Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Superhero Standard

Politicians like to imagine themselves as lone crusaders fighting against injustice and evil, and frame themselves as defenders of the "American People" and "the American Way of Life." In so many words, they are assuming the mantle of a superhero. Since politicians are wont to describe themselves in terms of superheroes, I think it is time to explore the full implications of their appropriation of popular culture.

So what is a superhero? In the comics and the movies, superheroes aren't simply beings with super-powers; they have a code of conduct that defines their person and sanctifies their mission. Here are two components of a superhero's makeup:
  • a strong moral code, including a willingness to risk one's own safety in the service of good without expectation of reward
  • a motivation, such as a sense of responsibility, a formal calling... or a strong belief in justice and humanitarian service
Emphasis mine. That's a pretty good start, and could be distilled into "service to humanity without reward." But I feel that there is more to it than this, and upon reflection, it occurs to me that the moral code and motivations of superheroes have their roots in chivalry. Below are some highlights from the chivalric code as recorded in Song of Roland, now almost a thousand years old:
  • To protect the weak and defenseless 
  • To give succor to widows and orphans 
  • To refrain from the wanton giving of offense 
  • To despise pecuniary reward 
  • To fight for the welfare of all 
  • To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit 
  • At all times to speak the truth 
Wow, now those are some standards! One can draw a pretty straight line from this list to the superhero's code. I think the world would be a better place if more politicians put the moral code and motivations of super-heroism into practice, rather than simply co-opting the imagery as a cheap rhetorical device.

So how does your favorite politician live up to the Superhero Standard?

No comments: