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Hopelessly Super-Male

Hopelessly Super-Male

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.

An action figure of He-Man from the relaunch of the Masters of the Universe series.  Image from Captain Toy - click image for source and accompanying review.

An action figure of He-Man from the relaunch of the Masters of the Universe series. Image from Captain Toy – click image for source and accompanying review.

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.

He-Man production cel featuring villain Skeletor.  From Animation Valley.  Click image for source, which has cels available for purchase.

He-Man production cel featuring villain Skeletor. From Animation Valley. Click image for source, which has cels available for purchase.

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.

Alan
Written by Alan

Alan Beyersdorf is a staff writer at Girls in Capes and holds degrees in creative writing and psychology from the University of Toledo. His first chapbook, Degrees of Distance, was completed in 2012. Alan’s post Hopelessly Super-Male was Freshly Pressed January 27, 2013.

  • http://ashanam.wordpress.com Ashana M

    Women have been complaining for a long time about the absurdity of Barbie’s proportions. I have never once heard a man complain about the ridiculous bulk of your action heroes. It’s refreshing. Thanks!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I was thinking of it in a similar vein, and I’m sure the Barbie debate will continue. While men will need heroes to aspire to, I believe there should be alternatives in terms of their form.

      • http://ashanam.wordpress.com Ashana M

        Remember the original Superman? He was of pretty normal proportions.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Honestly, I didn’t know the original Superman was of normal proportions. I’ll look into it, and thanks for the head up.

      • http://ashanam.wordpress.com Ashana M

        Well, maybe I know less than it sounded like I did. But I recall a skinny-looking action figure. Action figures got way out of control in the 80s. I think before then, they were a bit more normal. Worth a look, anyway.

    • http://alienredqueen.wordpress.com alienredqueen

      This is exactly what I was thinking of, although, with Barbies, there is no corresponding moral judgment. I always thought people were making too big a deal of Barbie’s proportions. I mean, I never thought of them or compared myself to her, trying to “be” Barbie perfect… but then again, like I said, there were no corresponding moral characteristics like He-Man vs. Skeletor. It’s an interesting idea. Also, in the same vein, would shows like this seem to indicate Good is always “goodlooking” and Evil is ugly? I wish it were that simple in real life!!!

      • alanbeyersdorf

        Regarding Good as good-looking, it’s hard to say whether this is a conscious decision by the creators, or if the idea is so heavily integrated into our culture, the characters are created that way without any directed intention to do so.

        • http://alienredqueen.wordpress.com alienredqueen

          In the end, doesn’t it amount to the same thing?

      • alanbeyersdorf

        I’d like to think intentions play a significant role in the ethics of most decisions, but for the sake of this article they can be labeled as the same.

  • http://ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com rami ungar the writer

    I do a lot of writing, and so far none of my main characters have been overwhelmingly muscular. If I had to give them descriptions, I’d say I give them more swimmer’s builds than body builder builds. I think that’s much healthier and cooler to have.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’m glad you could relate and I agree swimmer’s builds appear much healthier. Thanks for reading and good luck with your characters!

      • http://ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com rami ungar the writer

        thanks! good luck with breaking down the stereotypes associated with comic book heroes and heroines. speaking of which, i think some manga and anime do just that. check out code geass and mai-hime as examples.

  • http://gravatar.com/caribbeanmarvel caribbeanmarvel

    It is said the Western societies are individualist while Asian are collectivism… I wonder if Asian toys reflect this and what effect it has on their society. Just thinking or perhaps overthinking.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I also over-think, so don’t worry.

      Generally speaking, I agree that Western societies tend towards individualism, and the opposite follows for Asian nations. I don’t have too much experience with Asian toys, but I think Japanese manga and anime represent characters in a balanced way.

      Thanks for reading!

  • http://mikafryling.wordpress.com mikafry

    Great to bear in mind as I’m helping to raise our 3-year-old boy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’m glad you found the article interesting. Good luck with raising your son! That’s an extremely formative time.

  • http://believeitso.wordpress.com mrsmoore26

    I know men think this all the time. Its sad that images of things like this and tiny starving woman are what drive us to “perfect ourself”. Often those to try to gain these dimensions physically loose themselves altogether. Personally I value brains and character way above body type and moneys. I believe everyone is able to be so much better if they stop trying for these idiotic idealistic projections.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’m wondering the action figures or other heroes create a shoot-for-the-moon-and-you’ll-land-amongst-the-stars sort of ideal. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://smilecalm.wordpress.com/blog/ smilecalm

    How about some action figures with our figures; that look just like us! Then no inferiority, superiority, or equality complexes. The could wear a colourful, fancy spandex outfit, though.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Yeah, they can still wear whatever they want! Though I’m not sure if anyone would buy my action figure: A dude in a t-shirt hunched over his computer desk.

      But I like where you’re going with that!

  • http://theadventuresofadr.wordpress.com theadventuresofadr

    Dude, you just ruined He-Man for this 29 year old boy. Just kidding, I still love him. Great article by the way! Your introspective look into something that is sewn into our beings (by our I mean all boys who grew up with action figures, GI-Joes, etc..) provides a fresh take on something that I would have never otherwise considered. Great writing, and congrats from a fellow freshly pressed alum!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’m glad you could relate and I do miss playing out in the sandbox!

