Halloween has been and gone, we’ve had Bonfire Night and now we’re surrounded by poppies on everyone’s jackets for Remembrance Day. There’s a lot happening in the end of October and start of November; but it’s actually a great time to stop and celebrate the good guys. Halloween may be dominated by ghosts, goblins and ghouls but thanks to Marvel dominating the box offices, there’s a massive contingent of children globally who use the day as a reason to dress up as their favourite hero. After all, who doesn’t want to be Wonder Woman or Captain America? And obviously Remembrance Sunday is a day dedicated to the outstanding men and women who serve our country and who gave their lives to protect our freedom. Throughout this fortnight it’s an opportunity for us all to reflect on why we need superheroes for our children and young people to look up to.
Technically a superhero is usually defined as “a character in a film or story who has special strength and uses it to do good things and help other people”, but we’re looking at the more general approach to a superhero (“someone who has done something very brave to help someone else”). Whether it’s a character or an actual person, it’s so important for us to recognise the different types of superheroes who can inspire our young people and emotionally support them through difficult times.
But why is it important that we recognise these symbols of goodness? What is the value in teaching future generations to pay homage to superheroes, both fictional and real?
The answer is actually quite simple. Hope. In the modern world, it’s easier than ever to become cynical about what life has to offer. Technology brings bad news into our homes every second and allows predators of children and young people to hide behind anonymous screen names or IP addresses. It’s so simple to read yet another story about a disabled child who has been bullied or an exploited young person and feel like there is no good left in society. So, we need symbols of hope. We need to be able to point to someone – either at a military parade or in a comic book – and show our kids that bad situations and people are not everywhere. There should be a large celebration of what is good across the news, to balance out against the tales of woe and strife.
It may seem quite trivial, to think that a character on a TV show, in a film or in a graphic novel can help children in disadvantaged situations; but escapism is a powerful thing. That’s why we hear stories of children’s wards in hospitals celebrating when superheroes come to visit. A child’s perspective on the world means that to them, Superman or Spiderman could be real. There could be these beacons of light for them to turn to during dark times. Being able to hold onto the idea of superhuman strength and courage that they could channel during treatment for an illness or when confronting a bully, is a brilliant way to motivate children to believe in what is good. If a child has hope, then they will understand that difficult situations are not the norm and can be overcome. Superheroes can help children inhabit a world where an everyday reporter like Clark Kent can achieve the impossible or you can have secret powers like Jean Grey to help you defeat the villains.
It’s not just the fictional superheroes that we should celebrate though, as some disadvantaged children and young people have lost their childhood wonder and need more tangible symbols of hope. If a young person is feeling trapped and hopeless because of abuse, poverty, illness or bullying; then everyday superheroes are just as valuable. These could be members of the army, navy or air force who may have experienced similar circumstances, or simply just represent a real victory of good over evil. Remembrance Day every year is a time when we donate for a token poppy on our lapel, but more than that, it allows us to remember that during the two World Wars, we made sure the side of good triumphed. It can show young people who are being manipulated and exploited that their predators do not have to win because evil does not win. Additionally, causes like the Invictus Games represent how life does not end because of an injury or disability. Real people can become superheroes in the way they inspire young people going through similar situations to strive for greatness and succeed.
It’s not going to solve all the world’s problems, but inspiring hope is as good a place as any to start. Let’s celebrate the characters our children love and show them how the good guys win. Let’s campaign for more prominence to be give in the news to stories of real heroic people, to inspire people that difficult times will get better. Superheroes in films, books and tv aren’t real, this much is true. But why not encourage our children to aspire to be just like The Flash, Thor or Captain Marvel? These characters stand for truth and justice just like our actual military, which seem like pretty good morals to instil in a young person who may be doubting in the good of the world.