We have always been fascinated by superheroes and constantly influenced by their stories. But have we ever thought, why?
Long before Spider-Man: No Way Home was released, it was one of the hottest topics across fan sites, discussion boards and forums worldwide and a trending hashtag on social media.
For Marvel fans, the prospect of seeing all Spider-Man characters – past and present – together was a dream come true. The movie teasers and trailers only added to the anticipation. And the hype created around the latest Marvel blockbuster is exactly what drives all superhero movies – from the mythological Thor to the futuristic Ironman.
With great power comes great responsibility, Spider-Man would famously say. And the movie’s makers did not disappoint as the new Spiderman movie became the third-largest box office grossers in the world, with a record $700 million collection despite the pandemic.
However, this is not the first record created by a superhero movie. Almost all Marvel and DC movies, such as Avengers: Endgame, Batman, and Superman, have set the cash registers ringing over the years, and in the process, created a fandom that is unlikely to be matched by any other genre.
But what is it with our love for superheroes? Well, there is more to it than just childlike obsession for larger-than-life characters. Here’s why:
Historical process: World War 2
The first comic book titled Action Comics 1 was published in 1938. But it’s the period leading up to that milestone that holds the key to the world’s fascination for superheroes.
The overall prosperity of the 1920s in the US took a severe beating with the stock market crash of October 1929, which was followed by the Great Depression, a period of intense economic hardship that crippled Americans. People were left without jobs, their savings depleted, and even forced to sell their homes and ranches. Over one-quarter of the American workforce was out of work.
The economic crises of the 1930s were worldwide in scope as the US capitalist bubble burst, leading the country to take a more politically self-isolated stance and follow protectionist economic policy. The US crisis affected political instability in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, while people lost trust in liberal ideology.
This fueled the rise of dictatorial and fascist regimes such as Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy. Over the next few years, Europe lay crushed beneath the Nazi jackboot and millions of Jews and other people exterminated as Hitler went about creating his Utopia of a pure race. Germany, Italy and Japan’s expansionist moves were creating concern and posing threat to other countries.
In such a depressive period, Superman's emergence as in the first comic book in 1938 was probably a result of society’s desire to find a hero who would take on the evils of the world. The increasing interest in comics and superheroes was significant, particularly considering that WW2 began a year later.
The 1940s and early 1950s turned into a golden age for comic books as other superheroes emerged, each with unique capabilities but with one common agenda—battle all that is bad in society.
From a psychological aspect, superheroes have always been in our lives since childhood.
''They are like someone we grew up with. We know them, we take them as examples and embrace them as if they are family,’’ psychologist Mina Kizilaslan told TRT WORLD.
A study by Kyoto University in Japan also says that humans are tempted by heroes from the early stages of their development.
In a sequence of experimentations, preverbal infants were shown short animations. In the first animation, one figure hunted and bumped into a second. While a third figure monitored happenings from afar. In the other version, the third figure intervenes and stops the crash, and in the other, it runs away without interfering.
After watching the clips, the intervening and non-intervening images of third figures were displayed to infants, and they invariably chose the one who saved the day.
Although the babies were too young to speak, the study's outcomes suggest that they were capable of comprehending the situation and acknowledging the heroism.
In this regard, social psychologists Sophia Moskalenko and Clark Mccauley underline the power of heroism, self-sacrifice and martyrdom. They emphasise that we live for our well-being, our community's well-being.
We have beliefs, intangible social values, and we correlate the worth of those values with how much we are willing to sacrifice or protect them.
In this context, we want to be noticed by everyone for what we strive for, what we put ''above all”. That's why the notions of martyr and heroism and their tales in movies and books pretty much influence us and transform our view of the world and lead us to a particular emotional path. They set crucial examples for us, give us courage, make us feel like we have such a purpose, meaning in our lives.
Hence, we crown superhero stories as legendary because they trigger our strong belief in heroism and self-sacrifice.
Speaking of beliefs... religion?
And the common key inspiration for these stories is religion and prophets. People are influenced by their religions and their prophets' stories. And these stories appear in different shapes and figures in popular culture. Superhero stories are examples in such a sense.
People tend to self-sacrifice or hold on to heroism to pursue meaning in their lives, to gain special rewards, as told by their prophets and religions. Especially people who are traumatised, suffering, desperate, and unhappy are more prone to seek hope, to have meaning to their lives, to be known as heroes and martyrs.
And at the end of the day, these superheroes grab our attention in that sense. By finding ourselves in their story, we realise a hopeful dream in difficult times we live in. They show us what we want to do for things we embrace as immensely valuable. And they reflect our religious beliefs which we always find marvellous through the ''chosen ones''.