Back in January 2013, a story went viral when a mother posted a video. In the video was her eight-year-old son Zach, a fanatic Batman fan who was battling leukemia. Sitting on a hospital bed, the video captured a sweet moment as Zach spoke with Batman star Christian Bale over the phone. The moment was touching, not just because of Bale’s act of kindness, but because it was powerful to see a little boy receive so much hope and joy from a fictional superhero.
The massive success of recent superhero movies, including the new Marvel epic AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, reflects a part of ourselves that civilization strives towards (or at least should). Internal and external battles of good vs. evil rooted through personal stories of normal people doing extraordinary things is an attractive mythos for humanity to pursue. In fact, there are a plethora of positive values engrained in superhero stories that help condition us into the people we were created and destined to be.
However, the impact of this is seen the most in children. More than the movies themselves, the superhero characters children grow up aspiring to be carry a huge burden of this influence. Chris Evans and Chris Pratt dress up as their characters Captain America and Star Lord and visit children’s hospitals. Robert Downey, Jr. assumes his Tony Stark personality to present a young boy with a new bionic arm. In an extreme example, thousands of volunteers helped transform San Francisco into Gotham City to allow child cancer survivor Miles Scott to be Batkid for a whole day. Finally, there are also stories of concerned people, average citizens, who dress up as Batman or Superman to comfort sick children and other people in need. It’s clear that these fictional heroes have become real world icons and symbols, not necessarily for every adult, but definitely for millions of children.
“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know the world hadn’t ended.”
~ Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.
It’s hardly recognized, but this idea of aspiring to something greater goes against the grain of our culture and is actually quite politically incorrect. What’s currently fed to this generation is an idea, a dangerous one that tells viewers to aspire internally instead of externally. Every day, the media tells people to “be yourself” or to “be true to who you are,” but if we’re honest, that’s not setting the bar of excellence very high. If you believe that people are essentially broken, redemption won’t and can’t be found in ourselves: it must come from something greater – a hero…a savior.
That’s not to say, of course, confidence and self worth shouldn’t be encouraged in children. These and other virtues and traits definitely should be encouraged.
However, our brokenness is only the first part of the story of God’s love and mercy toward us as human beings. The rest of the story is that, even in our brokenness, God sent His son Jesus Christ to restore us and give us new identities in Christ.
One can only take the analogies in these fantasy superhero movies so far. Some, such as Superman, are more overt in their comparisons to Jesus. Others are simply tales of regular human beings striving to be more courageous, good and just when they face evil. Children long for heroes to cheer on to win and to hope to be, and this is especially why superhero stories are so meaningful to children with illnesses.
Tragically, Zach passed away from Leukemia nearly a year after his talk with Christian Bale, and our hearts break for the family’s loss. Christian Bale’s phone call made a difference however. Zach himself showed heroic qualities in his fight, and his story affected many, many others. His story, and many others like his, are not in vain. To valiantly fight for goodness, against all odds, when sickness, darkness or discouragement comes against you, this is where fiction and reality meet. This is when life imitates culture. This is why superhero movies promoting the good, the true and beautiful are so important for our children, and our grandchildren.
“The night is darkest before the dawn. And, I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
~ Harvey Dent in THE DARK KNIGHT
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