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Poch Peralta

Freelance Writer / Blogger,

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Is Superhero Obsession Culturally Destructive?

That is what a Comics god himself claims. How could you not believe when he's criticizing his own industry?

'Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.

'The Watchmen author also used a lengthy recent interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks entitled “Last Alan Moore interview?” – to expand upon his belief that today’s adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, a view originally aired in the Guardian last year.

“'To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid...'
http://www.psfk.com/2014/01/alan-moore-superhero-obsession.html

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      Feb 7 2014: Now that is a most novel and unique perspective and idea Carol. Isn't that what they call in psychology 'Escape Mechanism'? Your case reminded me of the book 'When Rabbit Howls'. What the author (abused by her father since childhood) experienced was very related to yours.
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          Feb 8 2014: Well, your choice seems better Carol and I'm glad you're over that 'most horrific violence and torture'.
  • Feb 11 2014: Alan Moore will be the subject of trivia questions in a few decades. Superhero comics are no more influential than any other mass entertainment.

    Throughout history, the various details of the mass entertainment of the day have been cited as "proof" that some social catastrophe is right around the corner.
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      Feb 11 2014: Great to hear you again Bryan.
      I'll even say that comics is less influential than any other mass entertainment.

      'Throughout history, the various details of the mass entertainment of the day have been cited as "proof" that some social catastrophe is right around the corner.'
      Reminds me of the Roman colosseum. Great insight Bryan.
  • Feb 9 2014: Alan Moore's comments didn't seem very accurate or insightful. My sense is that he was just emotionally reacting to having felt attacked. As an artist, some people weren't taking away what he thought and hoped he was communicating. His doubts about the comic book industry obviously implicate his own work and so they might be first and foremot self-doubts.

    He wa probably feeling defensive, angry and hurt. So, I'd take his comments with a large grain of salt.

    Also, there maybe is an issue of being stuck in an industry echo chamber. If so, this would disconnect him from the average person. I say this because, in my experience, most people don't read comic books at all. My nieces and nephew don't read comic books, even though some of them are prime comic book reading age. Even among those who are comic book readers, I doubt many of them read comic books very often.

    About superheroes in general, I don't think there is any particular obsession, at least no more than usual. Humans have been interested in heroes with special abilities, superhuman and otherwise, for as long as humans have been telling stories. It's probably safe to say we are less obsessed about 'supereoes' than were our ancestors.

    The most obviously relevant change in society today is that special effects have improved and so the entertainment industry is producing more imaginative works, including superheroes. But there is also the theory that more imaginative works are made during times of social stress when events are uncertain and changing. Imaginative works allow us a temporary escape from reality, an outlet for our fears, and the vision to see new possibilities. Superhero stories symbolize the traits that are most necessary and desirable at those times when problems seem greater than we mere mortals know how to handle.

    I don't see any of that as worthy of criticism. Maybe Alan Moore is just becoming a cynical old man. It can happen to the best of us.
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      Feb 9 2014: I'm so glad you joined TED Mr. Steele. It's an honor and I'm sure you will be contributing useful insights.
      I'm not sure yet if Moore was right in criticizing his own industry but I admire his courage considering he acted alone. His case is like the case of many famous musicians condemning the music industry for robbing them of their right dues and wages.

      Well, I hope you're right in saying that Moore is maybe just becoming a cynical old man lol
      • Feb 9 2014: I should add that I'm a big fan of Alan Moore. None of this changes my opinion of his work.

        He has gone out of his way to embrace a life of oddity. It is perfectly in character for Moore to make contrarian statements. I'd be more suprised if he didn't make contrarian statements. I suspect he declared such a strong opinions largely because he knew it would get attention. To me, it feels like his attempt to wrest control of some media space in order to get himself heard.

        He might not be used to the mainstream attention. For most of his career, he was utterly unknown to the mainstream. He is a big name in the industry, but that industry has been mostly ignored by the larger world. It has only been in recent years that comis have become more popular. He is probably better at relating to his fanbase than relating to those outside the comic book world. Maybe it feels disconcerting for him to be getting all this attention in his old age.
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          Feb 9 2014: Another plausible theory!: Trying to get free publicity! Although I find it hard to believe that someone already very popular as he is would want more popularity IN OLD AGE. With all the volume of your assessment of Moore, it's already the size of a blog post.

          By the way sir, if ever you find my convos (conversations) uninteresting, you can join the convos of other members and I'll probably join you there.
      • Feb 9 2014: I'm not saying he wants popularity. I'm more thinking that he wants to better control his own message. It isn't just being heard for the sake of it but so as to be understood. With all the criticisms of his work, he probably felt frustrated on both a personal and professional level.