  • http://bumblebeebottomsboutique.wordpress.com christinewith4

    Star Wars has proportionately correct “good guys”….& smaller. ;-)

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Point taken. I’ll have to look into this further….

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • http://bumblebeebottomsboutique.wordpress.com christinewith4

        LOL…… (mom of 4 boys… ;-) )

      • http://bumblebeebottomsboutique.wordpress.com christinewith4

        OH- & *I* played with He-man too! That Shera chick was pathetic….. ;-)

  • http://contrarybritches.wordpress.com LailahMonte

    Makes you wonder if this is why Carrot Top went all meat-head. Or to what extent toys and cartoons promote the development of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. If it helps, I’m pretty sure women arent’ actually looking for the He-Man body time, much as I hope men arent’ actually looking forht e Barbie body type. Frankly, I prefer a man with a neck.

    • http://felizacasano.com Feliza

      I would definitely agree with you there. I also prefer a man with a neck.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I have no idea what happened to Carrot Top.

  • http://lovetimesinfinity.wordpress.com lovetimesinfinity

    Part of the reason why I liked MegaMind so much was because it illustrated the creation of a hero and villain based on strength vs. intelligence, and then showed how intelligence could override villainy…if you are intelligent enough. Great post!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I enjoyed MegaMind, and the character development was a step in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll see children’s’ animators follow this trend.Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • http://kchapmangibbons.wordpress.com kchapmangibbons

    Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    Restructuring masculinity…a critical process. Great post.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Completely critical! Thanks for re-blogging!

  • http://ducttapebubblegumblog.wordpress.com Bubble Gum

    You are really onto a critical theme in social development. This line: “our childhood innocence is taken for granted by authority figures as we take it all in” is incredibly profound. For all the hype with feminism (which is valid) so much of the male need for vulnerability, and fluid identity is overlooked and boxed in. We tweeted this out to our “self-help” junkie followers… they’ll eat it up!

    • http://felizacasano.com Feliza

      As a GIC editor, I’d argue that masculinity is also a topic of feminism: I’m a feminist myself, and I consider feminism the concern with equality across gender, including homosexuality and masculinity as well as femininity. Male identity is as much a part of feminism as female identity, because feminism is the idea that all people are people before they’re male or female.

      Thanks for your thoughts and ideas! We want to create conversation in culture, and this post has really generated quite a lot of interest.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      It’d be nice if this article could help someone out. I think we at GIC are very much interested in rethinking social dynamics, especially in terms of gender. Thanks for reading and tweeting it out!

  • http://designforyouandme.wordpress.com vandammetienne

    really interesting post :) I know how to prevent this from happening to your children:
    first, don’t watch television. That’s what I did, and I can still remember watching Albator or Ullyse once a week on a TV with no antenna.
    secondly, buy them creative and fun toys: My favorite toys were my playmobile/lego and kaplas, which are pieces of wood, you can create towers, building, castle, possibilities are endless.
    Thirdly, I was lucky catch playing cards weren’t trendy in school when I was young. No kidding, I used to play marble, collect Pokemon cards from people who had some (they gave me their cards they had twice).
    I have never been influenced by this super-man theory, and I like it :)
    BTW, I’m only 16 and I have a blog here which might interrest someone:
    http://design4youandme.wordpress.com/

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’ll check out your blog and I hope you continue into your imagination. I think legos saved my life. That… and all my imaginary friends running around!

      (Just kidding. Kind of.)

  • http://pemberley.us/katie/ Katie

    I see what you are saying–and I agree. But, shamefully, all I can think of now is, “By the Power of Grayskull….”

    • alanbeyersdorf

      There’s nothing wrong with that. He-Man deserves some credit too!

  • http://lettherebework.wordpress.com revedor

    An issue I have as a girl is that female superheros and villains always have ridiculously huge boobs. So in comic-world, women with small boobs don’t even exist. I know I’m not the first to complain about this, but really.

    • http://felizacasano.com Feliza

      That, my friend, is quite the point of our site.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Enjoy reading some of our current and forthcoming articles, which will explore those issues and others. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://midwestmindbodyfitness.wordpress.com Matt Lawson

    Really liked the point you made about the villain being cast as super intelligent and creative, that never really occurred to me. The message that being intelligent is underhanded and the go to for people that lack physical prowess is rampant in our society. This is also one of the reasons I like the X-man Beast, brings both intelligence and strength together.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      There are plenty of exceptions to what I’ve laid out. I always loved Beast, but I don’t know how frequently I saw his action figure on store shelves.

  • http://stuff4nonsense.wordpress.com llanwyre

    Agree with Matt Lawson about your point about intelligence and creativity as “bad” characteristics. It’s terribly sad and very revealing.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Hopefully we can work towards a future in which this isn’t the case, but I think it’s a few generations out. Thanks for commenting and reading the article!

  • http://rachaelstanford.wordpress.com/ beautiful loser

    The side by side comparison of similar action figures from the 70’s/80’s compared to today is very telling about the unrealistic standard of bulk which is received by children.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Thanks for reading and joining the conversation!

