take down a cartel of human-traffickers manufacturing and selling

  • mutants into slavery, but he’s doing this only as retribution for his own disfigurement.

  • His motivation isn’t to break up the smuggling ring or free the captives, he just wants to

  • fix his face.

  • To say that Deadpool’s morals are loose is generous.

  • He is entirely self-interested, recklessly individualistic, and more than a little murder-happy.

  • If he ends up saving the day, it’s typically just an unintended byproduct of his actual

  • goals.

  • The key takeaway from this is that antiheroes are hard to pin down when it comes to assigning

  • moral judgments, either because their own ethical code is so nebulous, or because we

  • as a society have difficulty reconciling their personal traits with our own expectations

  • of what a hero should be.

  • So why do we like these characters so much?

  • Why are we attracted to moral ambiguity?

  • Perhaps it’s because we find it reflective of our own experiences.

  • Very few of us live in a world of simple black-and-white morality.

  • We recognize that life is more complex than good versus evil or right versus wrong, hero

  • versus villain.

  • People are complicated.

  • Our decisions are nuanced and subject to interpretation.

  • No one is purely a villain or even a hero for that matter.

  • And yet, our culture is dominated by institutions built on the foundation of moral absolutism.

  • This philosophy maintains that human action is inherently right or wrong regardless of

  • intention or consequence.

  • The justification for this is a belief in an all-encompassing and objective morality.

  • Every individual’s behavior is judged according to this standard and determined to be moral

  • based on how closely they conform.

  • Political and religious institutions are the clearest example of this.

  • They create extensive sets of laws and regulations by appealing to the authority of a higher

  • power, whether that power is a divine being or a constitution.

  • The benefit is that this creates consistent standards which can be broadly and reliably

  • applied to any situation.

  • This helps maintain societal order while safeguarding institutional power.

  • However, when these laws are violated, it necessitates punishment regardless of individual

  • circumstances.

  • Take, for example, a man who steals medicine in order to care for his sick child.

  • Although his motivation is pure and the act itself noble, theft is still illegal.

  • If he’s caught, he faces imprisonment, if not worse depending on who’s in charge.

  • While creating a reliable and predictable framework by which behaviors can be evaluated,

  • the problem with moral absolutism is that it’s inflexible and doesn’t allow for

  • subjective interpretation.

  • Instead, it promotes the idea that there is an objective morality by which every act can

  • be judged.

  • In becoming symbols of societal ideals, traditional heroes serve as the physical embodiment of

  • these absolutist systems.

  • More than that, they act as enforcers, ready to use violence in order to combat perceived

  • evils and protect the established moral order.

  • This is why I don’t like Superman.

  • Ironically enough, the Man of Tomorrow is a champion of the status quo.

  • He, Captain America, and others like them defend social and political structures as

  • they already exist, regardless of their flaws.

  • To his credit, I don’t think Superman would punish someone for stealing medicine for their

  • sick child, but he definitely will protect the systems that originally put that person

  • in that position.

  • By intention, moral absolutism creates a societal binary.

  • There are those who conform and those who do not.

  • Antiheroes are part of this second group.

  • Their innate moral ambiguity naturally places them in opposition to mainstream culture,

  • landing them in the realm ofthe outsider”.

  • These individuals find themselves shunned or even outcast due to character flaws or

  • other traits seen as deviant.

  • It’s not surprising then that most antiheroes come from marginalized backgrounds.

  • Deadpool is widely considered to be pansexual.

  • Wolverine suffers from PTSD and alcoholism.

  • Spider-man comes from a poor family and was a nerd before being a nerd was cool.

  • These characteristics place the antihero in direct conflict with normative culture, forcing

  • them to make a choice: either conform or face the consequences.

  • Because of this, antiheroes often find themselves battling for the right simply to exist as

  • they are.

  • This in turn leads them to seek wider societal change.

  • Whereas regular heroes are inherently change-resistant, willing to violently uphold moral norms and

  • standards, antiheroes by their very existence demand change.

  • They function as living rebuttals to the predominant philosophy created by institutional authorities.

  • This is a convention that actually began not with superheroes, but with cowboys.

  • In the 1960s and ‘70s, a new type of Western called thepost-Westernbegan capturing

  • the attention of global audiences.

  • These movies featured morally ambiguous protagonists who were largely distrustful of existing institutions