Tuesday, May 5, 2009

If The Cape Fits...

"If you were a super hero, what super power would you want to have?"

A fun question to ask someone. Fellow Gentleman Jason Heat used to ask this question to any guest he had on-air in the WMUC University of Maryland Radio station.

Recently though, I found myself asking a similar sounding but far different question:

"If you were a super hero, what would your cause be?"

Anytime someone mentions superheroes, I think back to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. No, not a comic or a graphic novel, but rather the famous novel from 1943. It was the first time I realized what it takes to actually be a superhero. The Fountainhead is about characters who are media moguls and architects - none of whom have super powers - but what they did posses were convictions far beyond the norm.

One thing I've learned from TheseGentlemen is that superheroes aren't just about cool super powers like flying, x-ray vision or super speed. What makes the traditional superhero characters of comics so incredible in the characteristics of their personalities.

I've been realizing that the most interesting characters in any story - whether it be film, literature, theatre or otherwise - are ones that represent ideals. Ideals are extreme perspectives; there's no compromise in ideals (unless the ideal is total compromise - a concept I believe to be bred from extreme collectivism and no individualism and will probably fail). Pitting extreme characters against each other is really pitting ideals against each other, and I find it to be much more interesting that way.

When these ideals came in the form of superheroes though, I wasn't able to see past the super powers. Who cares what Superman or Batman or Spiderman or the X-men actually stand for and represent when it's cool just to see them in action? It's not a direct parallel, but not until I read about lead character Howard Roark of The Fountainhead did I realize that it doesn't take super powers to be a superhero.

But I don't mean in the same sense that firefighters are heroes. Roark isn't a firefighter, and Roark doesn't save lives. Roark lives for himself, and he lives for it in the name of integrity, in the name of art, and in the name of what he believes in - the excellence and potential of man-kind.

It took me a long time to understand, but Roark is the superhero, the Superman of The Fountainhead - and Dominique is not just Lois Lane, she is the rest of us, those who try to live up to Roark and become the change we wish to see in the world.

So what does it take to be a superhero? Well, it appears I've already decided that supernatural powers doesn't have to be on the list. What seems to be more relevant is motivation, and a strong moral code. Secret identities, costumes and a high-tech works for kid stories, but I'm looking to make being a superhero a reality here. Fighting for something meaningful, and fighting for it with the right intentions might just be all it takes. What is that ideal? Is it a pure sense of responsibility? A hatred for crime or a true belief in the justice system? How about belief in humanitarian service? Or in the case of Roark, a belief in the integrity of self-expression?

What I learned is that one can live for ones-self and still live for an ideal. It has always seemed contradictory that one could live for ones-self and still be a superhero, but I'm realizing now that fighting for a cause can both serve society and be self-serving.

It's been almost a year since I read that book. I guess it's about time I started putting those lessons to practice. What's more, I think I've identified my answer to the question: "If you were a super hero, what would your cause be?" I'll tackle that in my next post.

1 comment:

Jason Heat said...

Seems like a good time to bring back History of Justice, no?