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Holy Megabucks, Batman! The Astounding Popularity of Superhero Movies

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    The first person to live to 1,000 is already 60 years old-- Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) Foundation

    Has anyone noticed a pattern in recent summer film seasons? Maybe it's just me, but lately it seems  like one out of every three blockbusters is about a superhero. Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, the Hulk,  Wolverine, Captain America...need I go on? A review of any one of these films would be very brief: mind- numbing eye candy. If you like big muscles and even bigger explosions, then superhero films are for you.  If, on the other hand, you prefer films that are slightly more sophisticated than WWF throw-downs, then  you might find the burgeoning popularity of superdude sagas a wee bit puzzling.

    Apart from costume changes for example, the star of Captain America also played the role of the  Human Torch in the Fantastic Four most superhero films are pretty much identical. The stories revolve  around a central character, who is often a loser, and who experiences some sort of tragedy. The plot  thickens when the luckless everyman gets juiced up with some sort of superpower. The story builds to a  climax when the super-charged hero dashes off to vanquish a bad guy who has really got it coming. OK,  so if that about sums it up, then why do superhero movies set box office records year after year?
    Hollywood producers have long known that a film's success depends on forging a personal connection  with its audience. But what connection could there possibly be between real people and comic book  fantasies?

    Ever since people invented anthropomorphic gods--such as Thor, the star of a recent superhero  blockbuster--it's fair to say that humans have been fascinated with superhumans. The coolest thing  about superhumans is that they are sublimely untroubled by the mundane problems that plague mere  mortals. Compared to the gods, humans are puny, weak, and insignificant. However, humans are also  similar enough to the gods that, if we permit our imaginations to run wild, we can privately entertain  fantasies about wielding their superpowers: "There, but for a thunderbolt from heaven, go I."
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    This leads us back to Aubrey de Grey, the Chief Science officer of a foundation that is devoted to finding  a cure for death. Yes, you read those words correctly. Now, what on earth would inspire an otherwise  level-headed scientist to claim that humans might be on the verge of achieving immortality? Such  an outlandish fantasy would certainly seem to fall well outside the pale of serious science; however,  it still falls well within the bounds of human aspirations. Keep in mind that Albert Einstein once  said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

    In other words, fantasies often lead where science fears to tread. Crazy as it may seem, today's fantasies  are often tomorrow's realities. If you want a glimpse of what the future might hold, then I recommend  that you catch the inevitable sequel to Thor or Captain America. And don't be surprised if you spot  Aubrey de Grey in the front row of the theater.

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    Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at CSU-Pueblo and he is also the author of Good Science: The Pursuit of Truth and the Evolution of Reality.

Prof Tim teaches sociology at CSU-Pueblo and he writes books about social change, such as... A Formula for Eradicating Racism,

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Fantasies often lead where science fears to tread.... by Tim McGettigan on Sunday, Oct 2, 2011 at 9:47:58 AM
The difference between seeing a superhuman movie a... by liberalsrock on Sunday, Oct 2, 2011 at 4:26:18 PM
I don't think the popularity of superhero movies s... by lwarman on Monday, Oct 3, 2011 at 10:45:49 AM