Robin S. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Robin S. Rosenberg Ph.D.

The Superheroes

Superheroes Are Everywhere in the News

The word superhero is used to inspire others to engage in prosocial behavior.

Posted Feb 03, 2011

There are also articles about other commercial endeavors that involve superheroes, such as a Michigan mom, Holly Bartman, who started PowerCapes.com, which makes customizable kids' and adults' superhero costumes. Holly and her company not only make people feel good with her products, but she is doing good with her company: she helps nonprofits raise funds through costume orders.

Then there are the broader uses of the term superhero; articles in which superhero is used to describe or inspire others to engage in prosocial behavior; that is, actions that benefit others and may involve some type of sacrifice--of time, energy, or other variables, such as:

A superhero trying to inspire students

The list of organizations using superheroes to do good, inspire others to do good--or labeling someone who does good as a superhero--goes on here, here, here, and here. And this doesn't include articles about real life superheroes, like this one

This list is just a sampling from 10 days worth of Google alerts! I knew that superheroes were popular, but I've been astounded by the variety of ways that superhero is used to encourage or highlight doing good. It reminds me of the paired-association word game (if I say salt, you think of pepper). In these non-commercial cases of superherodom, superhero is paired with doing good.
In some of these contexts, where hero would do, superhero is used instead. It's easy to see why. We all have a (relatively) common set of assumptions about what a superhero is: someone who fights for justice and protecting innocent people, who tries to "do good," who sacrifices for others, and who inspires. These are wonderful values and actions, and it's appropriate to want to instill them in children. Plus, superheroes generally have a dress code or uniform (spandex/tights and boots, masks and capes optional) that make them stand out.

Using superheroes to inspire heroism is a way to expand the possible paths to heroism. Just as superheroes have different powers and abilities, we have different powers, abilities, and inclinations that enable each of us to help others in different ways. The superhero ideal has become code for the goal of helping others, and those ways are as varied as the superhero uniforms in comic books: infinite.

Caveat: I'm sorry to say, that superheroes-and the positive associations that go along with them-can be used to pair an unrelated product with those ideals. Case in point is Taco Bell.

Copyright 2011 by Robin S. Rosenberg. All rights reserved.
Robin S. Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist. Her website is DrRobinRosenberg.com. Click here to take her brief What Is a Superhero? Survey.