        The whole point of creating art is to communicate. If an artist's message is misinterpreted, that isn't a criticism of his message but ultimately a criticism of his attempt to communicate. His identity as an artist is at stake.

        It sounds like he is feeling a desire to retreat from popularity in order to escape misinterpretations. He can only rely upon his most loyal fans to understand him.
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          Feb 9 2014: I'm an artist myself sir so I assure you that I can put myself into Moore's shoes and understand what you're saying now.

          'It sounds like he is feeling a desire to retreat from popularity in order to escape misinterpretations...'
          What a great new insight again!

          'He can only rely upon his most loyal fans to understand him.'
          This is easy to understand just applied to blogging and networking. Whenever I feel misunderstood or misinterpreted, my loyal followers always assure me they understand.
      • Feb 9 2014: I don't know Moore's motivations more than anyone else. I'm, of course, just speculating. My intuition is that you can't take his comments at face value. But I could be wrong.

        If he really does mean what he says, I'd like to see him explain his position more clearly. Based on what evidence does he think so many people are obsessed with superheroes? Maybe such evidence exists. I just don't see it. It makes more sense to my mind to assume he was exaggerating for effect or for the fun of it.

        If we can't pin down the truth or falseness of his claim, all other discussion is moot or at least nothing more than speculating upon speculation. Not that there is anything wrong with speculation, as long as you acknowledge that is what you're doing. I've just found the more people speculate the more they tend to take their own speculations as facts. That said, I do enjoy speculating as much as the next guy and gal.
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          Feb 9 2014: lol I assure you sir that I also 'enjoy speculating as much as the next guy and gal'. And I hope that Moore was exaggerating for the fun of it!
  • Feb 8 2014: Interesting Poch that you used the phrase "Comics god Alan Moore", don't you think??

    But the obsession, is not I think why we are culturally obsessed, that I think comes from two separate fronts.

    The first being that media, hollywood, looks for and in the latter case only want's those types of films, as they are obsessed with the youth market (notice how many are males, superhero's that is), just as many as the young males going to the cinema. So one feeds of the other.

    Second is a reflection of where society is heading and the role of the average person in it. Too often corps, governments, police, and other authoritarian figures/institutions, have a larger and larger dominant role, and so 'we the people' feel somewhat like David vs Goliath when facing those obstacles. eg try to get Apple on the phone, try to get hold of the relevant government official who is and accepts responsibility, or a boss that listens, or try to get customer service instead of on hold for hours - those are the workaday frustrations. And it's a situation that a superhero never faces.

    And Alan Moore is being a little disingenuous about saying adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, because all of his stories, and he'll freely admit if he's honest, have a significant basis in the ancient Greek tales that Homer et al gave us, and there were masses of gods/superhero's to glean from.

    That therein lays the most important point, as if you learned the classics, you'd understand the moral choices and moral ambiguity of certain aspects of humanity, and superhero's in film are no different.

    And Moore should know, maybe he's forgotten, that ancient Greek gods, had their children castrate their fathers, if not kill them then marry their mothers, impersonate male mortals to have sex with their wives and much much more.

    What's really sad, is that the ancient Greek culture was 3000 years ago... 3000 years later...we've not really come that far.
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      Feb 8 2014: 'What's really sad, is that the ancient Greek culture was 3000 years ago... 3000 years later...we've not really come that far.'
      And really not surprising Steve. There are even vast lessons from history we should have learned from.
      • Feb 9 2014: Unfortunately, education has for the most part abandoned teaching the classics of ancient Greek culture, and you'd possibly notice that Moore's generation was the last where it was part of the curriculum.

        Where he has learned that the Gods had a duality, and how they reflect in us, our duality, and how society is still only too in synch with the values of the mortals of those times.

        How plays, film and literature and the structure that creates culture is and was defined by the ancient greeks, and still used today in the very comic books you read, the novels you read, the plays you watch and the films you see..

        As well as our idea of democracy and the institutions that surround it, in fact to the architecture that houses those very institutions.

        As well as our understanding of medicine (wiki Hippocratic oath, see where it came from) to the very plants that now are in tablet form (wiki aspirin).

        The understanding of the mind and the dichotomies within, lead to our present psychology and even the majority of terms, Oedipus complex.

        The understanding of actions performed, from the violent to the deeply generous, all mortal virtues and crimes were exposed - to learn from.

