Thursday, July 23, 2009

Those Tweeting Superheroes!

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #2 by Joe Casey, Andre Coelho and Eduardo Pansica (2009)

In his new book, Create Your Own Economy, Tyler Cowen writes:

The current trend--as it has been running for decades--is that a lot of our culture is coming in shorter and smaller bits. The classic 1960s rock album has given way to the iTunes single. The most popular YouTube videos are usually just for a few minutes long and most of the time the viewer doesn't stay for longer than the first ten seconds.

Indeed, as evidenced by the prevalence of such social networking mediums as Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc., people are more interconnected than ever, albeit receiving their information in smaller and smaller chunks. And this phenomenon has even permeated into the world of superheroes.

In the old days, there were only very few superheroes. Whenever somebody was being terrorized by alien robots from outer space, or simply had a cat stuck in a tree, Superman would come and save the day. Whenever mobsters would rob a bank or low-life thugs would assault a rich couple in an alleyway, Batman would materialize from the shadows.

And people loved them. Superman, in particular, was the single most exciting thing that human beings had ever witnessed. He could leap tall buildings in a single bound and run faster than a speeding bullet. He stood for truth, justice and the American way. He inspired people. Every word he uttered projected a sense of unfailing hope and strength. People traveled far and took significant risks just to get a glimpse of him. Countless times, people have actually jumped off of rooftops just in the hopes of meeting him. Lois Lane and Lex Luthor alike dedicated their entire lives (and careers) to discovering his secrets and sharing them with the world.

But things have changed since those days. The market has actually become over-saturated with superheroes. There are now multiple heroes in every major city in the United States, as well as pockets of imitators in Europe and Japan. New individuals with new powers and gimmicks are popping up each day and forming new teams to beat the bad guys. There is an entire Wikipedia page just on all of the teams and organizations in the DC Universe. And it's not even a complete list. Just scanning briefly, I noticed it's missing, "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters."

As a result of this abundance of superheroes, individuals are becoming less interested. Sure people are still grateful when they are saved and are still fascinated by some of the new powers and abilities on display, but in general superheroes have become commonplace and, I would even say, a bit banal. As a result, more new superheroes are embracing this new culture of "small bits" in order to sustain the public interest and maintain relevance. As Cowen writes:

When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, sweet and bitty. When access is difficult, we tend to look for large-scale productions, extravaganzas and masterpieces.

Consider the "Super Young Team" from Japan, recently popularized in the United States after playing an integral role in Darkseid's defeat during Final Crisis. Do you think anybody cared about the Super Young Team prior to a few months ago? Even now that they have literally saved the world (no doubt a large extravaganza), people seem to have returned to their natural state of complacency. This is why the Super Young Team has engaged in all sorts of marketing and branding in order to continually provide the public with news about their exploits and heroics. The Most Excellent Bat even keeps a Twitteratti, which is cleverly used as the narration of Final Crisis: Dance.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. On the one hand, in an attempt to appeal to younger crowds, superheroes might be becoming a bit more materialistic, as is the case with some of the Super Young Team. This does somewhat negate the classical concept of a selfless hero. Yet, on other hand, superheroes can now stay interconnected, not just with each other, but also with the public. I bet @mosexbat has millions of followers on Twitteratti. Should some of them choose to reach out to him with a problem, he may very well respond, especially since he seems to be the only one in the team interested in actually being a hero. By staying connected and embracing this technology, if there is danger then the Super Young Team might be in an even greater position to become aware of it. Possibly even more so than the Justice League. They might have a moon base and a satellite that can monitor human beings around the world, but the Super Young Team has Twitter and Facebook.

Oh, and it's not just the new superheroes that are using this new technology to stay connected.

Detective Comics #845 by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen (2008)

That's right. In a semi-recent issue of Detective Comics, Batman actually logs on to detective chat room in the Batcave in order to discuss a tough case with some like-minded sleuths. It turns out that as a result of discussing the facts with who ended up being The Riddler and Detective Chimp, Batman was able to solve the case and stop a crime.

So this new culture might actually have some advantages, both for the superheroes embracing it and for the public.

I open the floor to the readers. What do you think?


pzed said...

uncle same etc are listed under Freedom Fighters.

pzed said...

uncle SAM even.

ShadowBanker said...

Ah that's true, I missed the Freedom Fighters. Thanks!

James Bang said...

I'm pretty far out of my sphere of pop culture knowledge here, but hasn't a long-attention-span alternative also emerged, i.e. the graphic novel? Maybe the increase in the overal size of the market has led to more varieties (which includes something for the short-attention-span crowd...

Anonymous said...

What about the villains that could be using these services as well. They could hack the servers and send up a whole lot of false red flags thus causing the super heroes to have less incentive to listen. Also it could allow for more collusion among villains. With such easy access to communication it could be more of a pain to keep up with. This is assuming that the villains make use of the technology similarly to the heroes. This, however, is unlikely because it is the comics.

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