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Real-Life Superheroes: Threat or Menace?

I remember having heard something about the phenomenon of real-life superheroes a while back, but a post over at Blag Hag brought it back to mind. You can also find more info via the following links: Real Life Superhero Walks Streets, Fighting Crime; On Patrol With Phoenix Jones: Guardian of Seattle; Police Alerted to ‘Superheroes’ Patrolling Seattle; Cincinnati’s Masked Super Hero: Part I; So, What is RLSH?

In the words of C&C Music Factory, this is a thing that made me go hmm….

On the one hand, my inner geek wants to applaud. Hell, I want to jump up and down waving my hand and yelling “Pick me, pick me!” I’ve been reading comicbooks for a lot of years now, and I’ve always dreamed about being a superhero (well, at least when I wasn’t dreaming about being a supervillain). With the exception of maybe politicians and CEOs, who doesn’t want to change the world? Sure dressing up in tights and a cape to do it might seem a little silly, but there’s no harm in it, right?

On the other hand, my inner philosopher insists I need to take a closer look at this situation before jumping in with my support.

A recurrent theme with these real-life superheroes is that they just want to help people. Various individuals seem to encourage people to give blood, donate time/effort/money to helping the homeless, and other social causes. They want to make the world a better place. I can get behind that. The whole reason I spend so much time trying to get people to think, and more importantly to live philosophically is because I think doing so will help make the world a better place. If I thought tights and a cape would help me accomplish that I’d put them on in a heartbeat… or maybe a few heartbeats after I managed to shrink my philosopher’s (i.e. beer) gut. I can even get behind people in superhero costumes who want to act as a kind of neighborhood watch. By all means go out there and act as a four-color deterrent. Pass out fliers. Encourage people to help the authorities. Call in when you see trouble.

Where the situation is problematic is when you get guys like Phoenix Jones and the “Rain City Superhero Movement,” or Super Hare and Co. out on the streets of Cincinnati actually intervening in situations. Sure, you see bad shit going down you’re probably going to want to help. There are even Good Samaritan laws and statues allowing for citizens arrest. Phoenix Jones claims that all the individuals he’s involved with have a military or martial arts background, and they can take care of themselves. Which is good, but is it sufficient?

What happens when one of these guys gets involved in a situation that escalates and causes a bystander, or someone they were trying to help, to get injured. What happens if one of these guys fucks up and is responsible for an injury or property damage? Sure we might not have to worry about them punching anyone through a building, but that doesn’t mean something can’t go wrong. One of the first example that comes to mind is that they cause a suspect to flee in a vehicle, and said suspect wrecks into something, which could well involve potential injury to both persons and property. Where does the legal and moral responsibility fall to both bystanders and suspects? Yes, I extend the same concerns to suspects. Not only because even convicted criminals do have certain rights, but because these real-life superheroes could read a situation wrong. How far should Good Samaritan laws extend? If someone, bystander or suspect, gets injured, who will be covering the medical bills? Are companies offering “superhero” insurance now?

What about practical concerns? These guys don’t have the resources of the police. They go out “on patrol” and look for crime. Am I supposed to call Super Hare instead of 911? Do they have ways of getting people to pull over so they can get to an emergency situation? For that matter what are they going to do when the authorities are the criminals; is Super Hare willing to jump in when the crime being committed is multiple Hamilton County deputies beating the shit out of a 52 year old diabetic?

I applaud what these real-life superheroes want to do. Helping people is a good thing. I understand the frustration of being a victim of crime, particularly when it seems like the police can’t or won’t help. However, dressing up in spandex and going out there to fight crime… no. I won’t claim that real-life superheroes who are out there on the streets intervening aren’t making any kind of difference, but they could do just as much, if not more, harm than they do good. By all means help the police. Help your neighbors. Make the world a better, brighter place. Wear a brightly colored costume while doing so if that’s the way you want to do it. If you want to fight crime, if you want to help victims… join the police force. Become a paramedic, or go to work with a social welfare organization. Find a way to help the world that is legally and ethically sustainable, and one that doesn’t leave you open to causing harm or facing risks that you never intended.

It is because I applaud them, because I empathize with them, that I think those real-life superheroes out there with stunguns and handcuffs, out there fighting crime, should hang up the tights and find another way.

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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Activism, Comics, Philosophy

 

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