I’m going to give you a list of names and you tell me who the odd one out is: Jessica Jones, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Tony Stark, Thor, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, and Donald Trump.
Did you get it?
Exactly. It’s Steve Rogers, because you don’t recognize his name, you only know him as Captain America.
America loves Marvel movies. I didn’t need to include those 4 links, either, to prove my point, because you love them too. And of course you do. And of course I do too. Because they were literally made for us.
Compare the Marvel cinematic universe to DC – hold on, let’s not just let it slip by that the phrase “Marvel cinematic universe” has suddenly entered our lives, and let’s certainly not start abbreviating it MCU because that would imply something about our amygdalae – okay. DC superheroes tend to be all-powerful with a single weakness. Superman has kryptonite. Batman has the fact that he refuses to kill the Joker. Wonder Woman has commoditized feminism and unavoidable fetishization. Marvel superheroes on the other hand tend to be mostly flawed with a single redeeming power: Tony Stark is an alcoholic with a giant brain, Peter Parker is a nerdy kid with, as far as I understand it, tiny little hairs on his fingers that act like spider legs, and Jessica Jones is an emotionally distant and impulsive recoveree but at least she gets to be portrayed by Kristen Ritter.
With my Psych 101 abilities (I never took Psych 101) it seems obvious enough to reason that we prefer the flawed characters because they remind us more of ourselves. It’s a lot easier to relate to Peter Parker and his problems: socially awkward wisecrack is too sweaty to ask out his crush, than it is to relate to Superman’s: alien who can do literally anything does just that. Therefore, you might say that superhero movies empower us because they are depictions of people just like us except with powers.
In Psych 102 you would have realized your mistake. Because in fact, if you were in the MCU you wouldn’t be one of the Avengers, and you wouldn’t even be one of the Defenders, (who I’m sure you’ll find are just everyday people trying to solve everyday problems and not being famous, making them way more relatable, get it?) because Marvel made sure to include in their universe one last group known as the Crowd. The Crowd of people watching the news at the bar. The Crowd of people cleaning up the debris under Avengers Tower. The Crowd of people huddled in the corner while the Hulk throws a tank at a larger tank. And the Crowd of people turning their backs on Spiderman like he’s Spiderman The Musical all because they trust the Daily Bugle and they’re secretly always looking for a masked menace to blame for their problems.
Marvel movies aren’t depictions of people with powers, they’re depictions of people with power. The power to change policy, the power to save the world, and the power to be so influential in doing it that the world begins to show their reflections and exactly how powerful and influential they are by making action figures and recognizing them on the street as “that powered chick.”
And because of that, they’re also an excuse to not have power. Because if only you had super strength or spider hair you would have affected the world today, definitely. Because the difference between you and the people with power is that something happened to them and gave them power.
No that’s not passive voice, and yes this is bad writing.
Notice the lack of agency in superhero origin stories. Jessica Jones and Captain America were experimented on. Peter Parker was bitten, Matt Murdock was trained, Tony Stark was kidnapped, Thor was born with it, and Bruce Banner was exposed to radiation. You know what they call someone who seeks out power in the MCU?
Power is the ability to do work over time. Work is the conversion between potential and kinetic energy, i.e. the process of affecting change. I know it’s hard but do the math (if you understand the concepts it’s basically all plug and chug anyway).
Donald Trump is a bad person because you disagree with his policies. But the thing that makes you hate him is that combined with the fact that he has the power to enact those policies. So you strip him of his agency by insisting that he was born with it, or he’s just a Russian puppet, or a DNC puppet. Fine, maybe that stuff’s true, but do you think you heard about it because it’s true, or because that’s the story the market knew would appeal to you? To help answer this question, consider all the other true facts you don’t know because the market knew they wouldn’t appeal to you.
Here’s a man who has been running for president since 1987; you can’t say he hasn’t been trying because the record sees him trying for 30 years. You are part of the real life Crowd and Donald Trump is a real life superhero. You have the power to make jokes about his shitty tweets and spaghetti squash hair and he has the power to actually change things. And that makes you furious.
And your fury makes you watch more Marvel movies.
Because if you had power you wouldn’t spend your time dicking around on twitter. You’d be out there saving the world.
If you only had the power.