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.