Today, my mother asked me if I was in love. Answering would have been a good opportunity to tell her, if it were the case, about the boy I had just met. Unfortunately, my only answer could be “no, I’m not,” because the real reason for my sudden insecurity about my purpose in life and questioning my goals is actually too embarrassing to admit to her. Clearly, though, the world wide web seems like the appropriate forum…
Basically, I’ve proven once again that I am only a mere mortal and not immune to the prospects of binge-watching a show on Netflix. This happened despite my ego watching over my shoulder, telling me that I will indeed regret waking up three hours later, having to function as a normal, rational being whose mind is not filled with images of awesome fight choreography and strategic plans (those must be formulated while the hero is doing laundry or cooking eggs, because I can’t imagine he has much time otherwise). I think my ego has too much fun watching the show himself to be much help in these matters.
I have discovered that I am obsessed with heroes. The first hero I can remember admiring was Han Solo, because after he undergoes torture and melting out of his frozen state, he continues as handsome and charming as ever, even if he spends a short while being blind. Then, my next real obsession came with Ralph Fienne’s character in The Constant Gardener, for a different kind of heroism. High school and the revamping of the Superman franchise made me wonder how a hero can continue being a hero even if there’s no one there to help him carry out the task he laid upon himself (i.e. taking a huge mass of maliciously self-multiplying rock-land and creating a meteorite for, assuredly an Earth in a parallel universe), the task nearly kills him and still he goes on, and then came Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil.
A few things hit me in-between, for example, Sherlock as embodied by Benedict Cumberbatch… the first character I bought a t-shirt celebrating, and of course Frodo, Sam and Aragorn in the books and movies, but it’s Daredevil, embodied by the actor Charlie Cox, who made my mom ask if I am in love. Is it possible to have a crush on a fictional character? Well, duh… But I think the problem is more that these men (mostly men, because even Jessica Jones hasn’t convinced me of a woman’s power in doing this*…) embody traits that I would like to see in myself. But then, reality sets in that it’s fiction and not the reality of the life I lead, and that fact depresses me more than anything after watching any hero show. There’s enough research out there about how superhero movies (and movies in general) act like a drug- one is high (watching episode after episode, because Netflix so conveniently has a continuous play-mode) and then stone-cold sober (like at 6 AM) a short period of time later. I don’t pretend that I can add to this body of research.
However, since there’s no point in hoping for Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock to come walking through the door, asking me to be his sidekick (being a girlfriend would come in as close second), I have to think about some of the positive benefits of having this show, this role model, and others like it, in my life. After that, I have to move on.
Until I went through the thought-process that made me write this post, one of my main concerns about my obsession was that it could be entirely unhealthy. Basically, I recognized that a character (with a strong sense of justice and moral code) needs to get in some dire straits (preferably life-threatening) for him or her to be interesting to me. Usually there is some pain involved with lingering shots of the hero’s body presenting a canvas of the pain that is inflicted on him or her.
I suppose the reasons for this should be obvious. I recognize that what I admire is not the hero in pain (that would be rather sadistic, right?) but his/her ability to recover from it and bravely face the next source of pain. Rather, s/he returns “as strong as ever,” perhaps with even more resolution. The bravery is enhanced by the fact that the hero has experienced a taste of the consequences, and is willing to risk those again to carry out the task. He or she returns as confident and life-defying as ever.
As someone (again, remember I am a mere mortal) who faces insecurity and doubt every single day, from what I wear to the way I respond to teachers or students in the classroom, to the things I write online, I, and likely all the other mortals like me, appreciate the reminder that it is commendable to be at the bottom of our mental and/or physical strength, take the time to recover, and then enter the foray again despite the risk that we end up in the same state or worse.
Yet the tasks presented to me and most** of my species are not as life-threatening and the powers we have are equally admirable as supersonic senses, flight, super strength, et al, but not as cool. This (and read carefully, because this is where my “questioning my purpose in life” comes in) is what depresses me. They say that most people are ordinary, and that the extraordinary things they do make them heroic; I know this. However, I also want to be fighting for good everyday, not just when the opportunity presents itself. Unlike the thousands of professions where people actually make a positive difference in someone’s life at the risk of their own: fire fighter, police officer, soldier, freedom fighter/pacifist, to mention a few, I don’t think I’m pursuing a heroic line of work. However, if one considers the positive things doctors, psychologists, lawyers, do at the expense of their time, physical energy, and emotional energies like compassion, then the options for being a hero are a much longer list. This list includes research and teaching.
An admitted oversimplification of the work of research would be that it provides us with the theories to explain the phenomena in our inner and outer lives and, where necessary, provides us with cures to continue living; teaching these theories allows those who master them to find even more knowledge. Both are done at the expense of time, energy, risk of fulfilling personal needs, and hence, both are meritorious.
That last statement is both self-serving and open for debate, though (as per self-serving aspect) I’m inclined to agree. These guys do too.
Still, the bottom line should remain that our powers, our talents, can all be empowering with identification and training, and they can help dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people. Does it help to reflect on this from time to time? Especially in moments of doubt when we think we’re not doing enough (wait, is that just me)? Most definitely. It’s useful to remember that the phase after the nearly-dying part in most super-hero movies (if it’s worth it’s salt in box-office collections) features some sort of reflection or considerations of the work s/he is doing.
This reflecting part just happened for me for the third time in these past six months since I finished my Masters and returned from Germany, so I guess it’s symptomatic of my anxiety as I wait for the next phase of my life to begin with news of my PhD applications. Thankfully though, there’s no near-dying involved and I guess I’m doing some good in this world in the meantime, even if there’s no bad-guy versus good-guy involved. I think I should do less binge-watching though… that lack of sleep is probably affecting my mood more than anything.
If you’ve actually read through this, thanks for reading! I debated putting it online, and if it’s been interesting, I’m glad I posted.
*I’m actually a fan of women superheroes… just not the ones that I’ve come across so far. A quick search tells me though, that I should look into Buffy, the Vampire Slayer to help fix this problem… and I’m partial to Katniss Everdeen as well, so I guess I just have to look harder outside of the Marvel/DC comics to find my fix. I’m also impressed at the caliber of some of the women in the comic industry. Maybe there’s another calling for me after I’ve filled my commitment (at least for the next three years) to academia.
Part of my difficulty with Jessica Jones has to do with another aspect altogether, the fact that it’s too close to reality, as Dave Gonzales at geek.com points out. “Jessica Jones has relateable stakes” and “[v]iewers aren’t likely to know the scientist who invents shrinking or live to see a sentient robot lift a European city out of the ground, they’re not going to box their way to a crime boss to save their city or meet an alien claiming to be a norse god — but they know someone who has suffered from some form of abuse. That makes Jessica Jones not only relatable, but maybe the first Marvel Cinematic Universe entry that actually has something to say about the real world.”
Thanks, Mr. Gonzales. Maybe I like my escapis pastimes to be such without making me think too much about how actual lives are affected by similar things to what I see on screen… but then again, being a philosophical mouse man, I doubt such a thing exists for me anyway. So, I guess I’ll continue watching JJ. At least I’m not tempted to binge-watch.
** I am hyper-aware that there are thousands of people who risk their lives, freedoms, and security for what they believe is right. I support them in thought and prayer. And, should the opportunity present itself, in action. Just putting that out there