        There are many other examples too numerous to give. And so our abandonment of teaching classics only leads us to understand less about ourselves our society and what could be a guiding light. For to forget the past one is doomed only to repeat it. Rather aptly called...The Sisyphus complex.
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          Feb 9 2014: '...Moore's generation was the last where it was part of the curriculum.'
          Ancient Greek culture is included in History subject in High School. Do you mean to say that Ancient Greek culture is not included anymore in the subject World History?

          I remember now that ROTC was scrapped from college curriculum then was recently reincluded. In some countries, there's proposal to reinclude the Spanish language too. So there's a big possibility that Greek history would be brought back to the curriculum---which they should do.
      • Feb 10 2014: You'll only find it at a few universities now (such as www.classics.cam.ac.uk), generally titled classics.

        The majority of schools (world wide) have abandoned it a long time ago.
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          Feb 10 2014: I see now why we should be concerned Steve.
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    Feb 6 2014: I read in the interview two concerns. One was whether obsessive interest in the caricature represented by superheroes is by its nature unhealthy and the other is whether nostalgic recapturing of stories from another time interferes with developing a novel, contemporary culture.

    To the first I'd have to say that adults enjoying superhero movies or for that matter Star Wars and similar myth-connected plot lines is not necessarily what I would call an obsession. These same adults may be watching Downtown Abbey or the Superbowl as well, reading mysteries or nonfiction, also going to work, raising families... There are probably very few adults of whom one could say they have an obsession with superheroes, I think.

    Some recreations may be temporary retreats from the complexity of modern life. But then, one might say the same about cuddling pets, playing baseball, listening to music...It doesn't seem unhealthy to indulge in an occasional change of pace. These behaviors do not suggest a reluctance to face reality or to build a viable life in a complex world.

    The question of whether reconnection to heroes of the past interferes with new cultural developments is a different one. Some people argue that the cultural novelty of our time is precisely the idea of the remix- of exploring an integration of ideas and images across both times and cultures rather than defining an independent, disconnected or linearly connected image of this particular time. Another dimension of exploring modern incarnations of old subjects is the time-honored tradition of art forms that maintain dialogue with works of the past. West Side Story may be Romeo and Juliet in a new setting. Some themes are worthy of frequent revisiting in a conversation that extends across time.
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      Feb 6 2014: Ahh...it's so good to hear a comment that doesn't drag the Feminism issue ma'am.

      'It doesn't seem unhealthy to indulge in an occasional change of pace.'
      I agree. Adults can also scan comics just to indulge in nostalgia which is mostly healthy.

      As to reconnection to heroes of the past, I don't see anything wrong with that either. In fact, we probably will learn something from doing that.
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        Feb 6 2014: The feminist issue was an issue in his interview but not the focus of your question as I read it. His only work I have read was a graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, in which case he stayed close to the actual historical narrative.
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          Feb 6 2014: Oh... either I missed that or forgot about that. Actually, I was referring to Lilly's comment (no malice here Lilly) because I noticed that she always make feminism the issue on various convos.

          @lilly
          I'm not anti-feminist and in fact I admire feminists who don't flaunt their feminism too much.
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        Feb 6 2014: Feminism= "Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women."

        I would guess, Poch, you support equal political, economic, and social rights for women. I cannot see you being anti-feminist. Come to think of it, I have not noticed anyone on TED who does not support equal political, economic and social rights for women.
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          Feb 6 2014: You guessed right Fritz. And your not noticing anyone on TED who does not support equal political, economic and social rights for women is a bit surprising but good ma'am.
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      Feb 6 2014: to me it somewhat seems that taking older superhero stories and putting them into movies with modern production values, modern special effects, computer enhancement and so on does develop a novel, contemporary culture

      Technically we could probably say culture has always been a remix?

      Nowadays it is fashionable to say many situations are not black and white, there are many "shades of gray." But I certainly encounter situations in life that do seem black and white, where there aren't many shades of gray. I wonder if people want clarity and black and white so they like superhero movies.

      Wonder what there is for female viewers in watching superhero movies, most of the movies concentrate largely on men.
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        Feb 6 2014: It's very much like reading literature in which the protagonist happens to be male. As an example, King Lear is an interesting and great figure in English literature and a symbol of things that are more universal than a gender.

