Monday, April 10, 2006

Superheroes And Force

Found this essay written by Mike Godesky (slightly edited for brevity.)
A major theme of The Ultimates [a comic book] has been people’s failure to recognize the seriousness of the threat of supervillains and the need for an aggressive military response. Replace “supervillains” with “terrorists,” and the philosophy of The Ultimates is basically a defense of the Bush Doctrine. Even those superheroes not officially employed by the United States government are often depicted as agents of the government.

Comic book superheroes are not always recognized for their good deeds, though. Spider-Man is often mistaken for one of the criminals he has dedicated his life to fighting. This is thanks in no small part to Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson’s attempts to smear his character. However, it does bring to light an interesting question. There is very little difference between Spidey and his more patriotic counter-parts. In fact, he is often thought of as Marvel’s Superman. So why is Superman a paragon of American justice, while Spider-Man is a vigilante? For that matter, what gives any superhero the right to use the violent and destructive measures they so often employ?

The reader, however, knows that [the superhero's] actions were justified in order to serve the greater good.

And this idea of the greater good is how superheroes operate. The superhero is allowed to use any amount force to achieve his goals. No one else is. The idea involves what sociologist Max Weber called the monopoly of force. According to Weber, a state cannot be defined by its ends since there is no task both exclusive to and unique to the state. Rather, the state is defined as that body which has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. In other words, state sanctioned use of force is the only kind of force that is morally acceptable. Only the state and those acting with the permission of the state are allowed to use physical violence.

Superheroes, in their quest to uphold the law, often have either explicit or implicit permission from the state to use force. Therefore, Superman is not considered a criminal in spite of his actions that normally would be considered criminal because the government in Superman’s world has decided that he is allowed to use such force. Others, such as the Punisher, do not have such an allowance. As a result, they are regarded as vigilantes.

Perhaps unconnected is this report that Bush is considering nuclear strikes upon Iran's nuclear facilities (Thanks to Triton on the link)