  • http://kassandraperlongo.wordpress.com Phoenix

    DUDE. I LOVED my He Man and She Ra action figures, and My Little Ponies. But despite it all I’ve always gravitated towards strong, independent female characters. Phoenix (Jean Grey), Storm, Rogue, Catwoman, Ms. Marvel, Jem, She Ra. Give me THOSE action figures, any day. Those are the ones I would want my daughter (when I have one!) to grow up with :)

    • alanbeyersdorf

      We at GIC are also looking forward to the creation of strong, independent female characters. That’s the driving force behind this blog and there’ll be much more to come!

      • http://kassandraperlongo.wordpress.com Phoenix

        I’m going to write a blog about my favourite female Xmen, Phoenix, this week. I’ll send it over to you guys when I’m done. As a girl nerd, I support this blog 100% !! :D

    • http://felizacasano.com Feliza

      If you do send it over, we’ll Tweet it out and post on our Facebook page! Have you heard about the new X-Men coming out in April? It’s going to be an all-woman team.

      • http://kassandraperlongo.wordpress.com Phoenix

        …I have not heard about this. Oh my GOD. I’ll be looking out for that.

        Thank you, will do. I wrote about my experience when I met Shirley Manson (lead singer from Garbage), who is my idol.

  • http://seaofcarnage.wordpress.com seaofcarnage

    The same can be said about female superheroes. They too posses impossible figures and tend to be more about beauty then intelligence outside of their caped alter-ego. Thanks for sharing this viewpoint, I have long thought we distort our children’s perspectives with unrealistic ideals of what a man/woman should be.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I agree. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • http://dccaffiend.wordpress.com dccaffiend

    You make quite a point, but there are some clever role models out there! They might not have had action figures, but I grew up loving the Sherlock Holmes series and Nancy Drew. Maybe if they’d been marketed better/ outside of the bookshelf in action hero form they couldve gone against this typical Super-Male/Barbie theme.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      You have a great point here. Maybe a new marketing opportunity?

  • http://theseanmaloneyshow.wordpress.com The Sean Maloney Show

    love this!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      So glad to hear it! Thank you for reading the article!

  • http://www.keeping-company.com Gigi

    “…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…” What about IRON MAN?

    Have you seen: http://on.ted.com/cNAO ?

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I haven’t been keeping up on my TED Talks, but thank you for bringing this to my attention!

      • http://www.keeping-company.com Gigi

        Not a problem. I’m addicted to TED. Just discovered it… :)

  • Richard Rice

    Childhood eras are important. Remember Gumby? or the 1980s Plastic Man. Certainly not physically or intellectually overblown. Seems like too many tv-spawned heroes today are either He-Man brawn types or Shaggy types

    • http://travelingchair.wordpress.com travelingchair

      And let’s not forget Stretch Armstrong. I had one when I was a kid. After several manual attempts to reach his breaking point failed, he finally succumbed by way of a Ginsu. I did however, give him a proper burial, complete with a 21 bb gun salute.
      I just hope I didn’t cause another Love Canal.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I agree that childhood eras are extremely important. Thank you two for commenting!

  • http://spideron.wordpress.com The Spideron

    Your article brought to mind something I read in History Magazine about the revival of Vikings in fiction in the second half of the 20th century. In the first half, the masculine ideal was portrayed in movies as the chivalrous knight, but this gave way to the Viking, the wild barbarian. This was not the Northman of history, but a re-imagined concept of a muscle-bound, ultra-violent and uncultured warrior-hero which embedded itself into popular culture. The movie heroes of the 21st century, from what I’ve seen, are not much different. What wit and guile they possess are channelled into fancy martial-arts moves and sassy one-liners, while the book-smarts and philosophising are left to nerdy, epicene, subsidiary characters or villains.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Wow! Awesome insight! I’ll have to find that article. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://kailcust.wordpress.com kailcust

    It’s great to see a male involved in a gender debate. Feminists have fought for years to stop the stereotypes perpetuated by media during childhood. It’s essential to be aware of the gender stereotypes that males grow up with as well. In media targeted at children in males athleticism is valued over intelligence the same way beauty is valued over intelligence in females. Not to say that you can’t be both, take Iron-man and Batman, but to be intelligent and ugly or intelligent and weak at the same time is villainous.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Hopefully we can see more men speaking up in the future. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and GIC and WordPress provided a great outlet to share. Thanks for your comment!

  • http://durandinquisitive.wordpress.com/ Andrew Durand

    I personally appreciate it when the “evil guy” is smart and creative. I think it may be unwise to cast the villain as stupid and foolish. Villainy in the real world is always extremely diverse while the good usually has similar characteristics which, yes, can become stale. I am reminded of the first line in “Anna Karenina”. Not that muscles and physical strength should be the alternative. In that sense, it does become something detrimental. I’m glad you pointed this out.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I also appreciate when the “evil guys” are crafty, and this creates a tendency for me to like them more, as well-rounded characters. Thanks for your comment!

  • http://living360health.wordpress.com living360health

    I had a lot of debates focused on this through college, but rarely from the man’s side. I always wanted to know why they said there was no such thing as a girl in the real world like a Disney princess, but never said there was no man like a Disney prince. Barbie equals bad, Ken … not so much. I know there are Ken’s and Barbie’s in the real world, its not good or bad. The focus should just be on healthy people. I’m pretty sure He-man doesn’t have a healthy amount of muscle though. And my favorite growing up was Batman, his power was his mind. Interesting though that if he would have had bad looks he might have been the evil genius. Great Article!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Examining the health of super heroes would be an interesting spin. I’ve never really thought about that to be honest.

  • http://eatingthepages.wordpress.com eatingthepages

    Great post Alan! Being a He-Man collector from back in the day, I completely understand your motivation for writing this article.

    I’ve been noticing lately that in most children’s cartoons the “evil” person (cause he/she isn’t “bad,” which can be corrected, but pure “evil,” which cannot be corrected) usually holds a title, i.e. that of PhD. (Dr. Doofenshmirtz, Dr. Evil, Dr. Octopus, Dr. Doom, etc.) Or they almost got the title, but were thwarted, thus seeking revenge. Of course there are arguments against this line of reasoning available, but none come to mind… :-)

    I think there is a significant difference between the alienated, evil, often weird-looking, bad person; as opposed to the evil person with a doctorate degree. Male superheroes, on the other hand, who possess both cunning and muscles are usually self-motivated or self-sufficient, i.e. without a title/degree. Although, Bruce Wayne might have an MBA. :-D

    Congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Thank you. I am very excited as well!

      I’d never thought critically on the notion of a title applied to these evil villains. You bring up an excellent point. Maybe something to look into further!

    • http://living360health.wordpress.com living360health

      Maybe its because of the time the characters were created. Everyone might have been conotating the Dr. title to the evil things the German scientists were doing in WW2.

      Or maybe it’s just because kids don’t like doctors

      Whatever the reason, good point, I’d never thought about that before

      • http://eatingthepages.wordpress.com eatingthepages

        Thanks living360! I noticed it while watching Phineas & Ferb (evil German doctor!) one Saturday morning with my daughter, and it must have been after I watched a State of the Union address where science was placed as a very high value on children’s development (plus all those adds touting America’s desperately low science scores).

        I didn’t consider that it might be because kids don’t like doctors! Haha! That makes sense!

        My conclusion was that it’s not that America doesn’t promote science, we just don’t promote institutional science. We want our science geniuses to work in a garage and start a fortune 500 company, not work for a public university! :-)

  • http://mafiahairdresser.wordpress.com Mafia Hairdresser

    Tweeting this one. #excellentblog

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I am grateful!

  • http://kulworlddailydrivel.wordpress.com josefkul

    This whole post reminds me of the psychology of gender class I took in college. The instructor showed us the progression of GI Joe action figures over time and you could see Sergeant Slaughter go from average guy next door to the incredible hulk in little over three decades of Hasbro infused steroids. Another interesting tidbit I remembered from the course involved a video describing the belief that weapons were an extension of the male genitalia ‘ejaculating bullets.’ Fun stuff!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’ve always wanted to take a psychology of gender course, but never got around to it. Sounds like I could learn a lot. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://beyondbeautytips.wordpress.com Ritu KT

    Sharing this on my facebook. The body types for both males and females are impractical. Look at Barbie for instance. Anyway individuality in each aspect should be encouraged. the world full or Barbies and He-mans will not be much fun

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Thank you for commenting and passing it along!

  • http://denisubagja.wordpress.com dennyubedz

    amazing pic

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I thought so too. Thanks for reading.

  • http://alwaysandy00.wordpress.com alwaysandie

    It’s reassuring to hear a man admit to shameless sensitivity. You’ve made a lot of valid points. Great post. :) Check my blog out sometime, I talk about somewhat similar things.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I will check it out, and come back for more articles regarding gender norms!

  • http://meinesolaranlagen.wordpress.com randallalequin321

    Great read.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Thank you for doing so!

  • http://sandycooper.ca Sandy

    Great article, I wonder how many boys also had varied influences like yourself? I would suspect that many young boys who played with He-man also had the opportunity to do crafts, were read to by their parents, etc. I think the biggest take away for me in this article was when you pointed out that idea of the smart villian – which is fine, however we should ‘fight’ brains with brains.
    Great post – keep’em coming.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’ll try to keep them coming, and I’m glad you enjoyed reading the article.

  • http://surfskiesp.wordpress.com surfskiesp

    Hey great post right there! I am following you now, if you ever want to know about Ocean Paddling then follow us back. Cheers!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’ve never really thought about Ocean Paddling before, but if I do I’ll look in your direction. (and learn Spanish)

      • http://surfskiesp.wordpress.com surfskiesp

        Yeah, you can learn a lot of spanish since we put an english translation for all paragraphs written in spanish, so it gets eassier. If you want to know about Ocean Paddling I recomend you to look up our Media articles like Photos and Videos of the modality. Hope you visit us once in a little while!

