Summer is the prime time for blockbuster movies. And for the past 10-15 years, it seems as though the blockbusters have been dominated by superheroes – Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-men, the Avengers, and a host of others (even Abraham Lincoln now slays vampires). Without a doubt, humans have a fascination with superheroes, which has been increasingly obvious in the 100 million dollar-plus opening weekends these films are doing.
What’s been additionally interesting in our current environment of postmodern narrative is the use of the flawed protagonist. In other words, good guys aren’t really just good guys anymore, they’re flawed guys who are simply trying to use their unique talents for good. I would argue that this awakened perception – that every human, even “super” ones, is drastically flawed – has affected the way superheroes are now portrayed. It seems that every single one of them has received a considerably darker and edgier persona than the days when their first comic was released. For now, the days of good guy vs. bad guy, hero vs. villain, may be gone. In a world that denies absolute truth, you cannot say what is “right” or “wrong”, which makes it much more difficult to label people as good guys and bad guys. So, what we’re left with is characters that are progressing more deeply into shades of grey.
These grey area heroes are perhaps even more clearly seen on TV. Self-made man and all-around good guy Heathcliff Huxtable from the Cosby Show can no longer be found in any show. He’s been replaced by happy-go-lucky but also lazy, fat, perv Peter Griffin from Family Guy. The most successful shows on television portray deeply broken protagonists like Don Draper – a playboy Madison Avenue advertising exec who shows how the 1960s were a launching pad into modern (im)morality, Jackson Teller – an outlaw biker gang drug runner whose highest loyalty is to his gang vows, and Walter White – a cancer surviving high school teacher turned meth cook who is constantly fleeing the law while trying to earn money for his family. These characters aren’t just imperfect, they’re cracked seemingly beyond repair. And yet they’re picking up Academy Awards and additional seasons, which means something about them is resonating with our culture.
Cliché as it may sound in 2012, I do believe social media has played an enormous role in the perception of heroes. Think about how common the average celebrity mug shot now is. Think about how many young Hollywood starlets have been exposed in sex tapes. Think about how many famous people have retracted drunken tirade tweets on Twitter. The 2012 reality is that every supposed hero (or at least the individuals who portray them) now has an immediate mouth piece to the world and every 12-year-old with a cell phone is now a filmmaker waiting to capture them when they fall. In other words, it’s harder to hide your scars in an HD world. There’s no mystique anymore. Everyone is being exposed for what they are – fallen sinners. And it seems that the best we could ever hope for now as a society is someone who at least “tries hard”.
But let’s back up one little step. Why do we have to have heroes in the first place? Doesn’t it seem odd that such selfish people are so quick to roll out the red carpet for a celebrity or get an autograph from a professional athlete or pay big bucks to see a never-ending stream of superhero movies? What makes us long for heroes so badly?
Let me suggest this – your heart was built for them.
Paul says to the Ephesians, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) According to the Bible, and contrary to the cultural lie, you did not create who you are today. You were built by God, to exist in and for Christ Jesus, to glorify God by living in line with his will. Some people recognize this. Others don’t. But all experience it. Every single person on this planet therefore has a heart that’s built for someone who is bigger and better than they are – a “hero” you might say.
If you look closely, we as a culture are starting to recognize (and become a little disenchanted with) the idea that there is no true hero on this planet who could possibly meet up to our standards. So we’ve redefined what it means to be a hero. By the way, don’t think for a second that this concept that a truly good hero could not possibly come from this planet is lost on comic book kings Marvel and DC. After all, Superman isn’t from around here. No, if a really, truly good hero were to walk amongst us, he’d have to come from a different place.
Now think about this. Speaking about HIMSELF, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” (John 6:32) Jesus is telling us that he came from a far away place, journeyed to earth on a great rescue mission to give us life. He came to give up his life to save us from our sins and from ourselves. He looked normal most of the time, but occasionally he demonstrated powers to heal, walk on water, feed masses, drive out evil, disappear, walk through walls, know thoughts, and even come back to life and bring others back to life as well. And though the Jewish leaders, Roman politicians, Muslims, many modern scientists, many modern historians, and most philosophers have desperately searched, no kryptonite has been found.
Allow your heart to see the truth – that Jesus is the Ultimate Hero you’ve been looking for. You were built for him. Everyone was built for him. Imagine the peace and purpose your life would know if you always remembered that. Imagine what this world might look like if we all really believed that.