Wealth has always been the greatest (unspoken) Superpower

money-superheroI just saw Doctor Strange in theatres.  It’s a good movie, but this is not a review.  I went into the movie not knowing much about Doctor Strange.  His was not one of the titles I followed in 80s.  But when I saw the movie, I recognized something familiar about his origin story: like most superheroes, he starts rich.

I guess I started to realize something was up with the economic distribution of superheroes when I thought about all the gadgets Iron Man and Batman both had.  Unlimited weaponry, endless supply of toys.  But it was when I was teaching a class on Superheroes, Social Justice, and the Principle of the Common Good (the kind of class you can develop at a Catholic Marianist University like University of Dayton) and as a class we started to see a pattern in the heroes.  While each of them manifested different powers—most of them, most of the famous ones, had something each of us did not.  Most had sources of wealth and positions of elite privilege before they got superpowers.

This is important to think about when we think of Superheroes and Power—that power is often not given to those who have no power before, but is given to those who have always had power.   With a few notable exceptions, becoming a superhero requires money.  This means that the average person doesn’t become a superhero without money—just like they don’t become a lot of things in the real world without money.  And that is an interesting thing to think about when you think about superhero escapist fiction.  We have all these possibilities!  We can choose ANY storyline.  We think it’s about a redistribution of power—that ANYONE can become a superhero–but analyzing origin stories, the results say something different.

The Net Worth of Superheroes

Those who have power in the superhero universe and who have the job of protecting citizens are often unacquainted with most of the 99%, are used to being wealthy and powerful, and are often living far removed from common society in Fortresses of Solitude, atop penthouses, or in private academies on large estates, or in mansions or whole buildings in downtown NYC (there are exceptions—I can hear you already, bursting to say names—but I’m talking about a surprising majority of the major superheroes we have today).

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Muslim Punk Rock, or What Fiction Can Do

23moth_muslimThis just in from the New York Times. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a book about Muslim-Americans forming a punk band in Buffalo New York. From the article by Christopher Maag, “Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book“:

Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

“This book helped me create my identity,” said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. “When I finally read the book for myself,” she said, “it was an amazing experience.”

The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

As a writer, the article is fascinating to me. Fiction has the power to give method and ideas to real people, helping to create reality. Now Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight isn’t gonna make vampires out of anyone–but it might make teenage girls want a chaste boyfriend. But Taqwacores imagined a reality for alienated Muslim teens in the States, a way to cope, a way to establish a new identity, a counter culture. The book empowers people. Through fiction.

Countless movies have played on the idea that a writer could create reality through writing about it–they are mostly comedies. But the concept, I think, is a powerful one. What if –instead of reflecting culture–we created it? What if we consciously created something that was not there before–something that could happen–so that it inspires others to create it?

Science Fiction often does this in reverse. Create something that we DON’T want around and then destroy it. And thank God we got rid of “it.” I think the Shine Anthology is seeking to help us imagine some creative solutions–and I still encourage you to submit. But I want to keep harping on the idea that you, as writers, can change the world. Michael M. Knight did. (I love that his name is the same as the hero from Knight Rider, the 80s TV show (with recent makeover)).

Go create something you want to see that doesn’t exist right now. Like Knight, create a subculture for disenfranchised teens. Or create the ultimate youth center in your town and inspire someone to imagine the real one. Or show oppressed people in power, how a family operates using green technology in their house, believable, doable, possible things. And then I hope your novel is photocopied and passed around and around and around. The world.