Superhero Ethics Can Be, Well, Unethical

Superhero Ethics Can Be, Well, Unethical

Are superheroes worth viewing as ethical examples?

So, to preface this story, I absolutely love superheroes. I watch the movies, I read the comics (especially Batman comics) and I love seeing how superheroes have come into the mainstream and been something we can all enjoy as a culture. So with all of that said, this might seem weird for me to say, but I think superheroes make sub-par moral examples. It's easy to wonder where I could be coming from given that Superman fights for "truth, justice, and the American way!" but let me explain my point.

The superhero has one goal - to fight crime. Some might use superpowers, and others gadgets and some go to different extremes, Batman, for instance, refuses to kill. Some even fight intergalactic criminals, but ultimately the story is the same, a superhero raises his fist in the name of all that is righteous, and good, to fight the "bad guy" who is the very symbol of evil.

So far I get it, especially when the story revolves around Galactus or Thanos coming to enslave, or eat, the entire human race. Wanting Ironman and his gang of superpowered friends to stop Thanos is a story I can totally get behind. But there are some implicit messages being sent as well. Especially when the story is Batman (my favorite superhero) who takes fighting crime in Gotham into his own hands.

When Batman looks around and says "you know what, I'm gonna do this myself" we all usually cheer him on, myself included! One of the largest reasons is that although Batman is acting on his own, his own rules (no killing, he delivers bad guys and evidence to the police so that they can go to prison) fit pretty well into the rules we have for our society.

But there's a problem, Batman is saying it's okay to take the law into your own hands.

This is a dangerous idea to advocate for.

My thinking on this came from an experience not too long ago, babysitting a few kids. While we were all dancing away to some music, one kid pushed another kid. A third kid (let's call him Tim) instantly leaped across the room, and tackled the pusher, in an act of righteous indignation. I had to pull Tim off of the kid before he started swinging his fists. When I finally got him free I asked him what had gone through his head and he told me "I wanted to be like a superhero."

I feel this sums up what I'm getting at pretty well. Tim was acting out of justice, like a superhero. And like a superhero, he felt he could do a better job at enacting justice than the people in charge of justice (in this case, me). What I feel is ultimately most dangerous about the ethics taught by superheroes, is the idea that one's own brand and the idea of justice is more important than society's view of justice.

Not that society can't be wrong, but wouldn't an individual actor be even more likely to be wrong?

Cover Image Credit: Serge Kutuzov

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