A new study, the results of which were unveiled at this past weekend's 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, suggests that modern superheroes are a bad influence on today's youth. The rotten tomato has to be Punisher or Kick-Ass, right? Wrong. It's lovable ol' Iron Man.
"There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday," said Sharon Lamb, PhD, presenting the findings of the study. "Today's superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he's aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Ironman, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns."
Lamb goes on to suggest that even though the crime fighting idols of comic books past were still violent in their own right, they " were heroes boys could look up to and learn from because outside of their costumes, they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities."
Now hold on a second. Is she basically saying that Tony Stark doesn't have real problems? Sure, he's stinking rich, has a mean wit, loves to party and sees women as objects, but I'd hardly call him a guy without problems, alcoholism and daddy issues being the top two bouts of personal struggle Iron Man has faced over the years. Tony Stark is clearly a darker, more complex character than Superman or Captain America. He's essentially an anti-hero, something kids in the single digits weren't intended to idolize. But hey, I saw Batman when I was 7, and I turned out okay.
But the larger point of Lamb's hypothesis is that marketing is targeting younger age groups to sell products that probably shouldn't be in the hands of such impressionable minds. The study apparently surveyed 674 boys age 4 to 18 to find out what they were reading and watching on television and at the movies. Somehow, Lamb arrived at the conclusion that, due to the popularity of these modern superheroes, kids everywhere feel that they have only two options in life.
"In today's media, superheroes and slackers are the only two options boys have," said Lamb. "Boys are told, if you can't be a superhero, you can always be a slacker. Slackers are funny, but slackers are not what boys should strive to be; slackers don't like school and they shirk responsibility. We wonder if the messages boys get about saving face through glorified slacking could be affecting their performance in school."
While the study seems a little flawed to me, as I feel the results wouldn't have singled out Iron Man had a Spider Man movie been this summer's big superhero release, it does at least speak to the notion of the power of advertising. However, I'm of the mind that the advertising and entertainment industries aren't here to play parent to the children of the world.
The only way for this issue to truly be resolved is for the adults of the world to step up and be better parents, to teach their kids the difference between right and wrong and set them on the right path for success. It seems that the parents of today are bigger slackers than their forefathers, looking for any way to supplant their own responsibilities with electronic babysitters and shrugging off their failings by blaming the media. Sure, things are more complicated today than they were back in the 1950's, but the parents are the ones that ultimately need to take responsibility for what their kids are watching and reading, both online and offline.
What do you think? Is Iron Man a bad role model? Or is this study just bogus?