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The Rise of the Superhero Movie in a Hero-less Society

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As Seen On:
by Joel Ohman in Movies, Social Commentary
Superheros

The worldwide domination of superhero movies at the box office is impressive, and one of the few almost-can’t-miss genres still available to modern studios desperate for a sure thing in the age of Internet upstarts like NetFlix and Amazon attacking their flanks with billion dollar war chests, and the ever-changing relationship of viewer to screen. But the fact is that audience fatigue still has not appeared to set in, and our desire for superheroes shows no signs of abatement. In fact, as the record-setting success of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War has shown, quite the opposite appears to be true: our clamor for more superheroes has risen to a fever pitch. That this is true even after the immense glut of superhero movies have hit movie screens, maybe says more about our collective social imagination than it does the economics and market dynamics of the movie business.

If box office success is a measure of what we really want, then what does it say about us as a society if this want is almost a craven need for a hero/rescuer/leader that is close to insatiable?

Of course, as a Christian who writes fiction, I’m certainly no stranger to the implications this line of thinking has within the Christian worldview. In short propositional form, it goes like this:

– We are wired for story.

– We desire, deep within ourselves—in that thin space between conscious and subconscious—to find ourselves caught up in a bigger, deeper, grander story.

–  We have a tension inside of us between wanting to be called upon for some great endeavor, and hoping we could be up to the task, but somehow also knowing we are not quite sufficient on our own. In fact, down deeper than any self-help book or motivational koan can penetrate, we know we have something deeply, horribly flawed; we fear we are bad to the core.

– This self-knowledge, whether consciously verbalized or not, prompts us to search for an ultimate and unstoppable hero/rescuer/leader figure who can do for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Of course, and note I’ve refrained from using this word so far, this means that we are earnestly, quietly but frantically searching for a very specific type of person.

A Savior.

The endless lineup of superheroes are just a faint glimmer of the real thing.

And that’s why audience hunger has reached such heights. But, this appetite cannot, and never will be satisfied by sitting down in front of a 50′ screen, even amongst their fellow worshippers, and despite the increasing grandiosity of the special affects and other cutting edge liturgical elements.

Another release day, another super hero franchise reboot.

The hunger remains.

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”John 6:35

 

 

 

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