“Superhero movies are like fairy tales for older people,” continues Lee, whose voice envelops the listener with a raspy, lilting warmth. “All those things you imagined –if only I could fly or be the strongest — are about wish fulfillment. … And because of that, I don’t think they’ll ever go out of vogue.”
This is from article in today’s WaPo on Stan Lee’s take on super-hero films. The article is, as usual, puerile and unenlightening which is not the author’s fault who I know writes to the general standards of the WaPo that is militantly middle-brow-superficial. Still Lee’s insights say a lot.
Let me parse what he said just a little. First of all “fairy tales” are not just for children. I think it’s been pretty well-proven by now that these tales are the remnants of ancient teaching stories that go back millenia in one for or another. The most obvious of these stories (or collection of stories) are the Mahabharata, the Illiad and Odyssey, and the Bible are stories crafted over time to have resonance with children, average adults, and those that aspire to or have achieved a higher state of consciousness. These themes can be shown to have deep resonance in the human psyche. None of these stories were “wish fulfillment” stories though some contain elements of wish fulfillment. The modern super-hero myth, like the fractured modern version of fairy tales aimed at children, has no depth of wisdom. At best, as Lee later explains in the article the heroes have “personality” i.e., they are just like you and me with the usual life difficulties. This is a device to connect us viscerally with the characters and it works–but it is not wisdom it’s just a device.