Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cosplay Vigilantism

I finally had an opportunity to watch the documentary Superheroes on HBO this week. I also read my friend Will’s write-up on the movie, and I think he was far too easy on the filmmaker and his subjects. What these people are doing is dangerous. They are endangering themselves, the people around them in public when they attempt to fight crime, and potentially their families and loved ones.

Nearly all of the subjects had a history of having been physically abused, witnessed physical abuse, or a personal account of drug abuse and/or violence. I would have preferred the filmmaker explore the psychological issues that may have led these people to put on a costume and, oftentimes, hide behind a mask and attempt to fight crime. The impact this pursuit has had on the “heroes” real life – day jobs, relationships, family – would have been far more interesting than following them on “patrols.”

The obvious path these people should be taking is to follow a career in law enforcement, but given the histories of many of these “heroes,” that simply isn’t a viable option. But there are other opportunities to do good in one’s community instead of the bait-patrol tactics some of these folks use. The Jewish hero calling himself “Life” in NYC and the couple in Portland, Oregon – Zetaman and Apocalypse Meow, didn’t come off as superheroes so much as people reaching out to their respective homeless communities while wearing costumes.

While San Diego’s Mr. Xtreme seems to have his heart in the right place in his attempts to raise awareness of violent crimes and sex criminals, I think it was stunningly irresponsible of the Deputy Mayor to honor this “superhero” and provide a forum for him to promote his activities. Mr. Xtreme’s parents were compelling in their disapproval of their son’s hobby, and Apocalypse Meow was fascinating in that when her significant other revealed his Zetaman hero identity to her she protested, then not only enabled him, but has joined him.

By definition, vigilantes believe their government/police force is ineffective, and many of these “heroes” expressed that exact sentiment as motivation behind their pursuit. Superheroes could have been a fascinating psychological exploration and a cautionary tale, instead it comes off as a confused film that can’t decide if it wants to glorify a group of vigilantes or mock them.

1 comment:

Will Pfeifer said...

Hey, Adam -- nice review. I didn't mind the lack of psychological introspection because I can't see how a 90-minute documentary would be able to get into that in enough depth to make it worthwhile. I thought there was enough both told and implied to let the viewers know some (many?) of these people had problems that they were consciously or subconsciously working out in costume. I also don't think the film was too celebratory of what the "heroes" were doing, because many of the scenes showed them, at best, as foolhardy and, at worst, as foolish or dangerously deluded. Plus, the unstated theme of the film for me was that all these people prepared for crime, dressed for crime and probably prayed for a crime to happen, but in the whole movie we only see a single confrontation (the guy in NYC facing the drug dealer). Then, facing the absence of physically fighting crime, many of them decided to do something safer (and saner) that still made a difference -- in fact, a much bigger difference than "patrolling" for criminal: namely, helping their local homeless populations.

Anyway, sorry for the rambling response. I did like your blog post. Always good to hear another perspective. Best, Will