        I am sure there are women who cannot appreciate art with male protagonists and men who dislike art with female protagonists, but its not automatic.
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  • Feb 10 2014: Poch,

    I think it also stems from the "lone stranger" who battles evil (i.e. High Noon, etc.) by himself and wins. There was also a documentary "Waiting for Superman" on public education. The feeling that we need a superhero to solve our problems, or at least that super single individual that has the "silver bullet" solution that will work immediately has hurt our growth. There are no super heroes or "silver bullet" solutions - just hard work with hope for the future that we have guessed correctly.
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      Feb 10 2014: By saying it 'has hurt our growth', I take it you agree with Moore that obsession with superheroes is culturally destructive. Somewhat nice to see a few agree with Moore. At least I agree that 'there are no super heroes or "silver bullet" solutions - just hard work with hope for the future that we have guessed correctly.'
      • Feb 10 2014: Yes too many people are waiting for the superhero to save the day
  • Feb 9 2014: I had one other thought. It seems odd Alan Moore's criticisms of perceived obsession of superheroes by the public. Alan Moore once invented a god so as to worship it. It is hard to take his criticisms of others too seriously.
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      Feb 9 2014: Ahh...I see your point clearly sir. Yes I see it. I can see others agreeing.
  • Feb 8 2014: Hey there Poch, I think any obsession is ultimately a harmful thing for an individual or a society. I grew up a comic book nerd. I never read the darker comics, like the watchmen, because the small town family owned drug store only carried marvel comics. There was violence enough and probably a few other negative aspects of them but overall I'm glad I read them. A number of them had strong messages that have stuck with me to this day. They were put in a way that I could understand at such a young age and were entertaining enough to hold my attention. It makes me tgink of Joseph campbell. These were age old myths repackaged in a new form, not all comics of course, but a fair number of the ones I had access to.
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      Feb 8 2014: Right Jacob. I agree that any obsession is ultimately harmful for an individual or a society except when one's obsession makes him productive on a useful project or task. Most artistic geniuses are obsessive and if something is harmed, it's only themselves.

      You reminded me of my office colleague who was a comics collector. He has a library of comics! And the harm I saw with that is it made him lazy and fat. He could spend a whole day just reading his comics!
      • Feb 8 2014: Ha! I actually only still own one comic. The first I ever bought. The silver surfer has to face his embodied negative traits. Every repressed negative thought or urge coalesced and became sentient. The only way the silver surfer ended up defeating his nega self was by embracing it and merging with it becoming a whole out of two halves. POWERFUL STUFF!

        As to productive obsessions, it makes me think of some of the things I found in buddhist teachings. Those that become obsessed with results and obsessed with attaining enlightenment as ifit were an end to a journey hinder themselves. Obsession leads to narrowmindedness and limits us and our ability to think. There may be a fine line between maintaining motivation and having goals and being obsessed with something but it seems an unhealthy line to cross.
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          Feb 8 2014: Now I'm reminded of parents who were obsessed with making their children famous or recognized. Very sad that the victims of their obsession is their children burning them out with intense training and harming most of them mentally and sometimes physically.
      • Feb 8 2014: Yes sir. Thats another fine line. How much to push and encourage kids to push themselves. Sometimes I wonder who I would be and what my life would be like if I had pushed or been pushed a little harder. One thing for sure, I wouldn't be me. All we are is the result of what we have thought said and done, different choices lead to different results.
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          Feb 8 2014: 'All we are is the result of what we have thought said and done...'
          Great theory Jacob. Maybe you should have added 'what we have been taught'?
      • Feb 8 2014: Can't take any credit for those words, I believe they came from the Dhammapada. Yes, what we are taught is part of us, but if we don't think about what we are taught and reflect on it through the lense of our experience what good is it. Provisional knowledge vs experiencial knowledge? A priori vs a posteriori?
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          Feb 8 2014: Just the reply I expected. I didn't mean we have surrendered and accepted what we have been taught. Like you imply, I mean we have to think about what we were taught, defragment our brains, and 'reeducate' ourselves if needed.
      • Feb 8 2014: Absolutely sir, I agree. I think the world would be a better place if more people thought deeply about what they have been taught instead of excepting it as truth. Especially in light of the fact that there are so many negative behaviors and beliefs being passed down through the generations, like racism, violence, intolerance, etc.
      • Feb 8 2014: Hey, that brings us back full circle to the question you asked. We agree I think on the question of obsession, but if you can find new and more positive ideas and ways of viewing the world and your place in it through reading comic books then I see them as a positive influence. I.e. "With great power comes great responsibilty".”In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power — Green Lantern’s light!” "Do you know what is the greatest gift anyone can receive in his lifetime? The greatest gift we can receive is to have the chance, just once in our lives, to make a difference. Do you understand how many times you made a difference? Enough for a hundred lifetimes."See more at: http://www.mattcampbellart.com/2011/06/best-comic-book-quotes/#sthash.4GZTOZsE.dpuf
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          Feb 8 2014: "...The greatest gift we can receive is to have the chance, just once in our lives, to make a difference. Do you understand how many times you made a difference? Enough for a hundred lifetimes."