        Carlos

  • http://dingdongitsmrwrong.wordpress.com dingdongitsmrwrong

    I love this and I wholeheartedly agree. I was the type of kid who would feel sorry for ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ who had seven stones sown into his stomach by the hero woodcutter and drowned. Why couldn’t the people forgive hum and give him a chance to be sorry? I would rewrite the stories where they would all be friends. I was an idealist like that. Creates my own worlds. I was an extremely sensitive child who was probably a lit wiser than I am now :) I think you are right; we should teach our children that anyone can be a hero and that life isn’t broken down into Good and Bad but is far more complex than that.

    Thanks for the read..

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I believe there’s a market right now for fairy tale alternatives, if this is something that still interests you. You’ve already got the premise down.

      Thanks for reading!

      • http://dingdongitsmrwrong.wordpress.com dingdongitsmrwrong

        Brilliant! I’ll get writing! :)

  • http://anoutsidersblog.wordpress.com AnOutsider

    This is so true.
    It is also refreshing to read about the media’s effect on MEN and the way they shape their identity based on what they see.
    Of course, women face the same issue, but talking about men as well shows the extent to which people are “brainwashed”, and how they way they look becomes the center point of their whole identity.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I believe we’re always being influenced, but the effect is much more extreme as children without any firm bearing. Thanks you for commenting.

  • http://midatlanticcooking.wordpress.com midatlanticcooking

    I have to disagree with your assessment. He-Man in particular was a sword & sorcery epic based on Conan and despite the physical ideal, the “brute force” approach always fails in the stories. it is then that they must be “creative” and overcome the enemy. This is also true with superhero stories. It is pretty much formula fiction of the hero being beaten down physically and overcoming the “enemy,” this could be personal demons or a physical threat and they once again rise up to defeat the enemy with a creative strategy. The appearance of these fantasy characters, I think lends to their fantasy roles; this is true of both male and female characters. Just from their appearance you can see that this is a fantasy, not reality. Someone with He-Man’s physical proportions couldn’t even stand on his own feet. I can’t say I see a nation of body builders out there; quite the opposite is true actually.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’m not an expert on He-Man lore and I picked him in order to be honest about the toys I played with while in the tub. I’m sure there are better examples.

      I can see where you’re right about a hero getting creative only after being beaten down. I do see this fairly often. This leads me to believe that villain only becomes one after being beaten down, time and time again, as is displayed in Mega Mind.

      As an adult, it is clear to me that the He-Man character and his situations are fantasy, not reality. I believe children are less likely to make this distinction. Thank you for commenting!

  • http://smashingthroughlife.wordpress.com smashingthroughlife

    That is an excellent comment about villains and “bad guys”. When I think about the villains that I know so well, The Joker or Lex Luthor, they are quite creative and imaginative, coming up with these intricate plans to achieve their goals. However, they are so clearly depicted as being bad or evil.

    It’s interesting that those who think differently, those who try to subvert the norms, are noted as being “bad”. Obviously the intentions of the villains in shows, movies, comic books, etc. are clearly portrayed as being for evil purposes. But the fact remains that the heroes typically don’t make concessions for the intelligence or creativity of their foes. And the message is made very clear to viewers, the villains are bad no matter what and we should always root for the hero.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking read!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      It’s too bad the villains’ goals are always evil, or else I would totally root for them. Thank you for reading! (I suppose that sounds a little redundant.)

  • http://www.youravon.com/harvin heatherbree23

    I had the whole He-man collection when I was a kid. All the figures, Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain. Boys’ toys are so much cooler than Barbies and such! I liked to make the bad guys win from time to time. Had this one playset that was Skeletor’s torture chamber–load He-man onto the rack and slime would ooze down onto him. LOL

    • alanbeyersdorf

      That sounds intense. At least the bad guys can win when it’s on our terms.

  • http://karentheart.wordpress.com karenspath

    Too too funny…. well, not really. I never thought too much about all the heros as being such impossibly muscle bound guys. You are right though. It isn’t normal and not that attractive, personally anyway. Give me a man of intelligence any day!

    Of course, they’ve changed Barbie’s body type so she’s not so curvy. Now she is so impossibly slender that the older Barbies look overweight. At least you used to be able to have her chest, if nothing else.

    What are we teaching our children?!?

  • alanbeyersdorf

    Thanks for reading the article and commenting! I hope things start to head in a more balanced direction.

  • http://RandumbFun.wordpress.com Randumb Fun

    This is awesome!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Thank you for reading the post and commenting!

  • http://ilovethedangerindistance.wordpress.com ilovethedangerindistance

    This post is superb! Thank you for sharing it.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I was happy to share it and I’m glad you found it worthwhile!

  • http://wizard101kellyfrostflower.wordpress.com/ K FrostFlower

    playing with toys in the bathtub brings back a lot of memories. for me it was usually submarines or scuba divers that were powered by baking soda. enjoyed the post. thank you

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I wouldn’t mind playing with some baking soda toys. I’m sure they’d still hold my attention.

  • http://sapiosex.wordpress.com Sapiosexual

    Reblogged this on SAPIOSEX and commented:
    This is so very true! No wonder I find villains more appealing than the conventional heroes!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      It really is a curious thing.

