The Existential Superhero


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I am a huge fan of the television show Arrow. The cast works well together, and they really have the mythos of Green Arrow perfect. The show stars Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), playboy billionaire who has spent five years on an island after the boat he was on gets destroyed in a storm. He is given a book by his father that contains a list of names of people who have abused their power to become rich at the hands of the poor. When Oliver returns his goal initially is to bring justice to these groups, rob from the rich while giving to the poor, meanwhile pretending to be the asshole billionaire he was before. While the goal is initially to atone for his fathers sins, there is an underlying message that Oliver is also atoning for his own sins.

In the era of Occupy Wall Street, and Idle No More, we are now living in a world where some have come to the realization that our governments may not be the answer to our problems. With corruption and greed taking precedence over humans rights, how can we be surprised that some of our favourite stories are about people taking the law into their own hands for the greater good. Oliver Queen is the embodiment of that ideal, he isn’t trying to topple the government, but his direct action style of “justice”, robbing the rich and giving to those who were robbed to begin with has a desirability to it.


A recent article by ROAR Magazine entitled “Superman, Clark Kent, and the Limits of the Gezi Uprising“addresses how superheroes have been integrated by direct action protesters in Turkish protests. Nietzsche the philosophical creature of the idea of Superman or The Ubermensch speaks to the existential desire to be greater than ourselves to create the world we want to live in, the bridge between the external nature of existentialism and the internal nature of existentialism. The reason that we are fascinated with modeling ourselves after heroes and why we love them so much is premised around our desire to take action. Existentialism does not, however, tell us what direction this should take. Nietzsche thought that the Will to Power would only belong to a select few, whereas Sartre thought that every human had the capacity for rising above through our capacity to imagine.


Superheroes also provide us with an out, they make room for us to release our angst through catharsis, but just like any narrative, they give us a view into the world as imagined and lived by the writers. Arrow would not be a good television show in a world where the rich did not use their power to keep themselves powerful. If we had no aristocracy the show simply would not work, we would have no idea of the concept of inequality, and Oliver being a super rich CEO and vigilante by night would lack the irony it has in the show. Instead, we are given a glimpse into how one man (or women with the addition of bad ass female characters like Black Canary) can change the world. One of the shows main themes is inherently existential: accepting the consequences of your actions, while not being paralyzed by them. They are a fantastical versions of what individuals should become. To be free is to be an individual of thoughtful action, and accepting the consequences when they occur.


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