“All of these villains are just pathetic,” my standard monologue begins, which I perform for my husband after each super hero movie we watch. “Every single one of them is just acting out because they aren’t getting the validation they want, which likely started with their parents. And the heroes likely come from loving parents that suffered an untimely death. Add them up.” Then I count them off on my fingers. “Spider-Man, Wolverine, Batman, Superman…” Both of them, the hero and villain, are trying to make peace in the present, unable to separate themselves from their past.
My husband, who is a comic book buff and the reason so many superhero movies end up in our Netflix queue, listens patiently while I espouse my theory. He says the narrative of the superhero is the most common medium used to express our present day mythological struggle between good and evil. “Well,” I said, “there’s a whole lot of struggle that could’ve been avoided if mommy and daddy would have loved their child for who he was versus being disappointed he didn’t represent the image of themselves.”
A recent article in TIME magazine, “Playing Favorites,” which discusses the science behind parental favoritism, highlights my point. Parents, regardless of the lies they tell us, have favorites. Children who fulfill parents’ “reproductive narcissism” – a child who embodies characteristics parents see in themselves – are likely, among other reasons, to be favored. Researchers don’t all agree on the fallout of favoritism, or that it benefits the favorite child and harms the less favored. The favorite child may have a harder time coping in an adult world that doesn’t offer the same bias. The less favored child may develop richer social skills building relationships outside of the home. Either way, not being the favorite isn’t easy.
We all want to be seen and validated for who we are. We all want to overcome the power of our “buttons” and dismiss their power. We want to be free from the burdens of our past. We want to recognize the drivers of our responses so we can control them, not let them control us, before we realize what we’ve done.
How do we do it? We can begin by recognizing the past is just that. Reliving it in our heads, hoping it will play differently, gives the past it’s power. The superhero transcends the past by accepting it.