  • http://jesscy.wordpress.com Jessica

    I was recently talking with another blogger about this same thing… I’ve pretty much decided my kids are going to play with rocks. No toys. Go outside and use your imagination! (I’m going to be a mean mom.) And when they come home from their friends’ houses begging for the latest Barbie or comic book hero action figure, “Sorry! You’ll thank me someday.”

    My kids are going to hate me. Lol. Great post.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Hmmm… Makes you wonder how the Pet Rock was invented.

  • http://pennedemotions.wordpress.com aminahamza

    Stereotypes are there regardless of different cultural backgrounds. I feel when you talk about imagination, then everything goes out of propotions. Meaning bigger dreams, bigger effects, bigger emotions and hence larger than life action figures. Everything is out of ordinary. We have been conditioned to believe, females are small, or rather petite and male has to be the muscular type to ‘protect’ the female, and hence such toys. They are nothing but a mere reflection of what we have allowed ourselves to imagine.

    Good one!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      This is a complex thought. I’m especially intrigued by “allowed ourselves to imagine”. What do you mean by that?

  • http://jameskennedybeijing.wordpress.com/ James Kennedy

    There was a TED talk about masculinity in movies recently. Check it out on http://on.ted.com/cNAO.

    Even female ‘hero’ protagonists are very masculine. The TED talk also shows, interestingly, that male ‘hero’ protagonists are now dumb, clumsy animals (think Kung Fu Panda). There are many examples.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’ve never thought of Kung Fu Panda in that way. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://eksemanet.wordpress.com eksemanet

    LOL really awesome post man. Thanks so much for sharing :) Really enjoy reading a good blog. Keep it up :D

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’m trying to keep it up! Thanks for reading the post!

  • http://lukejax.wordpress.com Lukejax

    Absolutely hit the nail on the head with this. Nice!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’m glad it resonated with you!

  • http://theadventureisafoot.wordpress.com brookenado

    Really interesting points you make, I enjoyed reading what you have to say on the subject. I completely agree that there is this stereotypical image of the muscle-bound male figure at the hero – or the masculine female hero as the first comment brings up.

    That said, what do you make of the recent remakes of protagonists such as Iron Man, Spider Man, Sherlock Holmes (though I suppose that dives more into the literature aspect you mentioned as integration), etc? Do you feel that the image is shifting at all?

    Thanks for a great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed, well deserved!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I do believe the image is shifting, and I don’t think I’m alone with my thoughts on the topic. I think writers and directors are in tune with a developing audience. They should be willing to cater to a viewer who is looking for a bit more in their heroes. I don’t know if this will be true across the board, but I think we’re heading in a superhero genre that’s aware of itself.

  • http://amyrutter.wordpress.com amyrutter

    I loved that He-Man also introduced She-Ra. She was my favourite toy to play with in the car until I lost the sword under the car seat :(

    • alanbeyersdorf

      If only we could find all our lost things…

  • http://www.sdspray.com P-Girl

    Great blog!!! Love the concept of the super-male. Also, congrats on being Freshly Pressed! So cool!!! ;)

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Thank you for the encouragement and you can look forward to more content regarding gender roles.

  • http://definitelyjenny.wordpress.com definitelyjenny

    Whilst I definitely agree with your argument and agree with some of the points raised (I still think society focuses on achieving that “perfect body” for both genders), I do think it’s changing. Slowly maybe, but definitely changing, after all the top superhero films are Iron Man and Batman. Yes, they may be beefed up, but I think they beat other superheros such as Thor or Captain America is because they are more well known for their intelligence and wit.

    Great post, definitely food for thought.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I agree that it is changing slowly, but awareness is a great place to start. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://choosesimplicitydotorg.wordpress.com ohtallulah

    The curse of the opposing binaries:
    black vs white
    good vs evil
    male vs female
    straight vs gay

    and the list goes on and on. It really is too bad that we can’t look beyond most of these and see that we’re merely conditioned to see these as opposing.

    Great post!

    Tallulah
    http://choosesimplicitydotorg.wordpress.com/

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Thanks for commenting! I hope we can find more balance in the future.

  • http://fionafire.wordpress.com Fiona Fire

    I think, a lot of the times, these big, strong super heroes are a reflection of America. We have the biggest and strongest military and, dammit, we want to beat all the evil genius bad guys who plan massive attacks (and hide in caves).

    • alanbeyersdorf

      Interesting idea! You should consider pursuing it further!

  • http://thoughtsfromgirls.wordpress.com aprilshowersxo

    I’m glad I found your post! Now followed!!!

  • http://marshandeesm.wordpress.com marshandeesm

    Cartoons. You uncovered my weakness….
    :)

  • http://www.justkrs.com justkrs

    My dog’s name is Teela…for she is the captain of this castle’s guard

  • http://multifariousmeanderings.wordpress.com Multifarious meanderings

    I enjoyed this post, thank you for the great read. It reminded me of my old bugbear about Disney films: ever noticed how many of the male villains have British accents? :-)

    • http://felizacasano.com Feliza

      A lot of the male villains have SOME sort of accent. And it almost never makes sense. For example, Scar in the Lion King is Mufasa’s brother, but he has a British accent while Mufasa doesn’t! WEIRD.