          Great quote. Would be hard to believe it came from a comic book!
      • Feb 8 2014: I'm telling you man, there's some good stuff hidden between the pages of some comic books. I believe that quote was from Dr. Strange talking to spiderman. If ideas like these can be packaged in a way that attracts young readers then I'm all for it. Of course not all comic books are positive influences and there should probably be some responsible parental supervision in choosing comics.
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          Feb 8 2014: I know that comics could be useful. It's just that quote---I've never read one that extremely wise for a long time!
          I even use comics for some of my writing references sir.
      • Feb 8 2014: Good deal sir. Always a pleasure! Looking forward to your next discussion.
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    Feb 8 2014: We need more heroes. I want more heroes. You know? The real ones. Not the ones in comic books.
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      Feb 8 2014: Real heroes do drastic things. I wonder what a real hero would do with America's 1%?
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      Feb 7 2014: Well, I'm sorry if I thought you were a feminist Lilly. Anyway, it's just a few deleted comments and not really damaging to us. Could have been worse so let's just be grateful right? :-)
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          Feb 8 2014: Alright alright dear if you say so. As always, I respect your every opinion. Wow. I would love you to be a member of our Internet Defense League hot activist :-)
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      Feb 6 2014: Guess what Lilly...it wasn't me. All my replies to you were also deleted so now I'm wondering why lol
      Did the eraser think we we're quarreling?
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        Feb 7 2014: Hi, Poch. Usually when admins delete a comment, it is because it involves something like a personal attack on someone else in the conversation (on the person himself/herself rather than the idea), maybe a prejudiced, hostile remark against a whole group of people- hate speech or something like that, sometimes spam (or if someone makes a totally non-substantive post like "Hi, there!" or "Anybody home?" or "Have a nice day!") or is clearly off topic.

        Those are the things I have seen in the couple of years I have participated here. You can see the Terms of Use by clicking on the link on the left.

        When a comment is deleted, often replies to it are deleted as well. You would often in that case get an automatic reply to you that says "Your comment was deleted because a comment to which you responded was deleted."

        Another thing that sometimes happens is that a couple of people veer together off the topic of a thread in a way that doesn't advance the topic of the thread.

        For example, this thread is supposed to be about Superhero obsession. So if this were not your own thread, Poch, the host of the thread - or someone else- might note to admins that we are well off topic. The admins would consider that situation and perhaps delete these three off-topic posts.

        I hope this helps.
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          Feb 7 2014: 'Another thing that sometimes happens is that a couple of people veer together off the topic of a thread in a way that doesn't advance the topic of the thread.'

          Now that is what happens in most of my convos and I even have to remind some to get back to the main topic. And yet I don't think any of my convo comments were deleted for that reason.

          Your reply helped indeed ma'am. Thanks.
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          Feb 7 2014: This might be off topic but I need your help with My Conversations problem that TED support cannot answer.

          For about a week now, all my new Conversation submissions---at least 4---are being rejected citing the error 'CSRF attack detected'. Since support assured me of looking into the problem, I assumed that I'm not the one guilty of CSRF attack---which I'm sure of.

          Do you have any idea about my problem ma'am? Is it possible that a TED insider is sabotaging my submissions?
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        Feb 7 2014: Poch, I am not a tech-savvy person. TED support staff definitely are.

        One possibility is that this is simply a bug in TED's system.

        From what I have read online, CSRF attacks have something to do with links and something to do with browsers. So why don't you try posting your conversation without including any links and also, if you usually use, say, Internet Explorer, try using Chrome or Mozilla instead?

        There is basically no chance, in my opinion, that someone is deliberately sabotaging your submissions from TED's end.

        Keith Heinlein (I have misspelled his name, unfortunately, but keep your eyes open for him) is the most tech-savvy person I have noticed within the Conversations community. If anyone can help you troubleshoot this, he can.
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          Feb 7 2014: Yes Fritz. I know Keith and he's always visiting my convos. I only asked you, not him, because you're the one who always intervene or reply to help with user problems.

          Anyway, Support had just sent a reply which is very technical but looks promising. Thank you ma'am.
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      Feb 8 2014: Ah the Irony. Kind of makes you wonder.