Cinematic (Super) Heroes?
The reevaluation of those “superpowers” that make heroes
As I spoke to my fellow writers and editors about our next issue, I was met with confusion regarding this quarterly’s next topic. Many of our respected writers/collaborators sent me concerned emails about the presumable cinematic misconceptions underlying the discrepancies between “superheroes” and “heroes”. The mere concept of a “super”-man (or woman) has fascinated humanity for centuries and this fictional character has enthralled mankind for decades.
While I find Superman to be an amazing hero/concept, I have always been far more interested in his alter ego, Clark Kent (the same is true for Batman’s Bruce Wayne). While both characters possess outlandish “powers” through gadgets, superhuman strength and the ability to fly (Batman uses his cape to glide through the air), it is their courage to accept the calling to “save” those humans who need them most. Their vocation, to help humanity, has always been inspiring (whether they achieve that very goal is another issue). Both characters risk their lives and the suggestion that either superhero is more ‘spectacular’ than a nurse or doctor risking their lives during Covid 19 is upsetting. Superman risked his life to save the world and dug deep to find the courage to do so, but have not the health workers of 2020/2021 done the same (without blue tights, red underpants and a cape)? While the saying “not all heroes wear capes” has become a cliché, it is essential that we underline the superhuman qualities that both health workers and the Black Panther possess (“Wakanda forever!”). Perhaps an immediate communality that makes both categories of heroes “super” is their ability to not fear death and accept their vocation as a necessary role in society.
As I often do in moments of uncertainty, I looked to cinema for an answer [and as fate would have it Netflix suggested that I rewatch one of my all-time favorite movies, Stand and Deliver (1988)]. Despite the Rotten Tomatoes 82% rating (highway robbery!) this film made me want to become a teacher. The true story of Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos)’s quest to fight racism and teach calculus to those marginalized students of Eastern Los Angeles may at first seem merely“heroic” but as the movie progressed, I was reminded that Professor Escalante did indeed possess “super” powers that no ordinary human has:
A. Professor Escalante pushed students who did not know basic mathematics to not only pass the AP Calculus exam but become first generation college students
B. He worked endless hours for free
C. He fought a system and changed the concept of education
While Escalante’s fight was not with a sword and shield (but rather a pencil and paper) he still defied the odds and put his students’ needs before his own (perhaps a superpower?). It must be stated that although I took each author’s reservation on this month’s topic seriously, I could not stop thinking about Professor Escalante. I encountered confusion as I assumed that both heroes and superheroes belonged in the same category. Are those teachers that work in impoverished areas so different than Wonder Woman in her quest to stop World War I? I fought for this title and feel that we have been misled in believing that a human cannot be “super” during times and calls of greatness (science has taught us that a mother upon seeing her child in danger can double her strength). Manhattan more than ever needs a Bruce Wayne (the wealthy) to be a Batman (using their resources to take action against evil). Bruce Wayne (a hero) and Batman (a superhero) are two sides of the same coin, no?
What is a hero? What is a superhero? It seems in short that both categories respond to a calling to better the world through courage. This response leads to action and avoids the self-righteousness of many desktop warriors (those who post divisive news on social media and call it a day’s work). Will the merging of two identities confuse our readers in this quarterly? I find myself defending the topic in the hope of challenging many of the media’s platforms that have hypnotized our country into believing that division is a form of progress.
My dissertation (Middlebury College 2019) addressed the manipulation of the media and how politicians profit through division. The goal of launching this very quarterly was to remind the world of needed discussions (in a roundtable format). We have been manipulated into thinking that politics is synonymous with disagreement and have forgotten that the word “polis”, a Greek philosophical term, invited an intellectual discussion as a form of civilization. The act of being civil is engaging in the polis and listening to those voices that differ from ours (in the hope of solving problems). The trigger words of the media have implemented fear mongering as a form of propaganda and these vehicles are massive aids of distraction. The constant division suggested by social media and mass media outlets have become the Kryptonite of the humanities. They present perilous blockades in our ability to converse and focus on change.
The call for (super) heroes is greater than ever. The need to respond to our vocations and face the fear of 3000 deaths a day the situation is grim and frightening. We need heroes to look up to and emulate as the current toxicity of the capital being stormed has convinced many people that we are on the brink of a civil war.
Perhaps this edition after all is a recruitment for change.
A literary draft calling all heroes, superheroes and anybody who is willing to demand change in a struggling country to unite and march in the same direction. As we identify cinematic role models as characters that we readers should contend with, we will start the new year flying in the right direction.
Wishing you all my very best and a 2021 of change,
Co-Founder of Amino Quarterly
 This begs an important question: if, by superhero, we mean a person who serves the common good in ways that go far beyond what can reasonably be expected of normal people, what, then, is the definition between hero and superhero? Is the hero one who can make a difference in someone’s day (e.g. smiling at a stranger, etc.), while the superhero puts their life on the line each day to service their community?
D.J. Higgins holds a Doctorate in Modern Languages from Middlebury College, an MA in Italian from both Middlebury College and Indiana University, an MA in Spanish from Middlebury College, and an MA from Sacred Heart University in Film Studies. He is an active filmmaker (director, writer, producer) and his movies (along side his partner Julie Robinson) Pasquale’s Magic Veal, Meet Mario, Santino and the Smack Series (www.smacktv.net) can be found on Amazon and Youtube (search title plus “D.J. Higgins”).
His research examines the role of “American” cinema from a global prospective and filmmaking in Italian and Spanish speaking worlds. He teaches Italian and Spanish as well and has an overall love for anthropology and the role of media in dissecting culture and philosophy. He loves being in the classroom and looks forward to discussing cinema and society with his students!
He is currently an Assistant Professor at Penn State and has taught at Sacred Heart University, Indiana University, Mercy College and Empire State College.