  • http://thecircleofevil.wordpress.com Flippyman

    I don’t think the problem is the super manly toys, just the lack of context. If you teach your child that these men are not real, (just like you have to teach your daughter that super thin models in cosmo aren’t real) then it should be ok. Fiction is very fun and rewarding as long as it is understood that’s fiction. It’s a parent’s job to teach his or her child to tell fiction apart from reality.

    Heroes are usually portrayed as the strongest, and thus it’s only logical that villains have to be smart in order to pose a serious threat. That’s why we have Superman and Lex Luthor, Batman and the Joker, etc. Fortunately, the new generations are getting heroes that are the opposite. One of my favorite super heroes is El Chapulin Colorado (the one the Simpsons bumblebee character was based on). He’s weak, cowardly, and stupid, but as the creators of the series said, “it’s easy to be the hero when you’re super strong and invulnerable; the greatest hero is the one who’s weak and yet he faces danger and does what he has to do, even if he’s trembling with fear.”

    Oh, and when I was a child, I rooted for Skeletor.

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I’d agree that a lot of responsibility falls on the parents in this case. I don’t think there’s really any one clear-cut solution, but I think it’s good to think critically and do a bit of brainstorming if things are going to change on a larger scale. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

      I find the quote regarding El Chapulin Colorado to be thought provoking. I wasn’t aware of this character, but I’ll do a bit of research. Thanks!

      • http://thecircleofevil.wordpress.com Flippyman

        Social problems are never solved with a one clear-cut solution.They are complex and they need to be addressed with complex solutions, usually involving several phases. That’s why we have debates such as gun control, where most people claim to have the one solution. I agree that changes on a larger scale require many ideas and they are long-term. Sometimes it takes a generation. I think if you are realistic, then it stops being wishful thinking.

    • http://llothcatscomics.wordpress.com/ DLColvin (llothcat)

      Woo! I did too!

  • http://socalmistress.wordpress.com servilia1

    Have you ever heard of PAX? They have a class satisfying woman, understanding men. In part of the session they break down the male psychology and how some words resonate with men because all little boys want to be a hero. Very interesting.
    http://socalmistress.wordpress.com/

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I have heard of PAX, but I didn’t realize they offered that course. I’ll check it out. It sounds interesting! Thanks for letting me know about it!

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  • http://ummburpoops.wordpress.com AsheX

    But today’s superheroes and the villains both have brains and are smart, intelligent and creative…
    You can take the example of Spiderman, Hulk, etc…all of them had accidents and then got powers. But they were geniuses

  • http://eyagee.wordpress.com Eyagee

    I think you might get a kick of of the alternate Avengers poster if the Avengers were drawn link women are. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/nov/30/comic-superhero-sexism

    • http://felizacasano.com Feliza

      This is kind of fantastic. Poor Black Widow, not getting any toys made of her and having to pose in impractical look-at-my-ass poses.

      But seriously, Captain America’s body looks so screwed up, which very sadly reminds me of Catwoman…

    • VAN

      THAT ^^ is great (Eyagee’s comment about the Avengers poster).

      The whole world is shifting. We’re actually in an exciting time. This generation GETS it. This generation may have adopted a pair of black-rimmed, heavy eyewear to look cool, but the same glasses have also helped us to put things into perspective. We’re seeing things clearer than ever before.

      Great post. The whole idea that women need to stand up for themselves, be independent and powerful often overshadows the fact that men are going through similar struggles.

      The thing is, men WERE too strong, women WERE too weak, and now women are learning how to straighten up, while mean are learning how to embrace vulnerability and their softer side. The result? A more balanced, harmonious generation.

      http://www.bringtheboss.com

  • http://oyiabrown.wordpress.com OyiaBrown

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  • http://myenglishimages.wordpress.com Mike Kloran

    This was interesting but your statement “I believe the message is that a smart and imaginative man will always be considered the “bad guy.” – doesn’t really seem to reflect reality.

    Characters like Batman and Sherlock Holmes are constantly using their wits. In fact even though Batman is drawn as super muscular guy he is very often contrasted against superman because of his creativity and use of his brains. (See the Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller.) Superman is often shown as the dimwit with god like powers. There are loads of characters like this. Professor X comes to mind as the perfect example of having clever use of his brains over body. After all he is in a wheelchair.

    Looking at popular villains such as Doomsday who was all power and no brains it seems l’d say that the idea that the creative imaginative man always being considered the bad guy just doesn’t match reality.

    Still a neat idea though.

    • http://felizacasano.com Feliza

      If you ask a five-year-old what’s great about Batman (or He-Man, incidentally,) the five-year-old will probably say “he’s a good guy” and/or “he’s strong.” While the comic book and film versions of Batman are portrayed as intelligent, the toys don’t have that association, and if a little boy is just playing with a ridiculously massive toy, he won’t think about how smart Batman is, just how strong. I thought this article was less about a character and more about perceptions children have of toys.

