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Spiderman And The Hero Myth

 |  life

Decided to see Spiderman today.

All in all, I was decidedly pleased — it’s one of the better adaptations of a comic book that I’ve seen. The script was decent; it actually had — gasp! — spots of ambiguity and subtlety, and hewed fairly closely to the comic book. I was not big into comic books; despite having some friends that would go weekly, I’ve read probably four Spiderman comics in my entire life. Nonetheless, there is a “feel” to comic books, and the movie played faithfully.

The CGI graphics were well done, but unrealistic; they made Spiderman too fluid, too inhuman, and it was easy to see where the animation was computed instead of live. Nonetheless, they complemented the movie well but did not take it over.

I had my doubts about Tobey Maguire as Spiderman, but it worked suprisingly well; he brought a vulnerability and humanity to the movie. Kirsten Dunst rocked as Mary Jane. Jonah Jameson was perfectly cast.

I must admit to an affinity for Spiderman ever since I was a kid. Superman? Too unreal. Batman? Too dark. Spiderman? Ah, being bit with a radioactive spider, it could happen! Plus, he had real life problems, not being independently wealthy like Batman… or the Fantastic Four… or Dr. Strange…

Which, I guess, brings me to the hero myth and Spiderman. The common elements are there: Everyman rises out of the obscurity; something dear to him is threatened; through his resolute efforts, a foe is vanquished.

(It’s an aside, but it has to be mentioned that one element is missing. The one major digression from the comic book were Spiderman’s web spinners: in the comic book they’re artificial, created by Peter Parker, whereas in the movie they’re one of his abilities. I read a news article where one person at Marvel was quoted as saying that they don’t “significantly detract from the story.”[1] Wrong! The key is that Peter Parker is able to complement his talents with his intelligence and knowledge. Combining his natural talents with his wisdom and perseverance makes the hero greater. A gift given is nothing; a gift used is good; but a gift enhanced by hard work is the greatest of all.)

So, Spiderman is a hero. He saves a bunch of children.

Now, say that he didn’t save those children’s lives. Instead, he just saved them from a life as second-class citizens. Probably more difficult to portray in a movie — after all, movies tend to polarize issues, but people would still say he was a hero.

Okay, now say that he didn’t do it in one dramatic battle against the Green Goblin. Instead, he did it by going to a local library every weekend for twenty years and helping in literacy classes.

In that case, would people still call him a hero? It seems to me more difficult to strive against something slowly and incrementally, yet that very slowness veils the heroism within.

Another example: a man runs in front of a car, pulls a dog out of the way. People call him a hero. Yet adoptive parents, taking a child not their own and clothing and feeding and teaching it for 18 years, will have far greater impact on the world, have invested far more effort… yet are so much less recognized for it.

The man saving the dog? News. Two parents raising their adopted child for two decades and turning out a well-adjusted, good person? No news.

I would be tempted to tie in this mindset into something related to our evolution, but I’m afraid I’d just be stretching the point and making stuff up. Nonetheless, I think that if people were better about recognizing true heroism, the world would be a much better place.

[1] Admittedly, from the way this reads, the underlying context is, “We didn’t like this but we didn’t have control over it.” I’d link here but I can’t find that article! Some fans feel strongly about this; for god’s sakes, there’s even a website named after this issue.


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