Friday, August 20, 2010

Researchers Say Superheroes Are Too Violent

Hmmm . . . . Maybe true, but I'm not going along with the "close ties to mothers" solutions. What about fathers as good masculine role models?

And whatever happened to Superman as a role model? Or Spiderman? I know that the trend in comics has been to make superheroes more human, but I grew up with the older versions of these guys - hell, even Captain America - and they represented good values as far as truth and integrity are concerned.

On the other hand, the whole "hero" thing doesn't really work for me as a healthy role model, anyway - it's not a mature form of masculinity in my opinion. Most heroes tend to be two-dimensional at best, whether they are Greek heroes such as Hercules or Odysseus, or modern superheroes such as Batman or Superman.

I can't think of a single superhero who owns his identity as both man and hero. Failing to do so amounts to an immature, bifurcated self. This is neither healthy as a form of masculinity nor as a role model. But there's more . . .

In Death of a Hero, Birth of the Soul: Answering the Call of Midlife by John C. Robinson, the author asserts that the hero myth, and the hero archetype upon which all superheroes are based, is an adolescent myth - his perspective is Jungian, so I am sure he has generated some consternation among his peers, despite their endorsements of his book.

According to Robinson, the hero energy gets boys into adulthood, into a world full of challenges - leaving home, finding a job, "winning" a partner, raising kids, being successful in career - all of which focuses the boy/man, as often as not, on himself, not on those around him. At midlife, many men wake up to the myopic life they have been living so far and wonder if this is all there they get from life.

Superheroes have this same singular focus on being heroes, so Lois and Clark never really get together, nor do most other superheroes. Maturity brings a concern for true connection to others, not simply acting on their behalves, but actually connecting with them as human beings, and being vulnerable with them about his own life.

I have never seen a superhero who is truly human, who is open about his identity, who is compassionate in ways other than saving lives, who is vulnerable and reveals weaknesses that are not simply dark (as in The Dark Knight) but fully human.

These are the heroes we need.

OK. I am done preaching.

Superheroes: Bad Role Models for Boys?

Researchers Say Superheroes Are Too Violent, but Close Ties to Mothers, Friends Can Help Boys Shun Negative Stereotypes

By Kathleen Doheny

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD


Aug. 16, 2010 (San Diego) -- Today's media superheroes -- including Batman in The Dark Knight and the Hulk in Planet Hulk -- as well as the ''slacker'' characters often portrayed in TV shows and movies offer boys poor role models, says a University of Massachusetts professor who polled hundreds of boys up to age 18 to find out their favorites.

The poll results suggest boys hear two ways to be masculine, says researcher Sharon Lamb, EdD, distinguished professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, who presented the findings Sunday at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in San Diego.

"One was the superhero image, created as someone who shows their masculinity through power over other people, through exploiting women, showing their wealth, and through sarcasm and superiority," she says.

The other is the slacker, ''the pot-smoking smelly guy who hates school," she says.

Today's superheroes, she says, are a step down from those in earlier days. Today's superheroes, she says, ''use social justice as an excuse for aggression."

But there's a way resist these ''macho'' images, another researcher reported at the same meeting.

Superheroes: The Study

Lamb's team polled 674 boys, aged 4 to 18, asking what they were reading, watching on television and at the movies, and what they were reading in comic books.

She watched the movies and shows and looked at the comic books deemed popular, evaluating popular superheroes, such as Batman, Ironman, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four, a group of astronauts who gain super powers after radiation exposure.

After finding them aggressive and otherwise undesirable, she noticed that the other extreme in movies and other materials popular with boys was the ''slacker," says Lamb, who co-wrote Packaging Boyhood: Saving our Sons From Super Heroes, Slackers and Other Media Stereotypes.

She also found a theme of boys hanging out to drink together appearing in media deemed by rating systems to be appropriate for viewing by pre-teens. The message here, she says, is ''that the way boys bond with each other is binge drinking or partying."

The theme sometimes appears in animated fare, too, she found. In Open Season, for instance, animals get drunk on sugar and trash a store, she says.

Resisting Superheroes and Slackers: What Works?

In another study, also presented Sunday, developmental psychologist Carlos Santos, PhD, an assistant research professor at Arizona State University, Tempe, reported that boys who resist these images seem better adjusted.

In his research, he followed 426 middle school boys from six public schools in New York. The boys came from diverse backgrounds, he tells WebMD, allowing him to look at whether ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or immigrant status factored into whether boys adopted the macho superhero image.

He asked the boys, surveyed annually in the spring of sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, to describe the quality of their relationships with their mother, father, closest sibling, and their friends.

He evaluated whether the boys could resist following the ''macho" stereotype to be tough, detached from friends, and emotionally unavailable.

"Boys were acting resistant to stereotypes early in the study," he says. "Over time, there was a decline."

Santos found little difference between the groups, which included African-Americans, whites, Latinos, Asians, and others.

Boys who resisted stereotypes and were less aggressive and more emotionally available remained close to mothers, siblings, and peers, he found.

Closeness to dads didn't help them resist, however. "I didn't find the same pattern with dads," he tells WebMD. Boys who said they had high levels of paternal support tended to be less emotionally available to friends.

Why? "It could be that dads see being close to their son as an opportunity to reinforce traditional gender roles," Santos speculates. "Or it could be that boys perceive their dad's closeness as a call to fulfill traditional gender roles."

Santos isn't discouraging fathers from staying involved with their sons, of course. A father might share with a son, for instance, how being expressive does not make them less of a man, he says.

Keeping Superheroes and Slackers at Bay

What can parents do to be sure their sons see other images besides the two extremes?

Realize not every movie labeled PG-13 is OK for children, Lamb suggests.

Pointing out the stereotypes can help, she says. "You can teach kids what stereotypes are and how to resist them and remind them what real people and real kids like to do."

Point out good role models within the family and community, she says. Then kids can differentiate media images from real images.

Managing Superheroes: Second Opinion

Watching superheroes who don't portray a good role model does affect boys as well as girls, says Karen Dill, PhD, director of the media psychology doctoral program at the Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Fielding is the author of How Fantasy Becomes Reality and has researched the evolution of female superheroes in the media and how some of them are now sending less than ideal messages to girls.

"I agree with the authors [of the new studies] that the way a social group is portrayed in media affects both public perception of the group itself and affects the members of the group and their self-images," Dill tells WebMD.

Resisting the media choices of superheroes, Dill tells WebMD, is difficult."We can't underestimate that media, which take up the great majority of kids' and teens' free time, are our storytellers," she says. "The stories they tell make up much of our shared cultural ideals and therefore shape how boys and girls feel about themselves and their peers."

Input From the American Academy of Pediatrics

Violence in the media has ''a clear effect on the behavior of children and contributes to the frequency with which violence is used to resolve conflict," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

On its web site, the group reminds parents that ''the primary goal of commercial children's television is to sell products -- from toys to food -- to children."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The thing is with superheroes is that they are fantasy and are not meant to be realistic,we don't want real personalities, becuase we live IN the real world where all personalities are real, and we want something unreal to escape the monotony of reality.

And we don't want role models becuase they are boring, unnachievable ideals.

What this article said is good, we should not destroy the whole point of superheroes by making them either realistic or role models, we should educate our kids to make themrealist they are not realistic or role models.