      • http://myenglishimages.wordpress.com Mike Kloran

        If that was your intention it didn’t come across that way. Not knocking you, I’m just saying your idea is worth exploring in more detail and in a more fully fleshed out way. Make the comparison between the toys and the characters, or do more with it. :D

    • alanbeyersdorf

      There are plenty of exceptions, but I was speaking more generally and from my own experience. I’ve always been intrigued by Professor X, but I don’t know much about Doomsday… Thanks for the comment!

      • http://myenglishimages.wordpress.com Mike Kloran

        Good stuff. You definitely piqued my interest so I hope you write more.

  • http://haikuplatespecial.wordpress.com/ Cathy Tenzo

    Interesting, especially your thoughts on the correlation that the bad guys are often “wicked smart.”

  • http://freshiksa.wordpress.com Freshi Ice Sticks

    congratulations on featured in Freshly pressed.

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  • http://stephenis.com stephenis

    Thank you, so much.

    I just love hearing those thoughts. It’s noticeably more pleasant reading someone who can actually write, and write well.

    I would love for you to expand a bit on some of those themes. It’s a shame that blog posts have found such a short form, as a balance between readership & message.

    I would love to hear more of your views on:
    1) The Power of the Media
    2) The possibility of unknowingly being influenced by Media
    3) The personality of a hero, and the value of role-models
    4) The tendency for society to pick very poor role-models
    5) The idea of a society engaged in a healthy guidance of the younger generation

    I’m must read the rest of your site immediately!

    :-)

    I think you may enjoy my post on privacy literacy http://stephenis.com/?p=33

    stephenis

    • alanbeyersdorf

      It really is a shame blog posts are traditionally so short. I tried to be concise and I know there is plenty of material to expand upon. I think your numbers 2 and 5 run parallel with one another and could potentially be a more focused post, but I’m not sure if they’d be appropriate for this blog. I don’t have my own blog, but thanks for the kind words! I’ll check out your post!

  • http://dianegallagherphotos.wordpress.com Diane C

    Actually, infants are not a blank slate when it comes to morality. There is lots of research evidence to show that infant actually do have a moral compass as young as 8 weeks. But interesting post!

    • alanbeyersdorf

      I had no idea morality developed from such an early age and I’d be interested in having access to this research. Unfortunately, my free access to academic journals ended when I graduated. Let me know if anything turns up. Thanks for commenting!

  • The Life Mosaic

    I don’t disagree with the point of your post and I don’t want to paint myself as some sort of genius child, but my recollection is that when I played with He-Man toys as a kid, even then I understood it was over-the-top, nearly satirical. Never took it seriously. Glad you linked to Michael Crawford’s reviews. His writing is always top-notch.

  • http://momographica.com Momographica

    This is such a good post! I am a woman but I played a lot with the He-Man toys when I was a child (I even got the castle!). I clearly remember how much I hated the evil guy always to be the one beaten down because it didn’t seem much real too me. Not sure if it was because I was a fan of fictional (and I say,fictional) evil guys (probably), because most of the good guys looked silly (certainty) or simply because living in the real world you understand that good always win is not the way the World goes :)

  • http://jamesguycooper.wordpress.com jamesguycooper

    Reblogged this on jamesguycooper and commented:
    Breaking Free of The Man Box

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  • http://fantasyauthorblog.wordpress.com/ RickySchaedeWrites

    As a guy more on the feminine side I can definitely appreciate this article. I feel like in my own childhood I didn’t gravitate at all towards the super-male despite its definite presence. Spongebob Squarepants was my favourite cartoon character, I preferred the grace of Legolas to the manly jazz of Aaragorn, and in all honesty I typically related more so to female characters in shows, and still do in many ways. I’m just glad I was able to come to terms healthily with my own masc/fem balance and not be thrown into a loop by the super-male ideal.

  • http://eunoic.wordpress.com eunoic

    I do think some representations in mainstream media are getting better. For example the Ironman movies idolize Tony Stark, a genius who becomes Iron Man through his own creation. No radioactivity or lab accidents needed. Hopefully this signals the way for a shift in what is considered a ‘super-male’ and for that matter a ‘super female’ (we need smart heroines as well).

    Great post!

  • http://girltherapy.wordpress.com girltherapy

    By the power of grayskull;)

  • http://rachelsanks.wordpress.com Rachel Sanks

    We were just talking about 80s cartoons the other day — and how pseudo masculine Lady Jay seemed particularly compared to the lesser seen scarlet and her hyper girlishness — and whether that was an appropriate image for young girls and boys.

  • http://transformationalawareness.wordpress.com ragoher

    Highly interesting comments….you would like my page on transformational-awareness.com. Check it out when you have a chance.

  • http://notyouraveragefeminista.wordpress.com notyouraveragefeminista

    Practical, intelligent strength in a man is more appealing to me than popping veins and bulging arms. However, where I live, I see more of the ultra-thin and weak looking or morbidly obese fellas..
    Skinny jeans and shaggy hair… or roll after roll of excess body fat behind a t-shirt large enough to act as a sail for the Mayflower..
    My brothers and I grew up watching and playing with He-Man, Shera and Battlecat toys too. But we all are about as straight up average as it gets..
    I think common sense is the main ingredient missing from the recipe for the newest generation of “adults.”
    Thanks for the stroll down memory lane! “I HAVE THE POWER!!!”
    -E

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