From superhero to superzero: the descent of masculinity

By Geoff Hewitt

Working with young males in learning environments for some time has allowed me to experience aspects of violence, joviality, random acts of kindness and much more. In terms of the development of young males, other priorities gain more attention from academia such as; the widening gulf between the attainment of males and females, or the attainment divide between races.  I feel that the support to help young males to navigate themselves, gain skills and improve their self-belief has largely been neglected. This has coloured my ever-changing perspective of what it means to be a man in today’s world. 

I began to question men’s place in the world, in the wake of the recent Moneysupermarket advert of a man strutting and twerking in hot pants.  I did like most find this funny, but then began to view this as an image of male strength gone sour.  I felt as though I was becoming too accustomed to the running joke of the pointless funny man.  Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it felt masculinity was being ridiculed, like a toothless lion.  I feel this has been steadily growing for some time, but have only recently become awakened to it. 

There is a scene in Chris Nolan’s 2008’s The Dark Knight, that sticks out in my mind.  The scene is where the character of the Joker is being interrogated by Batman, as he is desperate to know the whereabouts of his two friends. In the face of onslaught from the one of the world’s greatest detectives, the masterful villain simply cuts him down with the lightest of blows by simply…laughing in his face.  The scene culminates in a surprisingly quote. “You have nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength”.

Strength then becomes useless in the face of such challenges. What then are we supposed to do with it? It is possible that a generation of men have been misinformed about masculinity, strength and how to use it, thereby, over using it to commit heinous crimes, or under using it thereby being unable to provide enough challenge other than a surrendering to the status quo. 

Growing up in the 80s, I loved Saturday morning television its vivid imagery of muscle bound superheroes such as; He-man, Spiderman, Superman and Batman, suspiciously sorting out any world problems before the programme ended.  I was inspired enough to don capes and springboard from my parents’ armchairs on the back of any passerby.  I feel as though I had a healthy upbringing and referential point from which to become a secure, rounded man in contrast to the young males today.  In my work, I have noticed that young males have their behaviour classed as either, “well-behaved” or “mis-behaved”.  It is said as though they are true opposites in the antiquated sense of good versus evil.  I don't see this narrative of having much use, because the males seeking attention are  mimicking roles of an actual class joker, or the alpha male (Joker vs Batman) (Good vs Evil).  All the while, having little or no reference to what it actually takes to be a man in today’s society.  Many I work with are frustrated by the learning process but are well aware of the latest rap song complete with lyrics about money, girls and getting a better life.  It is possible that we have not only lost the fight, but it has also been surrendered.  Edmund Burke may have been on the right lines when he said “ The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”

It feels as though 21st century male has had his place under threat, and that questioning of his role has led to the increase of other roles and systems.  In saying this, I am not convinced that the answer is starting from scratch, but in finding a new definition that suits all. Having a range of stories to tell, but one where the intended heroes do not become the villains.


About the Author

I have worked for many years in a variety of learning environments supporting young males aged four to twenty-four in the UK, Barbados and Brazil.  I have experience as a teacher and mentor in primary and secondary school, as well as offsite education providers.  I have spent a significant amount of time supporting those excluded from mainstream education and those with behavioural, social and emotional difficulties.

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