Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Who Wants to be a Superhero?

I used to want to be a superhero. How cool would it be to fly or pick up a car with one hand, to save the day for the good people around me and make life miserable for the bullies and criminals and immoral jerks who seem to be everywhere?

I think a lot of you would like to be superheroes too, at least judging by the tremendous success of many recent movies. And the increasing diversity of the characters on screen is designed to allow all viewers to imagine themselves with superpowers. Films like Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel have been among the best box office performers, expanding the base of superheroes beyond white men.

But what if you really were a superhero? What would that be like?

Obviously, to start with, you’d need the secret identity. Otherwise people would be constantly asking you to use your superpowers on ordinary tasks. Hey, Clark Kent, can you fix my fence for me? The posts are crooked from frost heave. Just pull them up and put them back down in the ground so they’re plumb and level. Thanks, buddy.

But aside from that, there are other concerns. First of all, who do you help? You can’t save everyone. Do you focus on the macro or the micro? Do you save the city from a flood or prevent a bank robbery or stop a mugger? Do you destroy all the nuclear weapons in the world or do you build thousands of homes and create farms for the destitute in Third World nations?

What is it like when you prepare for bed at night, pondering what you’ve accomplished and what you failed to do? Can you sleep? Or do you toss and turn, wondering if you made the right call when you used your powers to extract those miners trapped underground? Maybe they would have been saved by someone else anyway. So maybe your efforts would have been better spent rescuing someone else.

And what if the people of the world come to rely on you and stop helping themselves? What if they expect you to bail them out of every dicey situation? How long should you keep aiding them? After all, you don’t want to enable them to avoid handling their own problems.

People need adversity. If you take that away from them, they won’t grow properly. They’ll become marshmallows, easy to fleece, easy to defeat.

Plus, who knows if the people you saved are actually good people? Unless one of your powers is knowing other people’s hearts, you’ll only be guessing. So when you save a little boy from drowning, you might be rescuing the next Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot. Do you really want that on your conscience?

Maybe, instead of being a superhero, I should consider becoming a supervillain. At least the ramifications of my actions will be clearer. Grab what I can for myself. Forget everyone else. That’s shallow and selfish, but perhaps more honest in a way.

Although I wouldn’t want to feel compelled to kill anyone, let alone lots of people. And supervillains have to at least attempt to murder a bunch of innocents. So maybe I shouldn’t want superpowers at all. Maybe I should just be content with the powers I have. Kind of boring, but, okay. I won’t be a supervillain either. You’re welcome.

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