Why Societies Need Hero Stories
Superheroes accomplish something outside of simply following mythic structure—they augment mythology itself.
The creation of superheroes and the books in which they are found function as part of our own modern mythology; just as folktales, fairy tales, and ancient myths say something about the cultures from whence they spring, superheroes are part of a uniquely American mythology. While comics and superheroes are no longer solely an American property, the invention of these things says a lot about the culture and attitude of our culture.
These are our Gods and Heroes, our stories—and our commentary on our society.
The early days of comic books clearly show the aspiration and American idealism of the time in which they were written—the feel-good resolutions, the perfect heroes, the general attitude of optimism. Comic books have chronicled our history, and touched on World War II, the War on Drugs, the current climate of terrorism.
Superheroes have changed with the times, as have their costumes and accessories—but not as much as their attitudes; and, in fact, that attitude of comics in general. No longer completely bright and shiny, comics and comic characters are sometimes cynical and sardonic, with the heroes themselves being presented as increasingly flawed.
Comics reflect the attitude and feeling of the society. This is our mythology, created and evolving decade after decade—and because of that, it’s our gift to the world, our mark on it.
If like all great empires that have come and gone, America were to fall into the ashes, these stories and legends would still survive. Superman will be here long after any of us—the idea of him and who he was, the embodiment of the highest concentration of Idealism and Virtue will outlast the nation that gave him life, and perhaps even its memory.
With the representation of these heroes, this is the mythology that we give to the world years after we disappear.
That is one of the many reasons why I have always been completely fascinated by superheroes – one of the reasons I have loved them since I was a child, one of the reasons why my birthday cake was shaped like Superman or Batman or Wolverine every year. Because, even as a child, though I was incapable of processing their importance on a conscious level, my very human psyche recognized the need for them, and was inspired by them.
Going further with mythology, we can look at things in terms of storytelling, and how myths of Superheroes, like all heroes, appeal to us on a number of levels; certainly, they excite us and delight us because they are cool, but they also appeal to us on a deep psychological level, for reasons both obvious and subtle.
The subtle reasons are a bit beyond the scope of this post, as they primarily have to do with Mythic Structure and the Hero’s Journey, as defined by Joseph Campbell.
To give you a very brief description, Campbell was a mythologist who looked at myths across cultures, and focused not on how or where they diverged, but how they converged; that is, looking at what the myths from various cultures had in common.
What he discovered is that regardless of when they are written or how far apart geographically, myths from all cultures tend to follow a particular structure. Campbell came to call this the Monomyth, and it’s the defining idea behind his work.
Again, a full discussion of the Monomyth is a bit too large for this writing, but the important thing is the impact of the idea.
The fact that nearly every culture tells stories in the same way says something about the collective mindset of humans as a whole: the structure satisfies something innate in us. The way that heroes emerge, evolve, and complete their journey is more than a story—it’s an emotional need that every person is attracted to on a level deep within the psyche of humanity itself.
In all hero stories—particularly those told in the Monomythic tradition—the hero is identifiable, immediately, as an extension of the Self. As a reader, you are inexorably drawn to the hero, learn things as he learns them, see the story from his perspective. Eventually, you identify with him.
We identify with the hero for a few reasons, not least of which is that, we want to be heroic: the hero is relatable because he stands for everything we would love to stand for, embodies everything we would like to see in ourselves.
However, most of us do not see ourselves as superheroes, initially; and so it would be hard to identify with a hero if he starts off that way. This is where mythic structure becomes more important, because the Hero’s Journey is less about getting from Point A to Point B than it is about the changes that occur to the hero along the way.
Therefore, the identification happens in part, by virtue of the way we tell stories. We can identify with them at the beginning, and we grow as they grow, cultivating that identification and carrying that identification all the way to the end.
When we watch their struggles, we feel like it is us, and we can identify with them overcoming these challenges. In other words, we inherently want to experience the Quest and the growth it brings. Looking at heroes allows the reader insight into how they might react in extraordinary situations, if and only if they had already gone through enough struggle, and had evolved to become something more; looking at them shows what we would like to be – the best version of ourselves.
Culturally, these stories give us a greater understanding of and context for conduct within our society, as well as an idealized version of what that society can achieve.
Personally, following the Hero on his journey allows us to realize the potential for own apotheotic moment: a moment wherein we become whole in the highest sense of the word; a moment wherein we could set aside fear and claim the ability to do what is right or needed.
And so, in a very true sense, Hero stories are not only inspirational, but aspirational; they allow to see the potential for change, first within ourselves, and in the world.
Or, perhaps better stated, these stories help us realize that striving for positive personal change places us in the best position to change the world for the better.
If I had to summarize all of this in a single sentence, it would be this: superheroes (and superhero movies) are universally appealing—and important—to us because, very simply, they inspire us to greater heights.
And being inspired is what it’s all about; superhero movies teach you to want to develop yourself so that you can help others; they encourage you to be a hero so that you can be heroic, for others. In the context of training, they encourage you to get better so that you can be better—for others.
I know that’s why I do it.
The single greatest joy I have ever gotten from being strong hasn’t been deadlifting 600 pounds, or benching four plates a side; it’s being strong enough to help where needed—to carry groceries for my mom, or help a friend move. It was the time a friend of mine was knocked unconscious at a music festival, and I had the strength to literally carry her, in my arms, nearly a mile to see a medic.
The biggest satisfaction that I ever had from having muscular endurance was not being fit enough to get through a workout without vomiting; it’s the ability to shovel cars out of snow for my neighbors without breaking down, and helping them get to work. It’s being able t to run a 5K for charity.
And although I currently have no reason to be truly fast, maintaining a high level of speed brings me satisfaction because I know that in the event I one day have to chase down a purse-snatcher, I’d be able to do it. (Perhaps unlikely, but, hey, I’d like to be ready.)
In other words, on a very real level, I train to be a superhero. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be. And of course, I’ve always trained to look like a superhero (I’d like to think I’d fill out a spandex costume very well, thankyouverymuch); but ultimately, I want to feel capable of great things. I want to know that I could help someone. I want to feel that, if called upon, I could save the day, save the girl, save the world.
Whatever it is, I would like to be able to perform in that moment—and I believe on some level, most of you do too. That is why superheroes speak to us.
And because they have always spoken to me, I have never been more excited than when I get to create things that will help people develop those qualities. When I get to take the knowledge that I have gained with training and nutrition over the last 10 years of my life, and marry them to everything that inspired me during the first 10 years.
The culmination of my quest to develop programs that will help people achieve a superhero body is the Superhero Workout program.
I know that so many of you want to be superheroes, and I’m so excited to help you do it.
This 12 week program, broken into 4 Phases–is exactly what you need to get into the best damn shape possible…
…and stay that way, all summer long.
So many of you believe that you can be greater than you are now, that you have it in you to achieve these things. And it’s true: you do. I can’t wait to help you get there.