As a kid, I used to play with action figures in the bathtub. This was probably a ploy by my mom to get me clean, and I guess it worked. I’m not sure how many other kids did this, or to what degree it really matters whether or not it was in the bath.
Well, let me rephrase: I used to play with He-Man and Skeletor action figures. By play, I mean clacking two plastic forces together — the good guy and the bad guy. Because good conquers evil, the good guy pounded the bad into submission, sending him by my hand to splash and sink.
It’s not that I didn’t want Skeletor to win, or that he didn’t have the potential to do so. I was conditioned to believe that because he was the bad guy, he had no right to win. He was evil and therefore morally incorrect. He-Man fits the mold of the stereotypical Super-Male, muscle-bound and showing it. And while Skeletor was well-equipped with muscles, he was scrawny in comparison. It was a losing battle as far as he was concerned. Skeletor was destined to be beaten.
You might also notice the villains in most superhero shows are unusually smart and creative. What is this teaching children? I believe the message is that a smart and imaginative man will always be considered the “bad guy.” It is these subtle inferences that find their way into our child’s brain with each piece of media he or she comes across. It is only now that I realize how easily media influences a child and also shows me how difficult it may be to intervene once the idea has caught on.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not making a case for evil. As children, we are blank slates to be written upon. The brain is in the process of determining what is important and what can be discarded. While this of course is not all bad, our childhood innocence is taken for granted by authority figures as we take it all in.
The Super-Male is burned into our minds at a very young age through television, elementary schooling, and athletics. There is very little we can do as children to prevent ourselves from becoming what society desires.
That’s why we as adults must go directly to the source and extinguish it. The first solution is reducing disproportionate bulk on figures of male superheroes. Every superhero I can think of is so disproportionate and impractical — muscles that would explode the organs within and heads the size of peanuts — it’s no wonder we have men shooting for impossible body types, showcasing how our society values strength, not intelligence, in a man. Instead of only focusing on the strength of a super hero, he should also be valued for his mind. Maintaining the status quo perpetuates the association of intelligence with evil.
Second, I believe all things must be in balance. Children’s toys are not the main argument: I was influenced most of my life by these same types of action figures, and I think I turned out all right. The difference that was made was the integration of creativity and literature in addition to the occasional crime-fighting hero. I can’t say with certainty that most men have action figures and athletics to look to for emotional and developmental help. We must provide following generations with choices involving not only strength and hyper-masculinity, but also art, intellect and shameless sensitivity. It is imperative that we stress the importance of individuality at an early age in order to stop the mass production of the hopelessly Super-Male.
Alan is a staff writer for Girls in Capes. He holds degrees in psychology and creative writing from the University of Toledo.
EDIT: This post was Freshly Pressed on January 27, 2013.