Everyday superheroes bring hopeful message

In the darkest hours in comic books, a superhero typically comes to save the day during an impossible situation. But what about in real life?

To answer this question, a league of everyday do-gooders has assembled as the Real Life Superheroes RLSH. This is a collection of around 500 people who don costumes and perform various humanitarian acts: handing out food to the homeless, taking graveyard shift patrols of the streets and painting over swastika graffiti. But this group is not a community of “Kick-Ass” wannabes – they are citizens from all walks of life who are focused on improving the community while forgoing any credit for their actions.

One group member explained their motives in the Star Tribune. “If you’re doing it for the credit, you’re not doing it for the right reason,” he said. “I call myself Geist because I want to be like a ghost. I want to go in, do what needs to be done and then get out. I don’t want to hang around for a pat on the back.”

With the revival of both Marvel and DC comics in recent cinematic productions, American culture seems to be rejuvenating its interest in superheroes. This brings up the question: where does our fascination with superheroes come from?

Primarily, superheroes are crafted as models of who we want to be. Superman is the paragon of good. Captain America is the amplification of virtue. And yes, there are heroes like Iron Man, who simply enjoy reveling in their strokes of genius, but even they have redeeming qualities.

Superheroes also each have a weakness that makes them fallible and more relatable to the average citizen. In both vulnerability and strength, we hold them as an ideal standard.

Furthermore, their powers attract our imagination. Not only are these powers considered “cool” due to their science fiction-based technology, but they are also attractive because they allow one to save the world. Many children dress up as their favorite superhero for Halloween because the costume allows them to be the person they look up to, imagine having superpowers they have never known and pretend to do something beyond their wildest dreams.

Most importantly, superheroes can be depended upon in times of despair and confusion. You would not call on Batman because you cannot open a jar of pasta sauce. You would call on him because Gotham has no other hope of survival from the clutches of a villain.

But take off your gamma-ray goggles for a second and review that list. There is one unifying theme here: hope.

We hope to be like superheroes in our actions and in our successes. We hope for the ability to make a difference. We hope for there to be a source of pure good in this world to overpower the darkness portrayed in the media. So maybe the true definition of a superhero is someone who gives us hope. And if that is true, why shouldn’t these men and women of RLSH be considered superheroes?

Geist, the aforementioned member, was inspired to create his dual identity after the 9/11 attacks. “There had to be a polar opposite to that evil. There had to be a positive response,” Geist said.

The selfless acts of these modern-day superheroes reflect a newer code of conduct which states that anyone can be a hero. If nothing else, that is far more inspiring than a fictional figure with super speed.

As far as superpowers go, RLSH members may not have invisibility powers, super strength or the ability to shoot out spiderwebs – they would be the first to admit that. However, their power is stronger than any scientific creation because they hope for and believe in a better tomorrow.

Also, RLSH members’ costumes function as part of their “de-escalation” tactics, catching aggressors off-guard and allowing the masked heroes to soothe them into negotiation rather than violence. It is certainly a different tactic than those typically displayed in comic books, but it is effective.

I think that the members of RLSH should be commended for their work toward improving public safety. Unlike other vigilantes, they know their limits and will call the police if circumstances turn dire. Their mission is an admirable and sound one.

Julie Pilkington ’17 pilkingt@stolaf.edu is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English and theater.

Image by Emma Johnson