Alan Moore, widely considered the preeminent living writer of comics, recently suggested that devotees of superheroes beyond adolescence are ’emotionally subnormal.’ Moore may be right to an extent, but the kind of emotional emptiness filled by superheroes as escapism is probably one of the most common things in society — and it goes well beyond superhero geeks. The antithesis of what Moore is describing — let’s call it emotional maturity — is hardly constant in the first place.
Picture in your mind someone who is supposed to be emotionally mature. Unfortunately, people likely subconsciously look to men (primarily white) as examples of emotional maturity because that’s been the template for so long (see superheroes, also). So, anyhow, for this emotionally mature person did you imagine the dad from The Wonder Years again? Decent enough guy that he was, that character was a simmering pot of frustration and anger. Life had needled him into practicality to the point where that was all he wanted to see reflected in his own family. For such a person your average comic book is a frivolous waste of time, and so is fiction in general — and art, especially modern art … unless he was one of the many emotionally secure modern artists …
Yesterday’s standard of the emotionally secure person was probably a bit more social than the dad from The Wonder Years, but who needs social when you’ve got social networks. The modern equivalent of emotionally secure certainly has an extremely tight grip on some kind of smart phone … but a smart phone, my friend, is no superhero. (It is a little? Hmph.) It’s mostly a lifestyle thing. When someone who has gainful employment spends it on ways to enhance his or her lifestyle, that’s hardly emotionally mature. Who needs hobbies or escapism when you’ve got a lifestyle, an obsession with up and coming neighborhoods, with the right this or that, the idea of the most spiritually meaningful way to stay healthy, etc.? All of these measures of success — success, of course, hardly requiring that people be emotionally secure — can often easily be ascribed to, if not toys, then fixing up a really big room with lots of cool stuff and posters.
And what about an obsession with sports? A friend of mine would say that being a fan of any actor or actress is the same as rooting for a player on some team. Most of the time, it’s just as frivolous.
I don’t have anything against fashion, per se, but following it as intensely as some people do — even as a job — is hardly emotionally whole. Trying to always have some look that’s in or ahead of some imaginary curve is like trying to constantly replicate immaturity .
Alan Moore doesn’t think superheroes stand for anything good, and well, few things do — though there is something to be said for the particular emptiness of something that is supposed to stand for something extremely good really being entirely one-dimensional. But nothing I’ve mentioned here is inherently bad — far from it. It’s just, none of it is inherently meaningful or emotionally sound. Like any genre of fiction, superhero tales can add up to something positive. Maybe their being part of the pop culture machine that Moore hates so much has limited that.
And beyond them, to comics that have nothing to do with superheroes — but instead usually feature upwardly mobile people grasping with feeling emotionally subnormal. Even those can add up to something more positive than self-aggrandizing . Really.
The interview where Moore expressed his disdain for superheroes: